Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1950
“Quaint little Rush street,” they call it today, noting the old mansions, falling into decay. But in the ’80s and ’90s, and even into the present century, it was “Elegant Rush street,” home of the most prominent families of Chicago. At 5:30 in the afternoon, Rush street once resounded to the tread of horses’ hoofs and the jingle of silver chains on expensive harnesses as liveried coachmen drove the rich men of the near north side to their homes.
With the building of Michigan Avenue bridge in 1920, traffic was diverted and Rush street became like a quiet eddy near a rushing river. Since that time many of the fine homes have been razed, remodeled, changed. But enough remain for us to be able to recapture something of the flavor of old times, if we look about a bit. So let’s stroll along Rush street, from Grand avenue to Chicago avenue, recalling other days!
On the west side of Rush street are the Milner hotel, at Grand avenue, and the Alexandria, at Ohio street, withe the Shriners’ Medinah temple nearby. The Croydon-hotel, farther north, occupies the site of the gray stone mansion built by Judge Mark Skinner, friend of Abraham Lincoln. The famous Virginia family hotel, built by Leander McCormick, brother of Cyrus McCormick, the “Reaper King,” once stood in this area. It was demolished in the ’30s to make way for a parking lot. Opposite, on the east side of Rush street, were two early apartment buildings, the Marquette and the Charlevoix, which housed many socially prominent residents, including some of the town’s most eligible bachelors in the early days.1
The home of Mrs. Emmons Blaine, built in the ’90s, is partly surrounded by a high brick wall, Mrs. Blaine still lives in this fine residence at the southeast corner of Rush and Erie streets. The L. Hamilton McCormick house to the south has long been occupied by the Kungsholm restaurant, partly rebuilt following a fire. At the southeast corner of Rush and Ontario streets is rising the Decorative Arts building, where the fashion Arts club will have its new home. W. F. McLaughlin, the coffee merchant, once lived in a square brick house on this site. Next door is the Goddard building.2
Toward the north, at the northwest corner of Rush and Ontario, the new Cadillac building occupies a part of the site of Mayor William B. Ogden’s home. Built in 1837, it was the first house in Chicago to be designed by an architect. The Ogden home disappeared long since, of course, but at 650 Rush st., the home of John V. Clarke, early Chicago banker, still stands. On the glass in the front doors may be seen the monogram, “J.V.C.” Beyond is the Robert Hall McCormick home, once filled with art treasures gathered by the notable collector. Between the McCormick house and the home of LeGrand Burton, uncle of Burton Holmes, the famous travel lecturer, are two buildings owned by St. James’ Episcopal church, the rectory and parish house. 3
Until the Woolworth building was erected this year, the big Cyrus McCormick house, 675 Rush st., stood alone in this area. Its neighbor, the houses of Henry King at 701 and Cyrus H. Adams and William G. McCormick were razed years ago. The Rush and Ontario neighborhood was once known as “McCormickville” since so many members of the McCormick family lived there. Cyrus McCormick’s brownstone mansion, built in 1879, still stands. The old house has a somewhat disheveled look, for part of the porte cochere has been ripped off, to make room for a new structure to the north. 4
The comfortable brick house occupied for years by Mrs. William Blair at the northeast corner of Rush and Huron streets, has been razed. Mrs. Blair was the grandmother of William McCormick Blair and Mrs. Howard Linn. On Mrs. Blair’s death, John Alden Carpenter, the composer, took the house. He had been living in the narrow, white stone-fronted residence at 710, which was built by W. K. Nixon in the ’70s. A fourth story was added to the original Nixon house in the ’90s, when the Nixons were hosts to the duke of Newcastle and his entourage. Nearby are the former homes of Joseph G. Coleman, Mrs. Elizabeth Stickney, and Watson F. Blair, all prominent socially. The latter house at 720 Rush st., is now the home of the Actors’ club.5
Along the east side of Rush street, from Chicago avenue to Superior street, are several venerable houses, among them that at 741, where Col. H. A. Musham, Chicago historian, lives. The home of Mrs. Robert D. McFadon is now occupied by the Club Alabam. At the northeast corner of Rush and Superior streets, in a great brick house with entrance on Superior street, once lived, Henry W. Bishop, prominent lawyer and then president of the exclusive Chicago club. There is now a restaurant in this building.6
Our walk along Rush street comes to an end at Chicago avenue for the elegant street of yesterday ended there. So, to Quaint Little Rush street of the past, we say farewell.
Rush Street in 1886
Grand avenue (Michigan) to Chicago avenue
Rush Street and Environs
151 Rush Street, Francis King residence, NE Corner Rush and Erie (100 E. Huron)
Chicago Tribune, February 15, 1950
Chicago Tribune, January 17, 1954
Rush st. is one in the list of Chicago streets which has come down after an era of grandeur.
Like Astor and Halsted sts., it was named after a person who had no direct connection with Chicago—Dr. Benjamin Rush, the eminent Philadelphia physician of revolutionary and post-revolutionary days. Rush Medical college was also named for him. Its first quarters were not on Rush st. but Clark st. south of the river. It was later moved to the corner of Dearborn and Indiana sts., the latter now called Grand av.
Long a Busy Highway.
The easternmost swing bridge over the main branch of the river was at the foot of Rush st. until 1920 when the Michigan av. bridge was built , one block east, at what had been Pine st. The latter then lost its name and became an extension of North Michigan av.
Rush st. consequently was for a long time a busy highway, which made the connection between the south bank of the river and, by a diagonal, North Clark st., and, eventually, the Green Bay trail.
Rush st. soon began the brilliant career which was to continue for about 85 years. On it was built Chicago’s first “grand hotel,” the Lake House, in 1835.
A three story brick building, it occupied the entire block between Kinzie and Michigan (now Hubbard) sts. It was described as “elegantly furnished thruout.” Reputedly it cost $100,000 to build, a sum which staggered the citizens of the time.
Pride of North Side.
Four blocks farther north stood Chicago’s first great mansion, the first private house in the city designed by an architect. The architect was John M. Van Osdel, of New York, whom Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden, brought to the city especially to design his house.
With its gardens, stables, out houses, and greenhouses, the Ogden residence occupied the entire block from Rush st. back to Cass st. (now Wabash), and between Ontario and Erie sts. Joseph T. Ryerson, an early settler, described it as a “large double (meaning that it had a hall in its center) two storied conspicuous house with portico and columns and broad steps.”
This house, the pride of the north side, was burned in the fire of 1871, and photographs of it are rare. Among the famous guests entertained there by Mayor Ogden were Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Era Begins in 1879.
The great epoch of Rush st. may be dated from 1879, when the house of Cyrus McCormick, which had been four years in building, was completed on the east side of the block between Erie and Huron sts.
It was the first grandiose specimen of the so-called “French” style of domestic architecture, which was to become the rage along Rush st. and among all wealthy residence builders of Chicago.
Its inspiration, authorities are fairly well agreed, was in part the additions to the palace-museum of the Louvre, built during the second empire (1852-1870), but more Charles Garnier’s “new opera” of the same period, still standing in Paris, France.
Today the house may seem a social and esthetic document in stone. Its high mansard roof and mansard cupola, its elaborate cresting, its bull’s eye windows, its tortuous exterior ornamentation, its high-ceilinged interior with elaborate fittings in marble and gilt, were perfectly in accord with the age of trailing skirts, uncreased trousers, and high starched collars.
Other members of the Harvester McCormick family built houses around the original one until this area of Rush st. adjoining streets was named “McCormickville.”
Most of the residences of the great days of Rush st. have had the same fate as similar houses elsewhere. They have been demolished or occupied by businesses or institutions. A certain number, north of Superior st., are now restaurants or night clubs.
The visitor to Rush st. today may find it interesting to examine the three houses still standing in a row on the east side from Huron st. south. The first is the Cyrus McCormick house, now a gutted and empty shell, waiting for the wrecker, but still giving some faint evidence of its one time splendor.
Still Occupies Home.
The second is the house of Mrs. Emmons Blaine, also of the McCormick family, still occupied and, to judge from the outside, in excellent condition. This house really fronts on Erie st., with its west side and garden wall on Rush st.
The third is the present Kungsholm restaurant, the former Leander Hamilton McCormick residence . A few years ago a fire necessitated putting a new and inharmonious facade along its Ontario st. front, and made it an architectural hybrid, in keeping with the general nondescript air of the neighborhood. By standing on Rush st., however, one can get a good idea of the original.
Qualified opinion had been that this house is the finest structure ever built on Rush st., that its graceful strength, exquisite proportions, and rich simplicity are worthy of its designer, the late Stanford White.
As a scene of social elegance, Rush st. began a slow decay even before the shift in customs and social values which set in about 1910. The Eastland disaster, in which more than 800 lives were lost when an excursion boat docked near the Rush st. bridge capsized in 1915, was a presage of the end.
Becomes Dead End.
when the bridge at its foot was moved away in 1920, Rush st. lost its importance for thru traffic, and became a dead end, a vermiform appendix of a street.
In the decade thereafter, the street shone with a certain dubious glitter as it became the center of Chicago’s higher-priced speakeasies. That was the prohibition and gangster era, and Rush st. is said to have enjoyed considerable favor among the more conspicuous hoodlums of the time.
As it is today, Rush st. rimes with nothing. Amid some tatters of vanished elegance, it is a miscellaneous row of buildings which look as if they got there because no one could think of anywhere else to put them. From the Superior st. corner north, it now is primarily a night entertainment street. Towards its southern end one finds hotels, lodging houses, parking lots, some good restaurants and some lunch counters, some excellent bars, and some which contrive to look sinister.
Center of “Bohemia.”
Two points are noteworthy along this stretch. One os the set of spectacular murals behind one of the bars. It is on the strength of these, probably, that some guide books assert that Rush st. is the center of “Chicago’s Bohemia.” Also noteworthy, just outside of this same bar of the murals, is a puzzling inscription over a sidewalk-level doghouse:
- What’s good for a dog is good for me.
Rush Street in 1906
Michigan Street to Indiana Street
Rush Street in 1906
Indiana Street to Erie Street
Rush Street in 1906
Erie Street to Chicago Avenue
Mrs. William Blair (151), W.K. Nixon (158), J.G. Coleman (160), Elizabeth Stickney (162), Walton F. Blair (164).
1 The Milner Hotel was gone by 1960, The Alexandria Hotel, built in 1893 was torn down in 1965 and a parking 5-story parking garage was built. The Croydon Hotel (Circle Lounge) was torn down in 1984.
2 The Hanley Dawson Cadillac dealership building was demolished in 1992. L. Hamilton McCormick’s house is now Lawry’s restaurant, at the northeast corner of East Ontario and North Rush Streets.
3 Paul Contos, owner of the French restaurant Chez Paul, moved into Robert Hall McCormick’s mansion in 1964 at 660 North Rush Street. The restaurant closed in 1995 and is now used for office space.
4 The first time the name “McCormickville” appeared in print was in the Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1915:
- The Chauncy McCormicks are moving in this autumn to the house in Rush street that the Higginsons occupied for three years, the old William McCormick home where Chauncey McCormick was born. He has much sentiment for and many associations with the house, which is in a neighborhood which might be properly called McCormickville, as Mrs. Cyrus McCormick, the R. Hall McCormicks, the Cyrus H. McCormicks, the Robert H. McCormicks, and Mrs. Emmons Blaine (nee McCormick) all live within a stone’s throw. It is “the return of the native.
The name also appeared in the Chicago Tribune on September 26, 1915:
- The young Chauncey McCormicks are furnishing and doing over the William McCormick house in Rush street in the district sometimes yclept McCormickville.
The Cyrus McCormick house at 675 Rush st., was torn down in 1954. The Sanitary District office building stands on the site today on the NE corner of Rush and Eries streets. The Henry King, Cyrus H. Adams and William G. McCormick mansions were torn down in 1949. 674-678 N. Michigan Avenue, where the Woolworth’s store stood, is currently the Omni Hotel.
5 Watson F. Blair’s home at 720 N. Rush is now Rosebud on Rush restaurant.
6 The site of Henry W. Bishop’s home is home to Giordano’s pizzeria.
Chicago Tribune, November 30, 1930
CHANGE: WHERE DESTRUCTION AND RECONSTRUCTION MEET
“Rush and Superior,” Mr. Richard A. Chase’s geographical title for this scene, is the artist’s story of the retreat of the age of brick and mortar before that of concrete and steel. Once sparkling and vibrant with the gayest amenities of social life. this scene was to other times what the gold coast is to ours; today the pneumatic riveter, putting together the newest near north side skyscraper, sounds its doom.