Trivial Chicago

On September 25, 2016 · 4 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.

On September 25, 2016 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “Trivial Chicago”

  1. Brian Casey says:

    Orange Grove Blvd in Pasadena, California also has addresses with all four directions. It starts in the southwest corner of the city, and runs north towards the Rose Bowl. Just before Walnut St., it turns northeast for 3/4 of mile, then turns due east at Fair Oaks Ave.

    On New Year’s Day, the Rose Parade starts at Orange Grove and California Blvds., then runs north on Orange Grove to Colorado Blvd, where it heads east to Sierra Madre Blvd. Just before the end of the parade, the route crosses Orange Grove Blvd. on Sierra Madre.

    On other days of the year, the section of Orange Grove south and west of Fair Oaks is the upscale neighborhood known as “Millionaire’s Row”, featuring large mansions and impressive landscapes.

    Here’s a map showing the Orange Grove Blvd. in Pasadena:

    South of Oliver St, Orange Grove Blvd. becomes Orange Grove Avenue as it enters the city of South Pasadena, where it loses it’s directional prefix – South Pasadena streets do not use directions. Addresses on north-south streets increase southerly beginning at the Pasadena border, and east-west street addresses increase easterly beginning at the Los Angeles city border.

    • David says:

      I was going to mention Orange Grove as well, since I grew up in Pasadena just off of East Orange Grove Blvd. However, the part west of Fair Oaks (which is the east/west divide in Pasadena) where it begins to curve to the south is considered North Orange Grove Boulevard. The addresses go immediately from East to North. There is no West Orange Grove. Also the East portion was originally named Illinois Street, so it wasn’t originally conceived as one continuous street. Bummer; I wanted my hometown to have some sort of 12MC-worthy notoriety.

  2. Randy Clark says:

    Elston Avenue begins at Milwaukee Ave and ends about 9.8 miles at Milwaukee Avenue.
    41.897243, -87.656603
    41.993053, -87.782689

  3. John Wood says:

    Grand Avenue in Oklahoma City was at one time a loop around the city. It has been renamed in spots, but I would imagine it still has all four directions. There was at one point a multi-point geocache that involved trying to locate a number of addresses on this street, which was not an easy task.

    Bonus trivia: One part of Grand Avenue that was renamed was changed to Sheridan…in honor of none other than the same Phillip Sheridan mentioned in this article. For bonus reading, here is an interesting article on why naming a street after Phillip Sheridan may not be very politically correct:

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