Returning WWII Vets Found Temporary Homes in North Park

World War II veteran housing in Chicago in 1946

Temporary housing for a returning WWII vet at Kedzie and Foster, ca. 1946. Courtesy of Carl Doering.

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.

aerial view of Foster and Kedzie

Approximate site of the temporary housing. Foster and Kedzie, 1951. Aerial view from http://historicaaerials.com

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.

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44 Responses to Returning WWII Vets Found Temporary Homes in North Park

  1. Jerry Pritikin July 8, 2013 at 11:53 am #

    The picture used was misleading. Many new housing at that location near Foster and Kedzie were Quonset hut housing units made of corrugated metal and having a semicircular cross section. Then that area was made into an Army reserve location about 1952 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. I belonged to the 308th Civil Affairs and Management Government reserve group in 1957. Years later, it became a CTA bus yard. In the erly 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)

  2. BEN KIRMAN July 8, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    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 above ground 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. This area was part of my growing up neighborhood so I may have other things to add as more comments are made.

  3. Frances Archer July 8, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Jerry and Ben, thank you both for updating the story — I knew I’d get some good information from you readers. I will update the post.

  4. Roger Cohn July 8, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    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, & in the mid 50’s I would go to the bus garage & 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, & 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 one’s.

    Red’s was always filled with bus drivers. Since he was my cousin, I would drop in occasionally.

  5. Frances Archer July 9, 2013 at 5:23 am #

    Roger, thanks for the information. Will update the blogpost and credit you.

  6. larry gold July 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    on Bryn mawr and Kedzie , I remember a victory garden on the northeast corner into the 50’s… could this have been used for the World War 2 vets and their families?

  7. Ben Kirman July 9, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    I don’t know if I ever encountered Roger on my dumpster diving outings at the Foster Bus facility but it was one of my favorite activities and I too was very into it in the mid-50s. I wanted the complete packs of unused transfers that were great for trading with other fans of this activity. It is interesting how us kids in the 50s could find things to do that did not require any money, of which we had very little. As I recall, making do was something we learned from our parents and unfortunately it was no longer in vogue for later generations.

  8. Frances Archer July 9, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    Larry, I am so glad you mentioned the garden. I have been keeping track of all the Victory Gardens in the area and I didn’t know about that one. I am going to do a post with a list of all the ones I know.

  9. Frances Archer July 9, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

    Those were great life skills you learned back then, not to mention the key to being happy with what you have.

  10. larry gold July 10, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Frances…please don’t for get the famous victory garden on foster and st. Louis which was in the parental school…

  11. Ben Kirman July 11, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Roger’s mention of streetcars and buses and particularly his mention of Kimball as a street that never had streetcars brought to mind some things I have not thought of in years. I was born in 1942 and at that time my family lived on Hutchinson, just East of Kimball. During the war they stopped bus service on Kimball to save fuel. I now recall that in early 1946, I was about 3 1/2 years old and one day my mom walked me down to the corner of Kimball to see the new bus stop that said service was back and as we stood there a bus appeared going North on Kimball; that was quite something for a kid my age, and I am so glad this site reminded me about it.

  12. Roger Cohn July 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Ben: Thanks for your comments. I never realized that the dumpster diving for transfer packs community was as extensive as it was. I appreciate your perspective on our ability to entertain ourselves in a simpler time. It’s cool that you were able to retrieve that memory of the walk to the bus stop.

    I do recall a summer in which a rumor developed about a troll or other dangerous creature living under the Foster bridge over the channel. For 2 or 3 weeks, kids would go over there to check out the situation. Finally, one of the guys slightly older than me wacked his head on a bridge abutment, drawing blood. I think we then moved on to other things.

  13. Ben Kirman July 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm #

    Roger
    Do you recall when the land that is now the North Park College sports facilities was filled with all kinds of big concrete pieces that rested against each other and created a fun but probably dangerous play area. There were all kinds of cave-like areas created by how the concrete slabs were laying around. However dangerous it might have been I and others played there for the fun that it was.

    Then right behind this field was the dam that controlled the connection between the actual North Branch of the Chicago River and the Channel that started at the lake in Wilmette and ran down to this spot. That dam which has since been rebuilt was a fun spot for dares to walk across it or just play in the water when the flow was low.

    I’m not sure if we connect in time, but you seem to know the area well and it is great we can chat and offer good information to this site.

  14. Roger Cohn July 15, 2013 at 10:19 pm #

    Ben: I don’t have specific memories of the field. I must have gone there on occasion. I do recall the point where the river & the channel came together at the dam. I don’t remember ever going into the river, but on many occasions I jumped over the river when the water was low. Both banks were concrete. The dam was a few feet away with the water always churning beneath it. There was a footbridge at Albany & Carmen, which connected River Park to the field. I believe it’s still there.

    Not far away, near the north edge of the west park, was the concrete drinking fountain with about 8 spigots. In summer the area around the fountain was always crowded with people of all ages.

    Do you recall the wooded area at Bryn Mawr & the east bank of the channel? It must have been a remnant of Budlong Woods, whose extent I do not know. There were several paths running through it. We called it Bicycle Paradise. It’s a park now.

  15. Ben Kirman July 16, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

    Roger: I do indeed remember the wooded area just North of Bryn Mawr on the East bank of the channel. It was one of my favorite spots for the fun of bike riding on the trails with all of bumps that almost made the bike leave the ground for a moment. It was also a great spot for getting together with friends in one of the many clearings off the trails and back in the woods; it was private for “guy” talks. Those were the days, great fun and a simpler time that is very nice to remember.

  16. Ben Kirman July 16, 2013 at 11:13 pm #

    I just found something really interesting on a 1938 map of Chicago, sold by the Chicago Daily News. The wooded area just discussed is shown as Legion Park. How a totally wooded area could be called a Park in 1938, I cannot imagine. From what I can tell, the current name of the much improved actual park that runs from Foster North to Peterson is called Legion park, so I guess in 1938 it was a twinkle in someone’s eye that took 50 years to be born.

  17. Frances Archer July 17, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Ben, that is something I can look up through the Chicago Park District. Prior to 1933, all city parks were not under one department. For example, Hollywood Park was owned and managed by the Hollywood Park District. During the Depression the Chicago Park District took over all these small bankrupt park districts. Would be interesting to see if Legion Park existed prior to 1933.

  18. Bruce Kelleher July 18, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    If you want to checkout a veteran’s village please check our Facebook group. Here’s the link.. https://www.facebook.com/groups/189837317714450/381016035263243
    Our village existed in NW Chicago (Cumberland & Montrose) from 47-54. Looking for former residents..

  19. Ben Kirman July 20, 2013 at 7:06 pm #

    Hi To All:

    I have the history on Legion Park, here goes.

    Legion Park was created by the River Park District, one of 22 independent park systems consolidated into the Chicago Park District in 1934. Residents of northwest Chicago established the Ridge Park District (later River Park District) in 1917 specifically to promote recreational opportunities along the North Shore Channel and the nearby North Branch of the Chicago River. When the board of the Sanitary District of Chicago offered to lease a 330-foot, `18-acre stretch on the channel’s east bank in 1930, the River Park District; readily accepted. The park district named the site Legion Park to honor veterans who served in the World War 1 U.S. Expeditionary Forces. With this action we have the beginning of Legion Park which now extends from Foster Avenue to Peterson Avenue and has been incorporated into River Park and park sites to the south to form a continuous park down to Lawrence Avenue. This has become a significant asset for the residents of all the communities in this area.

  20. Frances Archer July 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Hi, Bruce. Thanks for stopping by and providing the suggestion. Very interesting posts recalling life in that termporary housing. Maybe someone who reads this blog will know former residents of your group.

  21. Frances Archer July 22, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Ben, that’s fascinating. I wonder if there is a plaque anywhere on the site that mentions this history. I’ll have to take a bike ride through there this summer. It is a lovely strip of park and especially nice for the houses that have backyards facing the river.

  22. Ralph July 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm #

    @Roger and Jerry,
    Wasn’t Red’s Hotdog Stand next to Charcoal Delight’s back in 1973? Red’s was on the corner of Troy and Foster and Charcoal Delight’s was on Foster just west next to the alley.

    @Larry,
    I remember those gardens at Foster and St. Louis around 1970. In the Historic Aerials photo of 1972 you can see the gardens.

    Thanks

  23. Ben Kirman July 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm #

    Just a bit more on Legion Park; it has a section on the west side of the channel from Peterson down to Bryn Mawr. This somewhat developed, but I get the impression that the Park District wants to get as much of the channel banks property as possible. This is really a very good idea to preserve as much land for park use as possible. They also appear to have some land south of Bryn Mawr that is undeveloped at this time and the boundary ends at the north fence of the Reserve site. This kind of park development was exactly what the folks wanted in 1917 when they formed the Ridge Park District. With 90+ years under their belt, we are definitely seeing progress.

  24. Ben Kirman July 23, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

    Ralph has it exactly right, Reds was at the corner of Foster and Troy, first as a stand and then as a building that was always crowded with bus drivers from across the street and fans of what was served, including me. I took a recent look on Goggle and the Charcoal Delights now has all the land from Troy to Kedzie for their building and parking lot. So much for what some of us call the good old days.

  25. Ralph July 24, 2013 at 7:52 am #

    Ben,
    I see that the Park District also reclaimed the land along the river on the east side , Kedzie Ave. from Rosemont to Hood Street that the Military had there, the US Army Reserve Training Center. On the Google Map it is marked as Park No. 526 now.

    And also where the Riverside Motel stood at the south west corner of Lincoln and Peterson. I remember that the bike trail was right next to the motel back wall in the 1970’s.

  26. Frances Archer July 24, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Ralph, I believe the Chicago Park District took over the land when they closed the Tower Cabana back in 1968s. The land was owned by the Metropolitan Sanitary Distict (not sure of the dates) and leased to Park District for $1 a year. I have looked that up again recently but that’s what I learned a couple years ago: Tower Cabana

  27. Ben Kirman July 24, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    The land that was Riverside Motel has been incorporated into Legion Park, and it is where the new main entrance is, complete with a new beautiful fountain that is 60 feet wide at its pool base. The Park District is spending some serious money to make Legion Park a showplace.

  28. Ralph July 25, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    The Tower Cabana was on the west side of the river and the Riverside Motel was on the east side of the river. From what I found online is that the Tower Cabana had to go to court against the City of Chicago over the property that they leased from the Metropolitan Sanitary District.

    http://il.findacase.com/research/wfrmDocViewer.aspx/xq/fac.19550121_0000018.IL.htm/qx

    I read that by 1998, the city of Chicago had had enough. It acquired three of the motels via eminent domain – the Spa Motel, Riverside Motel, and Acres Motel – and demolished them in 2000. Their lots became a police station, parkland, and a library, respectively.

  29. Frances Archer July 25, 2013 at 1:40 pm #

    It was the last of the wild times in the Lincoln/Peterson strip. Because parts of this area remained undeveloped so late in the 20th century, it seems that anything goes was the rule. Once more residential areas was developed, then the neighbors wanted law and order restored. Alderman Seymour Simon tried to shut down the Tower Cabana. And going back to the days when there were stables on the Lincoln Village site as well as at the intersection of Lincoln and Peterson, there were numerous citations mentioned in the Tribune.

  30. Frances Archer July 25, 2013 at 1:55 pm #

    I agree — it is a very beautiful park. I supposed they wanted the fountain visible from Peterson, but it is not the most restful place to sit.

  31. Ben Kirman July 25, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Indeed it would be rather noisy given all the traffic on both Peterson and Lincoln. There are some parts of Legion Park, closer to Bryn Mawr that have actually some of the forest of trees that existed way back when. They may be second or third growth but the trees are not something the Park District planted. There are now paved walkways that have replaced the dirt trails I remember from my youth. It is still nice to see that something from the past has survived, even if in an “improved” state. The new Goggle Maps is great to getting ground level views to see how things looked recently. For us in Florida it is about the only way to revisit Chicago without taking a long trip.

  32. Ben Kirman July 30, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    Just a bit more info about parks along the North Shore Channel. South of Argyle, the park on both sides of the channel is called Ronan Park, likely some “important” historical figure. That park extends south to Lawrence, no parks south of there until Montrose. North of Peterson we have some interesting park land being developed. Up to almost Devon is Park 526, a no name that gets squeezed at its north end and does not quite get to Devon. Then north of Devon it appears that Thillens has become Park District property and is called Park 538, with all of the north property all the way up to Touhy that same no name park. This is all info from the new Goggle Earth, other online maps show some different info, particularly the north of Devon info that has Lincolnwood crossing the channel east up to half of Kedzie and all of the east channel property being theirs and called Thillens Park. Anyone who can set this straight would be much appreciated. I can correct Free Map if it is wrong.

  33. Ralph July 31, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    The park names 526 and 538 are correct according to Chicago Park District web site. Also the old Thillens Stadium is now part of the Chicago Park District. There website calls it the Stadium at Devon and Kedzie now.

  34. Ralph July 31, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    For more info on Thillens Stadium you click on this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thillens_Stadium

    Also according to CBS Chicago news of June 18, 2013, the Chicago Park District said, everything identifying the stadium with Thillens was removed at the request of a family member. That includes the old picture of a Thillens armored car on the scoreboard in center field, as well as the big baseball on Devon Avenue.

  35. Ben Kirman July 31, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    That big baseball is a story in itself that is close to me. Under the baseball painted on the sphere is a world globe. It was originally a part of a very large sign for a store called Boys World which was a boys and young men’s clothing store on Devon west of Western. When they went out of business many years ago, my Dad was tasked to close-out all of the remaining stock and all of the fixtures including the outside sign which had to be removed from the rented building. When that sign had been installed it took a very large crane to it. It would take the same thing to take it down. After several failed attempts to interest someone in the sign, my Dad had the idea of offering the sign to Thillens as a very large baseball. At no charge except the expense of removing it and trucking to the their stadium, Thillens agreed and so the baseball became a very large marker for Thillens Stadium.

  36. Ben Kirman July 31, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    Well this clears up the Lincolnwood question, clearly Free Map is wrong and Goggle Earth is right. On the east Lincolnwood does not cross the channel and all the land on the east side is Chicago and all the land on the west side is Lincolnwood. I will correct Free Map.

  37. Frances Archer August 3, 2013 at 11:01 am #

    Very interesting — one of the those stories few people around know. Thanks for sharing with us.

  38. Frances Archer August 3, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    Also, we know who painted the Thillens sign: Al Faberson, who had a storefront on Bryn Mawr in the Hollywood Park area. I believe it was his daughter or perhaps another relative who wrote to me years ago, telling me that her father painted signs for Thillens, Shaare Tikvah and many other local businesses.

  39. Randey August 24, 2013 at 9:34 pm #

    My grandfather had many plots of Victory Gardens off of Foster and St. Louis through the ’60s.
    I lived in Budlong Woods from 1952-1976. The park you previously mentioned by the channel in the woods was a big hang out for young Matherites!
    One of my friends father owned Acre Motel.

  40. Bruce Kelleher August 28, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    Geoffrey Baer is having a show in October that will pertain to LaBagh village

  41. Frances Archer August 28, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

    Hi, Bruce. Thanks for the advance notice. Will post a reminder the week before.

  42. Bruce Kelleher August 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    Here’s a message he sent me…
    Geoffrey Baer’s Chicago (WTTW) wrote: “Funny you should mention this! In fact we will be featuring a different veterans temporary housing village in my new show “Chicago Time Machine.” It was called “Sauganash Homes” located on Foster west of Pulaski. Today it is the Irene Hernandez Picnic Grove. The show will debut the Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving on WTTW. Don’t know about reverse directories. Sorry. Try contacting the Chicago History Museum.”

  43. Ralph August 29, 2013 at 11:32 am #

    There is a nice view from the air from 1951 on Historic Aerials on this area.

  44. Frances Archer September 1, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    Thanks, Bruce. I’ll watch for this program.

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