The Ghost Signs of Music Row

Nearly a century ago, the area on Wabash generally between Adams and Van Buren in the South Loop used to be known as "Music Row" because many manufacturers of musical instruments were located here.  A photo looking north on Wabash from Van Buren in 1907 shows this area in its early days. Most of the buildings on the right in the photo no longer exist, but there are a few signs from the area's past that are still visible today.

Behind the building at 25 East Jackson Boulevard is a long sign for W.W. Kimball Company. The company began in 1857 in Chicago. They were the largest organ maker in the world toward the end of the 19th century and also produced player pianos and phonographs in the early 20th century. Poor business decisions led the company into decline and near insolvency by the late 1950s, when it was eventually purchased by the Jasper Corporation. Jasper is known today as Kimball International.

This ghost sign on the side of 28 East Jackson Boulevard is an advert for office space in the building. The phone number has a 2-letter exchange prefix which officially ended in 1977. (The HA stood for HArrison.) It was originally named the Steger Building after piano manufacturer John Steger, whose business was once so big that he even had a city named after him. Established in 1892 as Steger and Sons Piano Manufacturing Company, he built this building in 1910 as his administrative headquarters. He died only six years after it was completed, but the business itself continued until 1959.

Across the street is 221 S. Wabash, formerly the Lyon and Healy headquarters. Here is how the building appeared in 1915. Lyon & Healy, established in 1889, was huge, once boasting - as the ghost sign states - to be a part of "everything known in music." You will see advertisements for Lyon & Healy on every other page if you browse through old city directories. It is still in business today, albeit only for harp manufacturing. Their factory is still located in Chicago.

DePaul University has since taken over ownership of many of the buildings in the area. Interestingly, there has been a campaign in the last few years to create a new "Music Row" where "Motor Row" and "Record Row" used to be further south on Michigan Avenue between Cermak and the Stevenson.

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