Route 66 history:  Lawndale’s Dr. M. L. King Legacy Apartments

Today is the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.  If you haven’t already done or participated in something to celebrate, there’s a memorial concert tonight in downtown Chicago (see the end of this article) … or, if you’re not up for going out, you can read this blog post about an interesting side trip off of Route 66 that honors Dr. King.

The apartment building at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. that Dr. and Mrs. King moved into in Chicago's Lawndale area in January 1966.

The apartment building at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. that Dr. and Mrs. King moved into in Chicago’s Lawndale area  (photo circa January 1966).

Once upon a time back during the winter of 1966, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to raise awareness of the appalling, restrictive housing situation of Chicago’s black residents.  To do that, he moved that January into an apartment in North Lawndale on Chicago’s impoverished West Side.  The apartment building he chose was located at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave., about four blocks north of U.S. Route 66.

Dr. and Mrs. King didn’t stay there long that cold January – only about eight months, staying there a few nights a week from winter through late summer – and all the furniture they used while they resided there was obtained from a Salvation Army second-hand store.  The Kings’ rent on Hamlin Avenue was $90 a month – which was $10 more per month than what white residents paid for a comparable apartment in other areas of the city, yet the apartment and the building it was in were in much worse condition.  In the end, Dr. King’s historic stay in Lawndale may have raised the profile of the housing problem and the nation’s consciousness, but it didn’t make any difference insofar as getting more affordable housing built in Chicago.  That came much, much later.

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Route 66 updates:  Berwyn’s Cigars & Stripes gets a new sign; some local Route 66 history

Surprise, surprise — while keeping up with our Route 66 tweets last week, we noticed via Ron Warnick’s Twitter feed that one of our fave Mother Road barbecue spots in the metro area, Cigars & Stripes BBQ Lounge in Berwyn, IL, got new signage.  Have to say this:  When Ronnie Lottz does something, he really goes BIG.  So of course, yours truly had to stop by and take a gander.

I caught it on a rainy day (sigh …), but the shot still worked, thank heavens.  It seems lately that any time I want to shoot something in the ‘burbs and try to schedule it in advance, hoping for sunshine, it rains or clouds over.  You’d think Chicago had suddenly become Seattle or something (much rain in May and June here, but no flooding and better than drought, eh?).  Nevertheless, Ronnie’s stuff stands out — and together with his Route 66-themed mural on the side of the building, it’s sure to be a hit.

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Route 66 update: Reintroducing Chicago’s Jewish West Side to today’s Lawndale

Ahhh, Ash Wednesday …  Dust smudged on your forehead.  The start of Lent, the season of grim pre-Easter diets and fish on Fridays for many Christians.  But wait:  we forgot to tell you yesterday about a truly fine fete that happened last Sunday.  And it’s related to our Route 66 book project (well, a spin-off of same, anyway).

During the course of writing this manuscript, we researched an awful lot about Chicago neighborhoods through which the route proceeds, and that includes Lawndale, the last part of Chicago before you hit the suburbs.  It turns out there’s a whole history of greater Lawndale – north and south Lawndale plus the southern end of Garfield Park – that people have forgotten … like what it was during 1926 when the route was brand new.  It was, in fact, the Jewish West Side (or the Great Vest Side, as your grandfolks might have said).  For nearly half a century, greater Lawndale had the largest and densest concentration of Jewish residents in the entire metro area – at its height, it was home to 40 percent of the Jews in Chicago – a Jewish community larger than in many other cities here or abroad.  This made for a very tight community, but the sheer density of people was murder on the housing stock by the time the Jews left.

Us making the film "Remebering Jewish Lawndale;" L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne.   (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

Us making the film “Remembering Jewish Lawndale;” L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne. (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

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Route 66 events:  the Dog Days of Summer car-lover’s schedule

They don’t call August the dog days without cause:  it’s so hot that you pant and don’t want to do much, other than maybe listen to that great tune by the same name by Leigh ‘Lil Queenie’ Harris on her album Polychrome Junction.  By now, all of you are thanking your stars that your A/C still works.  Up here in northeastern Illinois, we haven’t had that awful a summer, generally speaking – but we have had a few outrageous days in the high-90-degree range and one 100-degree day (ouch).  Today was another one of those scorchers; even cruising with the top down doesn’t make you feel better midday.  But in the evening … ahhh, what a difference!

Joe, Keith and I are looking forward to A/C and a road trip this coming Sunday, August 25th, for the next screening of our documentary film Remembering Jewish Lawndale, a spin-off project that resulted from all the research we did on that neighborhood for our upcoming Route 66 book.  The screening will be for the Jewish Genealogical Society and will be held at Beth Israel Synagogue, 3601 Dempster in Skokie.  We’ll have a short introduction at 1:30 p.m., show the film at 2 p.m., then do a Q&A session with Dr. Irving Cutler, one of the people interviewed in the film.

erwyn Route 66 Car Show on Ogden Avenue

Hey, Route 66 roadies:  The annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show along Ogden Avenue is coming up soon on September 7th this year – be there, or be square!  Photo courtesy of Berwyn DevCorp.

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Route 66-related film on Lawndale now for sale on DVD

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  And blame that anonymous bunch at CoD media relations for dropping the ball and not publicizing this early enough for Hanukkah gifts.  Their bad.

hanukkah  candles

Hanukkah candles (Photo credit: woodleywonderworks)

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.

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