Trivial Chicago

On September 25, 2016 · 3 Comments

A most wonderful website caught my attention as I researched Connecting Through Midway. I don’t like to recommend websites because they seem to disappear right after I mention them. Seriously, my endorsements create a cloud of bad luck that jinxes any site unfortunate enough to receive one. The Chicago Public Library produced this site however and the author published more than a hundred articles over the previous two years. It should be safe. I’d uncovered the Municipal Reference Guy.

The specific entry that piqued my interest bore an enticing title, Do You Know Chicago’s Streets?. Well, no I didn’t. That’s why I found it particularly interesting. I "borrowed" three of the items I found most fascinating and decided to research them further. All due credit should go to the original author, the Municipal Reference Guy. It doesn’t count as plagiarism if someone elaborates upon the original version and provides full disclosure, right?

O’Hare International Airport

ORD from the air
ORD from the air. Photo by BriYYZ on Flickr (cc)

The page referenced both of Chicago’s major airports, Midway and O’Hare. That’s the connection that led me to discover it. Both of their names traced to a World War II theme although I focused on another feature for today’s purpose. The International Air Transportation Association used the code ORD for O’Hare. If the "O" stood for O’Hare, then what did the other two letters mean? Trick question! ORD didn’t reference O’Hare at all. The airport started operating before World War II, or several years before Butch O’Hare lost his life while earning a Medal of Honor as a Naval aviator. O’Hare didn’t become O’Hare until 1949. It first went by a less remarkable name, Orchard Field. This reflected its position on the outskirts of a village called Orchard Place.

O’Hare began as an airstrip in the area known as Orchard Place. It became a Douglas aircraft manufacturing plant during World War II. It is unclear if the D stands for Douglas or Depot, or simply is the final D in Orchard.

Orchard Place started as a small farming community settled by German immigrants in the 1830’s. It all but disappeared in the 20th Century as the airport expanded and an Interstate highway plowed through part of it. Suburban Chicago grew and absorbed the rest of it, forming the southern edge of Des Plaines. Its name lived on in the IATA Code ORD and at a local school, Orchard Place Elementary (map).

Meet Me at Broadway and Sheridan

If someone in Chicago asked you to meet them at the corner of Broadway Street and Sheridan Road, he might be trying to ditch you. The two streets, as noted by the Chicago Public Library, actually intersect three different times. It’s been awhile since I made my own Google Map although it seemed a perfect opportunity to illustrate the intersections.

Generally they roads ran parallel to each other, north-south. Nonetheless, both took strange angles at places that forced them to intersect repeatedly. This happened at the 3900 North, 4350 North and 6400 North blocks.

I wondered about their names as I naturally do. Sheridan Road derived from General Philip Sheridan who gained his fame during the Civil War. However, the street didn’t relate to his service during the war. Sheridan happened to be stationed in the city when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed more than three square miles of it in 1871. He quickly took control of the situation, dynamiting buildings to create fire breaks, and restored order after the mayor declared several days of martial law. The disaster, awful as it was, would have been considerably worse without Sheridan in command. Chicago did not forget his actions.

Broadway Street apparently got its name from the famous Broadway in New York City in 1913.

All Four Cardinal Directions

Wacker Drive map
Wacker Drive map on Wikimedia Commons. In the public domain.

Wacker Drive should be renamed Wacky Drive in my opinion. I’m not sure if similar examples existed elsewhere — maybe the wise 12MC audience can find other occurrences — because Wacker featured street addresses with all four cardinal directions. Chicago used a numbering system that designated addresses as north-south or east-west. Generally it didn’t pose a problem because streets tended to run in fairly uniform directions. Wacker did not. It followed the Chicago River where it bent around downtown. That created a nice curve in Wacker Drive that resulted in both a north-south segment and an east-west segment. Thus, legitimate street addresses included North, South, East and West Wacker Drive.

Anyone visiting Chicago probably noticed that Wacker featured upper and lower levels. The upper level handled through-traffic. The lower level allowed trucks to make deliveries to nearby buildings. I didn’t know that Wacker also included a short third level known as Lower Lower Wacker Drive. Secret drag races became a problem there in recent years.

Who was Wacker? Charles Wacker chaired the Chicago Planning Commission that came up with city infrastructure improvements in the early 20th Century.

Bonus! The Midway Plaisance

Fall Day on the Midway
Fall Day on the Midway. Photo by feministjulie on Flickr (cc)

I discovered some bonus trivia on another article on the site, Streets of Chicago: Midway Plaisance. This Midway, unlike the airport, did not reference the Battle of Midway or Midway Atoll. Actually I couldn’t find the definitive reason why they called it Midway although it dated to the mid-19th Century. Plaisance came from a French version of pleasant, in other words a nice place to spend some time. The World’s Columbian Exposition happened there in 1893. Chicago wanted to create an iconic statement like Paris had done with the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 World’s Fair. A revolving circular tower rose at the center of the mile-long Midway Plaisance, the world’s first Ferris Wheel (map).

Hundreds of exhibits lined the Midway Plaisance during the Columbian Exposition. It became such a sensation that just about every circus, fair or exposition afterwards took the idea along with its name, creating their own Midway.

Connecting Through Midway

On September 22, 2016 · 2 Comments

I hadn’t flown through Chicago’s Midway Airport much until recently. Then Southwest Airlines started offering flights at my local airport and many of its connections passed through Midway. I always hated connecting flights, and flying in general, although I admitted a preference for Midway over O’Hare. I never thought about its name though.


Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal
Battle Of Midway Memorial Located In The Midway Airport Terminal.
Photo by AmateurArtGuy on Flickr (cc)

Chicago, Illinois seemed to be a perfect spot for an airport named Midway, being placed just about midway across the continent (map). That’s where I thought the name would lead like the Definitely Halfway article. I’ve been wrong so many times before it shouldn’t surprise me anymore when something takes a strange turn. This one still caught me off guard. It began service as Municipal Airport in 1927. The named changed to Midway in 1949, not because of its geography but to honor the Battle of Midway.

In May 1942, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sought to draw the US Pacific Fleet into a battle where he could overwhelm and destroy it. To accomplish this he planned an invasion of Midway Island which would provide a base for attacking Hawaii. Using decrypted Japanese radio intercepts, Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to counter this offensive. On June 4, 1942, US aircraft flying from USS Enterprise, USS Hornet, and USS Yorktown attacked and sunk four Japanese carriers, forcing Yamamoto to withdrawal. The Battle of Midway marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific.

Midway Atoll marked an approximate midway point between North America and Asia (map), thus the name.

Midway Ships

USS Midway / San Diego
USS Midway / San Diego. Photo by Michael Mayer on Flickr (cc)

Did the Battle of Midway inspire other names? Yes, of course.

A few months ago my transit through Midway Airport took me onward to San Diego, California. I’ve always enjoyed San Diego and its downtown waterfront. Visitors there can see lots of attractions including the USS Midway Museum. It’s a vintage aircraft carrier converted into a massive floating exhibit.

The Naval History and Heritage Command’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships noted three ships with the Midway name. The War Shipping Administration first pressed a private freighter into service in 1942, naming it the Midway (AG-41). It operated mainly along the Pacific coastline and later became the Panay because the Navy wanted to use Midway for a more important ship. That first Midway got its name from the atoll anyway, not the battle, so the battle needed to be commemorated. The second Midway (CVE-63), an escort carrier, got its name in 1943 and it definitely honored the battle. Its name changed in 1944, however, so an even larger aircraft carrier could become the Midway. The second Midway became the St. Lo to honor Saint-Lô, a town in France in the crosshairs of the Normandy Invasion A kamikaze attack sank the St. Lo at the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

The final Midway (CVE-63) eventually became the museum that graced the San Diego waterfront (map). Its commissioning came a few days too late for World War II. However it served valiantly for nearly a half-century thereafter. The Midway ended its service as the flagship of the Persian Gulf fleet during Operation Desert Storm before its 1992 decommissioning.

Midway Streets

I couldn’t simply check every Midway Street to see if it traced back to the Battle of Midway. That would have involve thousands of data points. However, I did find a suburb of Adelaide, South Australia called Elizabeth East. The street names reflected the battle. Very quickly, I spotted Halsey Road, Nimitz Road, Hornet Crescent, Saratoga Road, and of course Midway Road. There were many others. These reflected the commanders and ships of the winners. I wondered how many of Elizabeth East’s four thousand residents understood the theme.

There must have been more. I couldn’t find them. They were lost amongst many more streets called Midway for other reasons.

Midway Theater

The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC - IMGP0420
The Midway Theatre Forest Hills Queens NYC. Photo by BEVNorton on Flickr (cc)

However, I did find an interesting movie theater that opened in 1942. Thomas White Lamb designed this wonderful Art Moderne structure placed in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, New York (map).

[It] was named after the World War II battle, opened later that year as a single-screen 1,933-seat theater, but it was converted to a nine-screen multiplex when United Artists took control of the building in 1998.

Midway seemed as good a name for a theater as an airport.

Moorish Revival

On August 21, 2016 · 3 Comments

Occasionally Twelve Mile Circle likes to feature lesser known architectural styles in articles such as Rock Cut, Pueblo Deco, Egyptian Rivival and Octagons. I came across another one I found both fascinating and rare that I wanted to share: Moorish Revival. This design became modestly popular during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century. Europeans and North Americans looked nostalgically upon Middle Eastern themes and it reflected in their architecture too. Onion domes, horseshoe arches and ornate design elements came from the Moors, a medieval Islamic culture from North Africa and Spain. Architects found the style particularly suitable for theaters, synagogues and the temples of fraternal organizations. I selected a single example from each category.

Georgian National Opera Theater

Tbilisi opera house
Tbilisi opera house. Photo by Henri Bergius on Flickr (cc)

Georgians always loved opera and long flocked to their magnificent theater in Tbilisi (map). The opera house first opened in 1851 at the beginning of the Moorish Revival although it underwent several stressful episodes during its history. It burned twice. It also survived Russian and Soviet occupations. It then nearly fell during Georgia’s 1991 civil war:

"One day a group of paramilitaries gunned down the front door, telling us they needed the opera for shelter," he remembers. "After the gunmen left we had no front door and a wall riddled with bullets. When we opened again after the fighting, I wanted to cover that wall in glass and put up a big sign saying: ‘This is not how you treat culture."

The opera house underwent an extensive multi-year renovation recently, reopening in January 2016.

Great Synagogue of Stockholm

Great Synagogue of Stockholm
Great Synagogue of Stockholm. Photo by Erin on Flickr (cc)

I wondered why so many of the notable synagogues built in the 1800’s adopted Moorish Revival designs. The Museum of the Jewish People provided an explanation.

The style of these synagogues, inspired from the oriental architecture, especially Moorish, was intended to evocate the glorious past of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and in medieval Spain, while the size and location of the synagogues in the city centers expressed the newly acquired legal status and social respectability of the Jewish community.

The Great Synagogue of Stockholm (map) offered an excellent case study. The building held 900 people at a time when "the entire Jewish community of Stockholm had less than two thousands members." The year of its completion, 1870, also coincided with the lifting of the last legal restriction placed on Sweden’s Jews.

Tripoli Shrine Temple

Milwaukee Tripoli Shrine Center
Milwaukee Tripoli Shrine Center. Photo by Nels Olsen on Flickr (cc)

Masonic organizations — branches of the Freemasons — came in many different forms and affiliations. The Shriners offshoot began in the 1870’s in New York City. This happened during a height of fascination with Middle Eastern themes.

Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).

They adopted Moorish trappings, most famously the red fezzes they wore on their heads. Their logo also featured a scimitar and crescent. Their fraternal meeting places became Neo-Moorish monuments they called temples. The Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed these principals upon its construction in 1928 (map). It attempted to emulate the Taj Mahal. Oddly while the Taj Mahal was Mughal not Moorish, I guess it was considered "close enough" to be lumped in with Neo-Moorish when adapted in the US.


Opa Locka City Hall
Opa Locka City Hall. Photo by Adrian Salgado on Flickr (cc)

If 12MC had to pick a place that went most completely overboard with Moorish Revival themes, I would respectfully bestow the title upon Opa-locka, Florida (map). Glenn Curtiss, its founder, had already been a successful aviation pioneer and entrepreneur. He then developed several towns in Florida during the latter part of his career.

Curtiss’s interests were not restricted just to vehicles of transportation. In 1921, he essentially left the aviation business and moved to Florida to become a highly-successful land developer. With friends, he developed the Florida cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Opa-Locka. Opa-Locka was intended to be his crowning achievement, a planned community resembling something from the Arabian Nights.

Curtis built his Opa-locka dream world north of Miami. It even reflected his passion in street names such as Sinbad Avenue, Caliph Street, Ali Baba Avenue and Aladdin Street. Municipal buildings, shopping centers and residences alike adopted a Neo-Moorish style unrivaled anywhere outside of the Middle East. They were all thoroughly Americanized of course. Oddly the name of the town itself came from its earlier Native American inhabitants, from a Seminole phrase meaning "a big island covered with many trees and swamps."

The city fell into a long, steady decline after an adjacent Naval Air Station closed in the 1950’s. NPR reported in June 2016 that the state took control of Opa-locka’s finances and targeted city officials for corruption investigations. Many of its residents lived in poverty in those Arabian Nights houses. What a shame.

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