The West Side Story of Chicago Then: Roosevelt Road, that great street

The West Side Story of Chicago Then: Roosevelt Road, that great street

There weren’t super highways, strip malls or the monstrous shopping malls of this generation.  The word ‘suburb’ wasn’t in our lexicon.  What each community in Chicago had is their own major shopping area. Mine was Roosevelt Road, or as it was known in the early part of the 20th century, 12th Street.

I still remember my parents referring to the street as 12th Street.  You didn’t have to schlep your way to the Loop to shop. You had about any kind of shop you wanted along Roosevelt Road - That Great Street.  I can still hear the clanging and noise of the red colored electric street car with its antennae hugging the electric wires that stood majestically overhead. They ran on their tracks in the middle of the street hogging the street, but always jammed with passengers going from one place to another.

My memories of the Great Street run from Crawford to Kedzie and Roosevelt, a stretch of about two miles. Walk along with me and remember the street in its prime.  So, you wanted to see a movie. OK. There was one end where the Circle Theatre stood where I first saw ‘The Wizard of Oz’. It was magical. The theatre had one drawback. You had to find a seat that wasn’t broken. A great memory. I was all of 7 years old.

Then there was the Gold Theatre and the 20th Century both owned by the same family. They were air cooled and advertised as such. At least it took some the heat out of the air so you could reasonably watch the movie with a degree of comfort. Those theaters were good for cowboy movies, double features, shorts, and cartoons.  We always went on a Saturday and stayed for hours.

Then as you walked along there was the magnificent movie palace of Balaban & Katz, The Central Park Theatre with all the majesty you expected from a B&K movie house. And their were electric signs on all four sides of the canopy so you could see what the features were.  In those years (before TV) the weekends were for showing first run movies. Then Wednesday and Thursday there were reruns of older movies with coming attractions, the same as we have today, except better for this old movie goer. And we wind up with Crawford Theatre later renamed the Rena on Roosevelt and Crawford. We went there occasionally but it was a landmark at the border of my Roosevelt Road.

Ok, you wanted a dinner or a nosh.  There were marvelous choices including Carl’s Deli where you could have chicken soup, a corned beef sandwich with a kosher pickle plus the added aroma of a real deli.  When you entered the restaurant one could hear the voices of the patrons, each anticipating their order.  So you wanted to take your girlfriend for a hot fudge sundae, you could stroll over to the Chocolate Shop next door to the Central Park Movie house. Or you felt like having a delicious kosher Red Hot?  You could go to Flukey’s next door to the Chocolate Shop. For those years I remember it as being a big store where kids and grownups congregated for a hot dog and conversation.



Let’s not forget Silverman’s, the other deli on St. Louis and Roosevelt. It wasn’t a deli like Carl’s but more of a family oriented restaurant. I was taken there as a young boy with my Uncle and family and I thought I was in heaven eating in an elegant restaurant.

There was one restaurant that was mysterious to me called The Lawndale where many debit and outside salesmen went for lunch. (Sorry Ladies in those years they were salesmen.) And, some of them seemed to be in there forever. Finally I went there for lunch with the usual packed customers and found out what the grownups do. The restaurant had plenty of public phones to be used for the customer’s convenience. The word cell phone wouldn’t exist till decades later. Then I finally went into the ‘back room’ and they were playing cards and all looked so mature to me. The mystery of the Lawndale restaurant was solved.

These anecdotes are only a small sample of my Roosevelt Road (12th Street.) We have to cover all the different shops along that Great Street.

See you at the Deli.

This memory lights the corners of my mind and I hope yours also.

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