Happy Hanukkah, y’all!
We mentioned in a previous post that as part of our spin-off activities, we recently produced a new Route 66-related documentary video film, Remembering Jewish Lawndale. Well, that film is now available for purchase on DVD – just barely in time for Hanukkah (but certainly in time for Christmas). The media relations and multimedia services departments at our production facility, College of DuPage, however, are a little behind in publicizing it – can you say turf confusion? Nobody knows whose responsibility this baby is – so we have to publicize it as best we can. The press release will be on our In the news page shortly.
Here’s the deal – it’s now available from CoD Multimedia Services for $20 plus shipping and handling – just barely in time for Hanukkah (but certainly in time for Christmas, anyway). To order a copy, contact David Gorski at CoD Multimedia Services at 630-942-2468 or via e-mail at email@example.com. And blame that anonymous bunch at CoD media relations for dropping the ball and not publicizing this early enough for Hanukkah gifts. Their bad.
My co-author Joe Kubal has more to say on this subject, so take it away, Joe …
As we may have mentioned earlier, Remembering Jewish Lawndale is out on DVD and was developed for the Illinois Geographical Society (IGS) with the assistance of the College of DuPage’s very helpful and generous multimedia department. Conceived by me and our third co-author, CoD assistant professor of geography Keith Yearman, this film is the first in the “Giants in Geography” series, which highlights Illinois geographers and their passions. This particular film, the first of the series, features Dr. Irving Cutler, professor emeritus of geography at Chicago State University (CSU) and a noted Chicago historian. It’s a direct result of our research concerning Route 66, although Keith did envision its initial use in his geography classes at CoD, which explains how and why we got to use the multimedia department’s resources in the first place. And since we used their resources, the college owns the film. Fair enough.
Dr. Cutler was my mentor when I studied geography at Chicago State, and I was well aware of his interest in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. It’s where he grew up. Lawndale is bisected on an angle by Ogden Avenue/Route 66 as the Mother Road passes through the west side. Most Route 66 travel guides show the historic road’s starting point in downtown Chicago and then usually jump right to Joliet, skipping most of what’s in between (with the possible exception of a few restaurants, such as Lou Mitchell’s, Henry’s Drive-in, Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket, and/or White Fence Farm). But the route passes through the heart of Lawndale and Douglas Park on its way out of town, and there is still much on that segment of the road that was there in 1926 and is still worth revisiting today. Moreover, as the film shows, Route 66 was important not just to through-travelers but also to the settlement, migration patterns, and development of those areas of metro Chicago through which it passed. In fact, the route was critical to the growth of Chicago’s southwest metro area.
Famous former residents of North Lawndale include 1930s-1950s big band leader Benny Goodman, former Israeli Prime Minister and Labor Zionist leader Golda Meir, restaurateur and businessman Eli Shulman of Eli’s Cheesecake, former syndicated newspaper columnist and talk show host Irv Kupcinet, boxer Barney Ross, Judge Abraham Lincoln Marovitz, boxing champ and music producer Ernie Terrell and his sister, pop singer Jean Terrell (who replaced Diana Ross in the Supremes), famed jazz and blues singer Dinah Washington, jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, NBA players Isiah Thomas and Kevin Garnett, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (who lived there in an apartment for several months while planning peaceful civil rights protests during the 1960s) as well as blues musicians Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam and Otis Clay.
As with our book, we each brought something indispensable to the film project. Given that Keith holds a faculty position at CoD and has built a relationship with the multimedia department, he was very interested in producing the series for the IGS and key to getting us the resources. Maria is great at analyzing the background material and interviewing people, and I have kept in contact with Dr. Cutler since my college days. Making the video seemed a natural fit with our book project, so we first went out with Dr. Cutler to Lawndale in December 2011 to explore the area for the book and returned there this summer to do the videotaping. We also followed up with him and with another former North Lawndale resident, businessman Richard Dolejs (see below), in the studio after that. Then it was time to edit: we had hours’ more material than we could use in a half-hour film. More than six hours worth of raw footage, in fact, and more than a hundred photographs.
In the documentary that resulted from those hours of videotape, we review the history of the former Jewish West Side of greater Lawndale, which included North Lawndale and parts of the Garfield Park and Austin neighborhoods. Dr. Cutler explains that the Jewish population grew to more than 100,000 in the 1930s and early 1940s, representing 40 percent of Chicago’s overall Jewish population. In addition, more than 70 synagogues were located in the greater Lawndale area.
By the end of World War II, the Jewish community began moving out. The Jews wanted neighborhoods with single-family homes and better schools and, like many other upwardly mobile Americans, began moving to newer neighborhoods or to the suburbs, where single-family homes were far more plentiful. The Jews moved primarily to Chicago’s north side neighborhoods – including Albany Park, Rogers Park and West Rogers Park – and to north shore suburbs such as Wilmette, Glencoe, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Skokie, though a few also moved west to the Austin area and to suburban Oak Park.
The Jews weren’t the first residents of north Lawndale, nor did they really stay very long in Lawndale – only five decades, at most – yet they left so much behind: much historic architecture, yes, but also movie theaters, school buildings, some businesses, and community institutions and organizations, such as Mt. Sinai Medical Center and several boys’ clubs.
Dr. Cutler documents the community’s history though maps and tours of the area, including a visit to the Greater Galilee Baptist Church that was once a synagogue (the former Knesses Issrael Nusach Sfard congregation) and still contains many Jewish architectural features. The film also features an interview with real estate manager Richard Dolejs, former North Lawndale resident, business leader of South Lawndale, and former head of that area’s chamber of commerce. Dolejs, together with his wife, thought of the name “Little Village” during the late 1950s to describe South Lawndale and give it a separate identity from north Lawndale, which was undergoing rapid and painful change at the time.
We do have more videos in the works. Meanwhile, you can hear our Route 66-related IGS podcasts at Podbean. Got to get back to writing the last part of that book now!
Bye for now,
Joe and Maria