Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1911
By Stanley R. Osborn.
HALSTED street, Chicago, is the longest business street in the world. It is also the broadest. Neither of these statements is true; both of them are truer than truth. For Halsted street is long enough and broad enough to pass through every phase of the city’s social and commercial life. It pierces a dozen business and retail centers, north, west, and south. It is the main highway of the greatest manufacturing and industrial district in the world. It passes through the most densely populated section in the United States. It works and plays in thirty languages. Along its line are the growing peoples, new come, virile, with a future that is all before them. Other streets may put on more “front.” But Halsted street is the backbone. It is the longest and broadest street in the world.
Halsted street has no commercial organization. It is too long, too broad, too diversified. It has as many sections as there are marks on a foot rule. Each section is different. Anything that may be found in the city is to be found on Halsted street. Many things are all its own.
Halsted is a business street. North, west, and south it brings together its people to buy. In foreign colonies where English is almost a rumor, it is supreme, and in American communities, where foreign speech is a curiosity, many a resident never sees the loop except on circus day. Halsted street feeds and clothes and furnishes and employs its own. It is sufficient unto itself.
“Business” the Street’s Cry.”
Of all its lives that are lived by this cosmopolitan street in its twenty-one miles within the city limits, four, perhaps, are most worthy of consideration. These are the manufacturing section between Harrison street to Twenty-second street, where there are more buyers to the block than anywhere else in the United States; the stockyards district, the headquarters of the meat industry; and the business section of Englewood, where on Halsted, at sixty-third, is the most progressive retail district south of the city’s business center. This, what, seven miles from the loop, is worth special attention, for it comes as no complete a surprise to thousands of Chicago men.
Halsted street is so long, so varied, so business in so many modes, there is no way to take it but from end to end. There can be no plot, no grouping of associated ideas and industries. It must be geographical, block after block, as it comes. A street of many nations, many trades, without order or sequence, but alive from north to south with a promise of future greatness.
Come with me them ladies and gentlemen, so the good mental mental ship Santa Maria, and we will discover Halsted street. I will be Columbus and Man from Cook’s in so far as I may, but Halsted street has as many lives as a cat, as many eyes as a fly, as many legs as a centipede. Even its own people do not know the street three blocks from their own doors.
Longest Without a Break.
“Land ho,” then for the Santa Maria. The first sight of Halsted street is not Halsted at all, but the end of the Lawrence avenue intersecting sewer. Next to the sewers of Paris this is the most famous sewer in the world. It is so large that a whole city administration passed through it at one time, without getting the least bit wet. Halsted street comes up out of the lake at Lawrence avenue, six miles north of Madison street.
Glancing to the left you will see that Halsted begins life under an assumed name—”Clarendon avenue.” But this is merely a youthful affectation, just as “May” changes to “Mae,” at a certain period in life. “Clarendon” sounds more stylish than “Halsted.”
Clarendon is a frolicsome street in a clean way—it leads past the Wilson and other bathing beaches. But they are quiet now, a bath of Michigan water on a day like this would make a man jingle. Passing on we see that Clarendon, which begins in water, ends in beer with some concert gardens.
Halsted Comes Into Own.
Halsted, at Evanston avenue, comes into its own name and we take the rubber-after-you-enter cars and begin a tour south that shall not end till we reach h One Hundred and Thirty-fifth street, southeast of the city of Blue Island, and sixteen miles south of Madison street.
We are crossing Sheridan road and before we get through will catch a glimpse of Diversey, Fullerton, Washington, Jackson, and Garfield boulevards. Halsted as we go south is a street of residences, groceries, cleaners, meat markets, and drug stores. As we go south the residences become smaller and of an older period in the world’s history. Shops come to predominate. Here, at Fullerton, is McCormick Theological seminary. At the Clark street, Lincoln avenue, and North avenue crossings are some lively business and retail centers. We are passing through one of Chicago’s many colonies, though it is so old a colony that it has forgot itself as such. We are among the Germans, or rather the sons and grandsons of the Germans who came as colonists when Chicago was a stripling town.
Where Halsted crosses Clark it cuts through a noteworthy Swedish community. Notice these things carefully, for as we go on you will see that Halsted street with some justice is called the “melting pot” and the “street of all nations.” It is the street of the newly arrived. It is the nursery of the nation. But this does not interfere with business, as you will also see presently.
Wilderness of Industries.
We have crossed Clybourn avenue and are about to cross Goose Island, an industrial wilderness that is is hard to duplicate anywhere. In a moment we have plunged from retail into manufacturing. We have reached here it the north river, where it wanders among foundries, tanneries, coal docks, boiler factories, shipbuilding plants, and industries of a thousand kinds. From North avenue to Erie we are passing through one of the greatest industrial corners. The air is perfumed and otherwise with commerce. Before the north shore channel was opened last winter the iridescent tide of the river here moved oilily, with bits of wood from the tanneries blowing hither and you upon its dusty surface. But no more. The government dredges are improving the dockage facilities which give Goose Island industries such an advantage.
At Grand avenue, and for a block north and south, we have a glimpse of Italy. It is all about us. Just east of the river and two blocks from us are Gault court and Milton street, the heart of the swarming north side Italian colony. Just west on Chicago avenue is a Neapolitan neighborhood called “Little Italy,” and an American settlement. Between Chicago avenue and the river is “Little Hell,” so called by the police. Along the river is the north side negro center. It is a scenic spot, but do not let us forget that it adds as much to the wealth of the country as any equal stretch of street in the world.
Wholesale Center of World.
But now, we have crossed Grand avenue, we have entered another sort of manufacturing and wholesale center that is the largest in the world. It extends southward as far as Harrison street and from the river on the east to a western boundary that is constantly moving further west. Here came the first of the wholesale houses, mail order organizations, and manufacturers who were crowded from the east side of the river and the loop. Gradually they worked westward, driving out the tenements.
For years they would not cross Halsted street. But as factory after factory had gone in, and jobber after jobber, rentals have gone up and up, ground values have soared. The industrial center has moved west till it rests on Halsted. As we pass along you will catch glimpses up and down the streets of high massive buildings that hum with commerce. Halsted street car conductors take in bales of transfers from the workers in these industrial plants.
A desparate effort was made in 1905 and 1906 to widen Halsted street. From river to river was the cry. Such men as Edward Horan, John M. Smyth, Andrew J. Graham, L. Klein, George Beldler, and John McMahon were active in the movement. They tried to organize the street and to make it into a great north and south highway 100 feet wide. The front of the buildings on the west side of the street was to be shorn off for the improvement. It was claimed that, thus widened, the entire traffic leading into the loop from the west side would concentrate through Halsted. But alarmed at the expense and the loss of their buildings enough property owners signed a protest to block the widening scheme even after the council had appropriated $15,000 for preliminary work. The cost of the widening was figured at from $1,000,000 to $3,000,000.
Speaking of wide streets, ladies and gentlemen, we will pause here. Glancing to the left and right you will see the famous Haymarket Square, popularly supposed to have been the scene of the anarchistic bomb throwing to which it gave name. This is a widening of Randolph street, and is one of the busiest early morning intersections in the city. Here is the west side produce market and here, will be, if many influential elements have their way, the center of the new South Water street market after it is moved from the loop.
Three corners are among the most valuable in Halsted street. The ground value at the intersection is said by west side real estate men to be $3,000 a frint foot. At Sangamon it has tapered down to $700. Three months ago it is said $75,000 was offered for twenty feet at the corner of Halsted and Randolph and declined. Ten years ago the property was not marketable for more than $50,000. Three tenants can be found for every vacant store in the market.
This, of course, is the oldest part of the street. Some big men have come out of Halsted street. At Washington and Halsted, the southwest corner, stands the old A. M. Billings bank, where has built up the gas company which now serves the city. The Billings estate sent $15,000,000 through probate, and was said to have amounted to twice that figure, all made on Halsted street. Much of the property along the street here has been held for years and is still held by the Billings, Morrison and other estates.
Halsted Shares in Boom.
The old Masonic temple at Halsted and Randolph is a landmark well known for many years. The Bijou and the Academy of Music are two old time show houses which have been on the street almost since the fire. Halsted is was one of the west side streets to share in the business boom that followed that conflagration. The intersection of Halsted and Madison is the busiest street crossing on the west side. It is a center of retail merchants, offices, and banks. It is also a lively amusement center and there is something doing day and night. The northwest corner is said to by some appraisers to be worth for fifty feet $275,000. Perhaps the highest ground values along the street are to be found here.
Passing across Madison street, which you will please observe as the main east and west thoroughfare of the city, we enter a new phase of Halsted. We are approaching the Jewish center of Chicago. The Jewish people control the street, beginning at Washington and extending through to Harrison street, and own it between De Koven street and the Sixteenth street viaduct.
I will detain you for a moment to point out the basic characteristic of Halsted street development. It has been the street of the new nations. The city owes it much for what it has done, and will owe it much, much more before it has accomplished its work. Bear in mind the various invasions of eastern Europe by the Huns, the Goths, the Visigoths—how these came out of the back of Europe, one after the other, and swept over the land. Halsted street today is passing through its invasions as did Europe in the days before Rome fell. But these invasions are peaceful and their chief significance is commercial.
River Houses Homes of Poor.
The housings and tenements west of the river have always been the home of the poor. First of the foreign invasions, the waves of immigration to fill these streets west of the river were the Irish and the Germans. They came and they grew up about Halsted street. As they found themselves and got a start in life in this new country they gradually scattered into more desirable neighborhoods and in time produced many of the greatest men of the city and the country.
In the places given up by these, the homes of the newly arrived, appeared in turn the Jews, Bohemians, Greeks, Italians, Turks, Armenians, Lithuanians, Letts, Slovaks, Russians, Croatians, and various other tribes of men. The history of development of these races is the history of Halsted, especially south from Madison to Forty-seventh street.
Among them, these races give Halsted the densest center of population in the United States, perhaps in the world. They crowd around the street to east and west. It is their highway. Unlike the American, they do not go so much to the loop centers for their buying. They buy of their neighbors. This is the great present strength of the Halsted retail sections. It is also the promise of the street for future greatness, when the buying power of these new races has developed.
Earliest among the new elements to follow the Germans and the Irish were the Jews and Bohemians. But as we pass across Harrison street we find suddenly that these have been paired in their dominion of the street by a more recent invasion.
Peep at Chicago’s Athens.
Glance to the right and left now, ladies and gentlemen. What do you see? Strange names in windows these letters that remind you of the dear old college fraternity house. We are among the Greeks and the Turks. For several short blocks along here past the Hull house the great Chicago Greek colony I buddied together in boarding houses. Here is the home of all the apparently myriad Greek restaurant proprietors and waiters and candy store men and shoe polishers. Why the Halsted street Greeks should feel it laid upon them to feed and polish and confection the whole city is a mystery, for there Greeks are not restaurant men and confectioners and shoe polishers in the isles of Greece. It is something they learn in Halsted street.
As we roll southward between the geometrical lettering and gay colored fronts of the Greek buildings we are in the heart of Chicago’s bachelor colony. The Greeks do not bring their women to America. There are fewer Greek women in ratio of population than represent any other newcoming intermingling race as we go we find the Italians again. Southerners and neighbors they elbow on the street. Forty dozen doors the round vowels of the Italians make the street signs sonorous.
We will turn down De Koven street and leave Halsted for a moment. I have something to show you. We will draw up here, two blocks to the east. See the white tablet on the wall? It is sacred to the cow that kicked the lamp that burned the town Chicago had built. Here is where the fire started in 1871, with the O’Leary cow. Halsted street at this point was then but an open waste of market gardens. Further north and south it was a street.
O Look Who’s Here!
One more digression and we will go back to the Jews—you see, there is no sequence to our observations, they are all mixed up, like Halsted street, nations and business and destiny and department stores and life of one kind and another. we pause here on the scene of the first rampage of “Rampaging Peter” Bartman. In those days he was building commissioner. A man with influence persisted in putting up a frame building against the building regulations. Peter turned out the fire department and pulled down the structure. It was Rampage No. 1, but it had a good effect on Halsted street architecture.
Swinging back from our side tour, we cross old owners is snapped up by the the Jews. They have the courage whether they have the money or not, and they buy sometimes with a string of mortgages that would astonish an American.
One of the corners of Fourteenth and Halsted was bought four and a half years ago for $27,000 and recently sold for $48,000. The leasehold for the northeast corner at the Maxwell street crossing, seventy-five feet, was purchased two weeks ago for $60,000. Rentals in this shopping center reach, it is said, a height of $399 a month for a twenty-five foot frontage.
The widening of Twelfth street is a question that has tirred the Chicago Jews. A speculative disturbance in real estate value has been caused. Some of those whose property will be sacrificed by the widening are up in arms while others declare that the change will mean a great increase in local values. In the meantime the Jewish merchants are selling to the iteming thousands of their Jewish neighbors. As prosperity comes to them they move west or to the south side boulevards. It is Halsted street which is building many a handsome residence on Grand boulevard.
We roll under the Sixteenth street viaduct—we will find a good many viaducts along Halsted. In the north reaches of the street the viaducts arched over the tracks. But here, southward, the tracks are raised over the street. We roll under the viaduct at Sixteenth and are in a new phase of Halsted—the Slavs.
Here the street crowd no longer is Jew, and the merchants, with a few noticeable exceptions, are not Jewish. The street is commonplace and busy, but the undermining of its life is patriotic, for here are the peoples who have come to America, bringing their wives and children. They mean to live here and grow into Americans. An odd statement which probably is true of this street, between Sixteenth and Twenty-second, is that it is the safest street in the city for a woman unescorted at any hour of day or night.
The Bohemians are to the westward. They, of course, have been here for many years have “arrived.” With a base resting on Halsted street, the Bohemian population of Chicago is massed between Sixteenth and Twenty-second as far west as Fortieth avenue (Pulaski Road). Halsted and Madison streets divide the business of the Bohemians.
Halsted Street Lift Bridge #3 (River)
Where Slav Peoples Meet.
East from Halsted the Lithuanians and other Slavs races fill in along Canalport avenue. Union and other streets south as far as Thirty-first. In this neighborhood are massed the Slav peoples, men from Russia and from Hungary. It is said that within a mile along Halsted thirty languages are spoken. Here Slovak, Lett, Lithuanian, Croatian, and a dozen other mingle together in the latest of the invasions of Halsted street. These peoples, being the last, are poor comparatively, but as their buying power increases as it already is doing rapidly, they will contribute tremendously to the future greatness of Halsted street, their business highway. The street between Sixteenth and Twenty-second in a few years may come to rival the Jewish center and the two together form one of the two or three buying places of the city.
The south branch of the river, where it cuts across the street, brings us back to the big industries. Here on Twenty-second, between Halsted and Ashland, is the lumber highway. Along the river there are the great lumber houses. Planing mills and other lumber using industries are close at hand. The grain elevators cluster close to the street on the east, though there are not as many now as before the elevator fire. A large packing house, the largest outside the yards, stands on Halsted just south of the river for half a mile in either direction between Canal and Throop, is here a congested highway. It crosses the river on a tower lift bridge, the only one in the city, built on the plan of the celebrated London bridge.
Past the gas tanks, the breweries, and the other industries lining the river banks—commerce is strong along Halsted street like beads on a string—we run through busy corners at Archer avenue and at Root street. Then we reach the stockyards. We will not turn aside for there; everybody knows something of the greatest live stock market in the world and the great packing industry that here has its head. Behind a mile long fence, you see “the yards” from the street. Parallel to the fence Halsted is busy with the business that comes from “the yards”—banks, cafés, hotels.
Glancing along you will see almost a solid block of saloons, for here the thirst of city and country meet. Halsted street and its cars—O’Neil-Halsted, Halsted-79th, Halsted-86th, 69th-Division, and Center-75th—form the main front road to the stockyards and all its industry. It gives the most rapid surface communication with the loop. In every block half a dozen cars are rushing, loaded to the platform handles.
The bubbling Chicago River
Passing along we catch a glimpse of the last of the new nations, the spire of a foreign church and the babel of life “behind the yards.” We pass quarries, breweries, railway yards, iron works, cement yards, and Bubbly creek.1
From Forty-seventh street, where the yards end, to Fifty-seventh, Halsted presents a solid double row of groceries, markets, cigar stores, cleaners of clothing, saloons, drug stores. We dash past a summer garden—reminder pf the street on the far north side. Garfield boulevard gives the street diversity.
We dive under a railway track or two and are now skimming along the main highway of Englewood. And now prepare for the surprise. As we have come southward you h=you have thought that soon we would pass by the bigger shops to the smaller, but you are wrong, for here we are approaching Sixty-third street, and here we are in the liveliest little city within a city on the whole southwest side.
Englewood, bounded by Fifty-ninth and Seventy-ninth and by Cottage Grove and Ashland, is a thickly settled community. Here is no melting pot. The people here have passed through the melting long ago. They are American born. The two business streets are Halsted and Sixty-third, and their crossing is as lively a center as can be found anywhere in the city. Englewood is so far south as far south almost as Evanston is north, that it looks upon the loop somewhat as a far distant country. It is far enough away for its people to buy at home. Hence Halsted and Sixty-third is worth our scrutiny. Listen to S. Becker:
42nd and Halsted Streets
Fair Words of a “Champion.”
Saturday night, when the business men are home from downtown and the families have come out to do their shopping, I defy you to find a busier place in the city. During the day we are comparatively quiet, but three evenings a week we are open and do, you might say, most of our business.We have two department stores here—there are fifty dry goods stores in Englewood—we have here the branches of many large houses; every line of business is represented.
Sixty-third street cars, so I am told, carry more passengers than any other east and west line in the city, nit excepting Madison street. The reason is that there are no transfer lines between Fifty-ninth and Sixty-ninth. Englewood, east of Halsted, is dry territory, and that may induce a few to transfer at this point on their way home or downtown. Jackson park and the White City add to the traffic in the summer time. We have here the end of Englewood ‘L’ and when we get better through service will have all we can ask in transportation.
Real estate values have quadrupled. I should think, in the last seven years, when the building of this business center began. Ground values for a block each way on Halsted are about $1,500 a foot. We have a better and lighter street at night than you will find in the loop. we have a hotel a half block long, restaurants, and half a dozen chop suey emporiums. We have the new National theater, a building which would be noticeable anywhere in the city; the new Linden, the new Marlowe, a few blocks east on Sixty-third; the new Chicago City bank on Halsted, and the new First National Bank of Englewood on Sixty-third. We have 5 and 10 cent stores, shoe shops, furniture stires, piano houses, millinery shops, carpet dealers, tailors, everything that you can ask for. Halsted and Sixty-third form as good a business corner as can be found.
From Sixty-third street we will speed up a little. The street is newer, more open. Here at Sixty-ninth street and again at Seventy-ninth street we cross east and west lines of cars. We have skirted close to Ogden park, Hamilton park, the Cook County normal school. This part of the street is a growing section. It is filling in rapidly and in a few years will be as businesslike as the miles further north.
63rd and Halsted Where the Elevated R. R. and Interurban Meet
Newer Part Filling In.
At Eighty-sixth street you see branching in a street that was old Vincennes road. On through East Washington Heights, where the country is getting a little more open and the houses smaller and further apart. At One Hundred and Seventh street we plunge out of the city of Chicago and into Morgan Park, but half a mile south the limits dodge across to a block west of us and we are again in the city. Presently we come into the last city along the street; old Halsted, the hero of many a mile, cuts through the center of West Pullman. Kensington’s to the east of us and Blue Island to the west.
At One Hundred and Twenty-second street we stop. Here the city limits catch us again. For a mile the street runs along the limits. Then at One Hundred and Thirty-first street, it crosses the Calumet river and is lost to Chicago as a street. But it goes on and on as a country road through market gardens and scattering houses for half a dozen miles. Some day the street x=cars will run along here and business and manufacturing will crowd around eager for a place on Halsted street the spinal column of the city.
CHICAGO RAILWAYS CO. LINES. West Division, 1909
12 HALSTED STREET LINE. (Through Route No. 24.) Leave Halsted and Division streets. Route— South on Halsted street to Sixty-ninth street.
Bird’s Eye View of the Elevated Railroads, Parks and Boulevards
Halsted Street, Between Archer Avenue and 71st Street
Bird’s Eye View of the Elevated Railroads, Parks and Boulevards
Halsted Street, Between North Avenue and Archer Avenue
1 “Bubbly Creek” is an arm of the Chicago River, and forms the southern boundary of the Union Stock Yards; all the drainage of the square mile of packing-houses empties into it, so that it is really a great open sewer a hundred or two feet wide. One long arm of it is blind, and the filth stays there forever and a day. The grease and chemicals that are poured into it undergo all sorts of strange transformations, which are the cause of its name; it is constantly in motion, as if huge fish were feeding in it, or great leviathans disporting themselves in its depths. Bubbles of carbonic gas will rise to the surface and burst, and make rings two or three feet wide. Here and there the grease and filth have caked solid, and the creek looks like a bed of lava; chickens walk about on it, feeding, and many times an unwary stranger has started to stroll across, and vanished temporarily. The packers used to leave the creek that way, till every now and then the surface would catch on fire and burn furiously, and the fire department would have to come and put it out. Once, however, an ingenious stranger came and started to gather this filth in scows, to make lard out of; then the packers took the cue, and got out an injunction to stop him, and afterwards gathered it themselves. The banks of ‘Bubbly Creek’ are plastered thick with hairs, and this also the packers gather and clean.—Upton Sinclair, 1909