After WWII, the Chicago Housing Authority built temporary housing for vets and their families in neighborhoods throughout Chicago, including the North Park community. Carl Doering was about two years old when his parents moved into the structure pictured above located near the intersection of Foster and Kedzie. To the east of this trailer was one other house and then the river, formally known as the Skokie Channel. Although there a fence lined the banks, Carl’s mother was so worried he’d fall in she forbid him to go near the fence.
This housing site for returning World War II veterans began just behind where the Foster Avenue bus turnaround is currently located. Carl recalls the accommodations were far from comfortable–community showers and toilets and chamber pots for nights when it was too cold to run outdoors. Although many believe the military provided housing for vets, the sites in Chicago were funded by the city and Federal Housing Authority. In all, 22 sites, mostly in outlying areas, were selected on public lands–parks, forest preserves and school properties.
Another vivid memory of Carl’s is tagging along with a neighboring boy to steal a potato from the vegetable truck. “Great fun,” says Carl, “a felon at age two.” He has another memory, a more congenial one:
“There was a Big VFW hall in the general area that my father was the president of or whatever they call VFW heads. On Christmas I remember we went to a wholesale outlet that was between Foster and Lawrence. It might have been on Kedzie or Kimball. He went there and got a bunch of things for the kids of the vets. I remember I got a whole ton of the left-over toys.”
Does anyone know where the nearest Legion hall was (is) located? I recall one on North Lincoln Avenue in Lincolnwood, but don’t know of an Albany Park one. I’m also wondering where children from this site went to school–Budlong probably is the closest public school.
Update: Readers provide more background
Former Albany Parkers and longtime readers/contributors of this blog Jerry Pritikin and Ben Kirman wrote in comments with interesting background on this site.
According to Jerry, the original housing shown in the top picture was replaced with Quonset hut housing units made of corrugated metal and having a semicircular cross section. In 1952, the area was made into an Army reserve location and used for training. Once, a lightening strike hit an a building where live ammunition was stored and set off a fire and some of the bombs exploded. Jerry belonged to the 308th Civil Affairs and Management Government reserve group in 1957. Years later, it became a CTA bus yard. In the early 1950s, Red’s Hot Dog stand became so popular on the south side of Foster, that the owner built a standing building.(Still there but under different owners.)
And Ben adds this:
“I agree with Jerry that the housing was more formal and substantial, at least in the early 50s when I lived on California Ave. and went to River Park a lot to play and explore the neighborhood. The temp housing was replaced in the mid-50s with a Nike air-defense site and that was the facility that was struck by lighting. There was an aboveground fuel tank at the bus facility next to the Nike site and the fear was that the tank might be hit by something exploding at the Nike site; nothing ever happened. The whole thing made for some excitement in the surrounding areas.”
I also heard from Stephen Brenner, who lived east of the channel at the time of the explosion. Here’s what he recalls:
“We lived on the east side of the “channel” and the police came to our house to tell us that we had to leave the area until the danger passed. We lived at Virginia and Rascher, and this occurred at night, right around the 4th of July, as I recall. The Army base and/or Nike site was directly across the channel.”
And some additional background on the site’s history as a CTA property, contributed by another frequent contributor, Roger Cohn:
“The North Park Bus Garage opened May 29, 1950, about 3 years after the CTA was formed. The CTA almost immediately began to destroy Chicago’s extensive streetcar system, one of the largest in the world. In Albany Park, they ran on Kedzie, Pulaski, Montrose & Lawrence, never on Foster or Kimball. I was obviously a great fan, and in the mid-50′s I would go to the bus garage and dumpster dive for packages of transfers that the drivers no longer needed for the day. Specifically I was looking for transfers for Western, Broadway-State & Clark-Wentworth, which were the last 3 streetcar lines in the city, and the only ones left at the start of 1956. For some reason I was often able to convince friends to join me in my search, although I no longer recall which ones.”
Red’s was always filled with bus drivers. Since he was my cousin, I would drop in occasionally.
Other temporary housing sites
Here are a few of the sites I’ve heard about. Let me know if you know of others.
- Sauganash Homes, in LaBagh Woods.
- Thatcher Homes in Norwood Park.
- Rainey Park, at 4350 W. 79th Street.
- St. Louis and Bryn Mawr avenues, current site of Northeastern Illinois University, was the site of some temporary housing after the war, though I am not sure only vets lived there.
Sources: The Poorhouse: Subsidized Housing in Chicago, by Devereux Bowly, Jr. Chicago Housing Authority provided temporary housing for returning WWII vets, article in the online version of the Encyclopedia of Chicago. For more about Sauganash Homes, check out Lee Bey’s blog. for Thatcher Homes, see this Wikipedia article. Rainey Park is mentioned on this Chicago Park District website.