Neighborhood Stories


“The Forbidden Garden”

by Rosalie Bock

May 2008,

I was born in 1938.  For the next twenty-two years I lived one house and a garden from the PRCUA building at Augusta Boulevard and Milwaukee Avenue.  What the PRCUA actually did never became clear to me.  The building was the most modern and solid edifice on the block which consisted mainly of frame houses most of which were in need of paint and repair.  The pinkish color and the curved lines of this modern building were beautiful, adding a sort of ironic ending to the street. 

The neighborhood consisted of the hopeful and the hopeless.  People who came to America to find a better life, and those who had failed miserably in this quest.  The languages were varied  but were primarily Polish.  My family owned the house we lived in since 1900.  Originally a cottage, it grew upward as they filled in the swampland and raised the street.  The first floor was below the level of the Boulevard, and we had storage under the sidewalk where we kept the wood and coal that heated our rooms.  Next door, there was an exact duplicate of our house except that it had a slight lean to it, bringing the houses so close that I could lean out of my bedroom window and touch the window of the leaner. They looked like two companionable old women.  Next to that, was the PRCUA Garden. As large as a city lot and surrounded by a wrought iron fence, it had a beautiful lawn with a garden in the center.  Cottonwood and Catalpa Trees gave it a lovely shaded atmosphere.  

Sometimes I would bravely roller skate to the corner where the door to the Genealogy Offices is now, and hurry back toward my house.  Usually someone from the offices  saw me, and came to the door to shoo me away. Neighborhood kids were not permitted to defile the territory around the building in any way.  However, the sidewalk around the PRCUA was wonderful for skating.  It was smoother than the sidewalk along rest of the block, so was very tempting.   So was the garden.  When my brothers lost a ball over the fence, they dared me to go in and  get it.  I would creep in, frightened, to get the ball which was usually in the central motif.   I always got caught.  The side  door would open, a man would emerge, and even though I did not understand Polish I realized  the words he was spewing out were not welcoming, especially combined with the fist he was shaking at me.

Across Augusta Boulevard, on the other corner of Milwaukee Avenue, the antithesis of the PRCU building with its curve and color was a brick triangular building that housed Fine and Sons Furniture Store.  We were very grateful for its existence as it provided us with scrap wood from the furniture skids that helped to keep us warm.  Like the gleaners who take the leavings from the farms of Europe, we would run across the boulevard and take the wood that was left for us.  I used to imagine what that corner looked like when the building there was a saloon.  My mother used to get a nickel’s worth of beer in a bucket for her father, and gawk at the painting of the naked lady above the bar.

 Milwaukee Avenue was the lifeline that compared with the Kennedy Expressway today.  It was an old Indian Trail, and runs diagonally through the city from the Loop to the City of Niles and further northwest.  Most importantly it provided commerce, sustenance, and finally, St. Adalbert’s Cemetery.  The streetcars that ran down the middle clanged along all day and all night.  They were red, and run by electricity, and cost a nickel to ride.  They could take you downtown or all the way to Devon Avenue, where you could go to the Forest Preserve there, or walk the rest of the way to St. Adalberts.  At this end of the Avenue sat a little castle like building, the sign said it was “One in a Million”.  This referred to the best milk shake you ever tasted.  When MacDonald’s bought them out to get the machinery they used to make their confections, they added hamburgers to their fare.  Ten for a dollar, they were small but tasty morsels that were a precursor to what was to come.

Around the corner from Augusta Boulevard though, the commerce was much less enticing.  On either side of the street  one could find a wallpaper store, a linoleum store, a meat packing house, which emitted some very awful smells when they burned the leavings;  several used furniture stores, (Today they would be antique stores) small clothiers, and even a couple of fortune teller shops which were to be avoided because they liked to “steal little kids”.  They looked and dressed like the gypsies of old, so they were scary.  Mostly we kids stayed close to home, playing roly poly, a game played with a good bouncing ball, on the sidewalk in front of our houses.  We also jumped rope, played hopscotch, and of course, the two best, Hide-n-Seek, and “It”.  Maybe kids with better vocabulary would call it “Tag,” but we just yelled “It” and the game began.  Nobody would hide in or near the garden. 

We really were urchins.  Most of us were at or below the poverty level. Many were the victims of families ruined by alcoholism or depression or other problems.  One of our grown-up neighbors had syphilis which ate away his nose.  This poor man hid away in his flat, cared for by his little wife.  We called him the “Count” I do not know if he was royalty from some far off state, but he spoke only Polish, and then only when absolutely forced to do so.  I think the name came from the fact that he used a cigarette holder when he smoked.  In the flat above him lived a lady who got drunk every night and would be brought home from the tavern around the corner in her child’s baby buggy with the baby on her lap.  In the back of this building lived a man who would come home howling drunk, singing or howling at the top of his voice.  He was killed when he put his head in an elevator shaft looking for an elevator car.  At the lowest level, in a sparking clean apartment lived “Busia,” who was grandmother to the whole block.  She used to give her real grandkids baths in a large round metal tub, “balia” in Polish, in the backyard.  She was warm and loving to everyone. 

After the Second World War, new people moved in, displaced persons, including kids wearing big tags on their coats declaring them “DP’s,” men who were damaged by the war, legless, or shell shocked: and foreign wives of soldiers, many of whom were never quite accepted by the then established neighbors on the block.   There never was a feeling of camaraderie here, we were all fighting too hard to make it through the day.  Meals of potatoes and milk, bacon grease on rye bread, or soup that lasted the whole week were all a part of our lives.  We learned to live and let live, not interfering with other’s lives, even when we knew the guy next door was beating his wife and kids.  Survival was the name of the game.  True, there were some families along the block that had the nicer houses but we never interacted with them except to say “Hello”. 

When I came back to do some genealogy work at the center, I found that the garden was gone, the houses were gone, and where my home used to be, was a new garden, with a Polish and American Flag planted right where my room used to be.  I finally got into the forbidden garden!

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Home Sweet Home

by Rosalie Bock

(Edited by R. Kujawa)

July 15, 2008

 

The house at 1339 W. Augusta Boulevard was built in the 1890’s.  My Grandparents bought it in 1900 and by 1910 the census tells me that they had at least seven boarders sharing it walls. It was a Railroad flat design, with the rooms strung in a line from front to back.    Typical of Victorian homes, it had only one closet for guest’s coats, but none in the bedrooms.  And, it had no indoor plumbing until my grandmother added it later.  There were two floors of living space, and a huge basement, the front third of which was used for various businesses through the years.  There was no central heating, but the two huge chimneys held connections for several stoves.  We had electricity when I grew up there, but there was evidence of gaslights having been used in every room.  There was one socket  and one ceiling light  in each room.  We used to plug the washer and iron into a plug\switch that hung from the ceiling fixture. 

By the time I came into being, the house had undergone some serious changes.  There was running water, but no doors for the bedrooms.  The toilet was just that, a narrow room carved out of a bedroom that held a toilet with a wall hung water closet.  There was no hot water until I was seventeen and my brother installed a water heater in the kitchen.  We took full baths in the kitchen in a large tin tub that we had to drag in from the porch  where it hung in storage.  We had to heat the water on the stove a little at a time, and since I was the youngest and smallest, I got the first bath, then more water was added, and my brother had his bath, then my parents.  We all used the same water, and then the tub had to be emptied by hand.  A long arduous process.  My mother had a wringer washer which she used in the kitchen, once again using water heated on the stove.  The wet clothing and linens were hung out to dry on two long clotheslines that were hung from the barn in the back of the house.  The sheets used to come in full of black specks of soot from the smoke that belched out of the many houses in the area.  No one had gas heat until the 1950’s, so lots of coal, wood, and oil was burned to heat the houses.  No one on the block had a tank for oil, we all carried it in ten gallon cans.

We heated our apartment with a stove in the dining room, and kitchen.  During the winter the front part of the house was closed off with drapes.  My brother’s bedroom which was in the front of the house, above the entryway was so cold that water would run down the walls when the weather warmed.  Since we all had feather covers, we were able to sleep fairly comfortably.  The covers were not filled with down, but chicken feathers and they weighed a ton.   We installed new gas lines when I was a teenager and so replaced the nasty coal, oil or wood stoves we had used before.  Chopping wood and carrying coal was a part of my childhood.  Today, I see people waxing poetic about wood stoves in their homes.  I am happy, very happy, to have a thermostat.  The furniture store across the street allowed us to take the wood frames that their furniture was shipped in and we would chop them into small enough pieces to put in our stoves.  We carried the coal in buckets from the storage under the sidewalk.  Heavy, dirty and dangerous, this was probably the most reliable form of heating we had.  If you weren’t careful though, carbon monoxide would escape from the coal stove, so we watched this kind of fire very carefully.  It was a pleasure to have gas heaters installed, even though they heated only the dining room and kitchen. 

Or neighbors didn’t have it much better.  Some of the lower level flats had dirt floors.  We all froze in the winter and sweated in the summer.  During the peak of the hot weather, we all sat outside to cool off. 

The bedrooms were so small that the beds had to be cut to fit into the space. We hung most of our clothes in the enclosed back porch.  Indeed, one of them was made smaller by the inclusion of the bathroom.  I didn’t have a room at all until my oldest brother joined the Navy.  Until then, I slept wherever we could set up a daybed. 

In the fifties, my uncles decided to remodel the house.  We got new windows, removing the large ones that needed ropes and weights to operate.  Fixing these big windows was a real chore, but my mother and I managed to keep them in repair.  New siding and some paint, and we had a nicer looking home.  We knocked out walls and opened a  large archway  between the Living Room and Dining Room.  This allowed for better flow of heat.  There was never any air conditioning.  If it was hot, it was hot. 

We always had a gas range to cook on, but in its early days, there were wood stoves in the kitchens.  My uncle built a shower in the basement, and heated water in a woodstove.  When I used the shower down there, I could hear the subway running right under the house.  I hated using this shower, because the basement was dark and very cold, but it was better than nothing. 

In back of the house was a yard where we grew vegetables (a wartime Victory Garden) and lilacs. This is where I used to lay on my back and watch the seeds from the Cottonwood trees in the PRCUA garden.  It was a beautiful sight.   At the very back of the lot was a barn where my grandfather kept his two horses.  Dolly and Billy were Dappled Greys that he used to pull the carriage for the widow in the funeral cortege.  He always joined the wake after the burial, and horses would bring him home, after he drank too much, from St. Adalbert’s Cemetery straight down Milwaukee Avenue.  Sometimes people would come to him to sit in the manure in the barn  to help their arthritis…  I can think of better cures. 

There was an alley that ran the length of the block.  Peddlers would drive horse drawn carts with fruits and vegetables to sell.  I can still hear the call of the peddler who yelled out “Water Meelone”.  Shopping was an interesting event, one that meant a great deal of walking and carrying.  Each shop was separate.  You went to the green grocer on Noble for vegetables and fruit.  You walked to a butcher shop for meat.  Ours was on Division and Paulina Streets.   There were many Polish Wedlins.  We walked all the way to Damen Avenue for certain items.  Wieboldt’s on Milwaukee Avenue was our department store, and sometimes Goldblatt’s on Chicago Avenue.  My mother and I would carry two shopping bags apiece.  Luckily we had a refrigerator, but no freezer so we bought only what we needed for a week.  Winter was slippery and cold, summer was hot and humid.  I think we are in better health  for all this exercise.  We rarely took the streetcar because money was always in short supply.  These shopping events took the whole of Saturday. 

I have heard that cockroaches are the only beings that can survive a nuclear attack, but they couldn’t live in our house due to my mother’s dynamic cleaning habits.  Our neighbors were not so lucky. I recall seeing a roach swimming in a bowl of leftover cereal.  During this period in history, however, Norway Rats ruled the neighborhood.  They are the big kind that scare the daylights out of you.  They thrived in the alleys where people threw out their refuse uncovered.  My brother was a champion at catching them and keeping them from our property. 

My mother is 99 now, and still on her own in Wisconsin (my brother lives next door). She remembers oil lamps, horse drawn carriages, nickel buckets of beer, fire trucks pulled by horses that sent sparks up from their hooves as they raced to fires on the cobblestones that paved Milwaukee avenue, and her mother sewing dresses for ladies at the beginning of the 20th century.  She went to school for three years.  She was bewildered by my attending college and still wonders why I didn’t just get a nice job in a bank.  I was the first and only kid on the block to go to college then.  I still remember the pride the other residents on the block showed me when I graduated. 

When the house was demolished it was about 85 years old.  It took a lot of memories with it. 

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“The House By The Side Of The Road”

by Rosalie Bock

May 2008

  

In Europe, the peasants looked to the castle for leadership, and support.  In my neighborhood, we looked to the Settlement.   That is, the Northwestern University Settlement House.  The building still stands at the corner of Augusta Boulevard and Noble Street, Better known to many of the older ladies then as “Bingo” street, for they couldn’t read, but they knew that if they got off the Streetcar when the driver yelled “Bingo” they would find several halls were “Bingo” was played. 

The Settlement, as we lovingly called the old building was a haven for everyone.  The hungry got fed.  The poor got clothing and the all sorts of  assistance  they needed to find jobs, to get citizenship papers, to have something that frightened them read, a place to get vaccinations, to leave their children while they worked, to help them assimilate in every possible way.  The staff lived there, so there was 24 hour help available. 

Women were taught child care, and learned to knit or crochet or sew.  There was a gym.  There were classes of all sorts.   There was a haven where people could find others like them with whom they could become friends.  The use of the building was such that by the time I was grown the front door step, made of stone, was worn down in the middle so that it was ankle deep at the sides. 

The after school programs that I attended helped the Displaced Children assimilate.  These kids came to America in ill fitting clothes with large tags attached.  They were afraid to remove them.  Naturally, the neighborhood bullies picked up on the tags and  had loads of fun at their expense. To be a “DP” was the ultimate in lowliness.   The Settlement was there to help the children and  their families (if they had anyone, as most lost many family members in the War).  Wanda was a fine example.  Alone with her Grandmother, they lived in an apartment that had a dirt floor, and lived primarily on potatoes and milk.  She had no socks, and her shoes never did fit.  She and her Busia were just dropped here. She spoke no English, she could not read or write her own language. 

Through the help of the people at the Settlement, they got clothing, and some public aid for money, and soon they moved to a better neighborhood where Busia was doing cleaning for “rich ladies”.   Wanda was my buddy.  Along with Andrea, the daughter of the neighborhood drunkard, we played on the porch in front of my house on a daily basis.  The porch was more like a bridge from the street to the house covering the space made by the uplifted boulevard.  We played with cut out dolls, played school, and generally bothered no one.  I was not allowed to play anywhere else because my mother feared so many things.   We looked pretty ragged.  Two kids from homes where money was always a problem, and one kid who jabbered in Polish until we got her to speak some English. 

During the summer, the Settlement had a summer camp for the kids of the neighborhood. It was called the “House in the Wood”.   We were called “Underprivileged Children”.  (I didn’t know that I was “Underprivileged” until I applied for College, and had to tell the schools that we had no hot water, no tub, and not central heat.)  This camp existed before I was born, taking city kids out to a campground in the forest preserve on Milwaukee avenue, near Golf Road.  It was situated on the Des Plaines River, and had several buildings that included a Dining Hall, a Swiss Chalet Dormitory and two other army like dorms along with some small huts for the help.  For a minimal amount, you went to the camp for two weeks.  It was heavenly.  I learned all about nature, ate great food, sat around camp fires where the counselors did all they could to scare us with their stories, learned lots of crafts, and generally had a great time.  Since this was a Forest Preserve, there would be company picnics on the adjacent grounds.  When we knew they were coming, some of us would join in the games and try to win prizes.  We only got caught once!!!

Next door is a cemetery where the first caretaker is buried.  Benny lived and died on the grounds, and I remember his tombstone was a slice of a log  with his name carved in it.  It was made at the Settlement by a boy in the woodshop class.  Benny’s dog is buried next to him.  All the kids revered this spot which was not scary, but very tranquil.  It belonged to Benny. 

Across the street was a Nightclub.  The” Villa Venice”.  We once snuck across at night to see the ladies in their very fancy dresses and listen to the music.  I later found out that it was reputed to be a Gang owned establishment.  I wonder if we saw any real gangsters and their molls. 

Just down the road was the Palwaukee Airport.  At that time it consisted of two buildings and a couple of little planes.  In front of the Dining Room at the camp, the Gardener grew a large “N” “U” “S” of white petunias, surrounded by other plants.  The pilots always gave us a dip of their wings when they saw the planting as  they flew over.  These were little planes, but still, during the war this was a big deal. 

There was a large vegetable garden there, where tomatoes, onions and potatoes were grown to share with the neighborhood around the Settlement.  The natural spring on the grounds had the best tasting water, but a very unreliable pump that gave everyone fits.  The pump was in a building covered by a grape vine, and I do mean covered.  It looked like a giant bush.  It never had any grapes but it was beautiful. 

When I entered my teens, the camp was moved from the leased property to Lake Delavan, Wisconsin.  Since my uncle was Head Resident of the Settlement, he used us as volunteers to take care of the grounds and buildings of this camp.   I spent most of my adolescence cutting the grass, painting the buildings, cleaning, and caring for this wonderful property.  It retained its name, and I became a camp counselor there.  This was my first job, for which I was paid $20.00  and all I could eat for four weeks of working with the kids.  For the caretaking work, I received nothing, but the pleasure of taking care of the buildings and grounds, and swimming in the lake when I was finished.   

I had been going to the settlement since I was two.  I went to the Kindergarten, the after school classes, the camp, and I learned so very much about people, about helping, about sharing, it was a good place.  I am honored to have known Harriet Vittum who was the founder and eschewed any publicity on the grounds that it was not right to give to others in order to receive accolades.  Shje was an imposing figure with her lorgnette and brown dress.  She always wore brown.  She walked with a limp, a leftover from her younger days when she crashed her convertible into a fence.   She was truly kind the fullest sense of the word.  Her respect for others led her to be a star in the realm of social workers. 

My uncle took her place as its leader, and continued with work that was a real pioneering venture in Social work. Thousands of people benefited from the work of this organization, and thousands are grateful for it all.  When I last visited the building, the old squeaky stairs were gone, the beautiful railings, even the Inglenook in the Guild Hall was gone,  Much of the tile work and the old antiques that graced the entry were replaced by modern school related equipment.  Even the old switchboard which drove me crazy with all of its plugs and wires was gone.  But the feeling is still there.  The strength, the security and the respect were still there in the form of a very special school.

There used to be a poem by the door  “Give me a house by the side of the road, and I will be a friend to man…”  Indeed, the Settlement was a friend to everyone who stepped on its worn front step. 

 


 

Some photos along Augusta Boulevard, very near the building that houses the Museum.  Courtesy of Rosalie Bock

 

1) This is the “Count”  in front of 1339 W. Augusta. 

Behind him is 1337 W. Augusta, the leaner. 

Followed by the Garden and PRCUA. 

 

 2) Robert on steps of 1341 W. Augusta Blvd.

  

 

3) This is little Joe.  He escaped the Russians by jumping off a moving train.  He was about five feet tall, but big of heart.  I am including this photo so you can see the Garden, the pole in front of our door, and the beautiful one in the background.  The lights were globes that looked like moons.  This photo came from the early forties.

 

4) This is Busia giving Jerome a bath.  Then came Andrea, etc, etc.  in the yard next door to my house.

 

5) My Dad with his 1938 Dodge.  Standing in front of 1337 Augusta, looking West toward Noble Street where you can see the Settlement on the right.  (I am trying to give you a perspective of the street. )

 

 6) The “Urchin” at about 9 years old.  I am amazed that my knees are not all scabbed over….

 

New photos below of the same perspectives as they appear today.

Rich

Compare to 3) above.

Compare to 5) above.  Note house on the corner (left) with old street light and new street light in the same location.  Not seen in this photo are the two buildings on the far right in the old photo.  Both still exist and the one farthest to the right has an address of 1344 Augusta.  The PRCUA building was finished in 1913 and so is 40 or more years newer than the houses and buildings around it.

In the old photos you can see that the original first floors of the houses are below the sidewalk to varying degrees.  This area of Chicago was originally quite wet if not swampy.  In the 1870's, when the city tried to install sewers and water mains, they found that the water table was so high they could not put the devices in trenches under the original street level.  Instead, they leveled out the original streets and laid the new pipes on top, then built-up the street level the required amount.  This put the street level higher than the original first-floors of most of the houses.  Some people raised the houses and businesses, if they could afford to do so, but most did nothing.  Instead, many found ways of using the space under the sidewalk as storage.  The position of the first floor of the houses relative to the street level is one way of quickly estimating a building's age.

RK


 

                I see the Moon. 

              by Rosalie Bock

                 June 2008

Augusta Boulevard is a street that goes from the ridiculous to the sublime.  When I was growing up Augusta began at Willard Court, and continued westward to Oak Park.  Today, while it still goes to Oak Park it begins at the Kennedy Expressway., which was built in 1960.  Until then on the East side of  Milwaukee Avenue there was a bridge above a Railroad yard where they switched freight cars from one track to another.  

There were whistle codes that the railroad engineers used to convey their actions as they moved the cars around.  This yard was never quiet.  There was actually one signal that required the engineer to blow the whistle 13 times in succession. Interestingly, these sounds tended  to disappear when you lived there long enough.  In fact, at night, it lent a certain feel of security to hear these behemoths sorting themselves out.

Because it is a Boulevard, Augusta had the most beautiful Streetlamps.  They were tall graceful standards made of iron and painted black that held a beautiful round globe under a cap of metal.  We had one right in front of our house.  Even when I was very little, I could sit on the floor and look out the tall living room windows at “my moon”.  Almost every picture we took outside the house was taken around that streetlamp.  Aunts, Uncles, and other varied victims stood patiently before the post as someone used a “Kodak Brownie” camera to catch their picture. 

Most of the time it appeared in the photo that the lamppost was growing out of your head, but if there were a few of you, it didn’t look too bad. 

 

 

These are two of my aunts, posing with me.  In the background you can see on the left, an old water tank, and a large gas tank that held natural gas.  The building over my Aunt’s shoulder was a meat packing business.  All of these disappeared when they built  the Kennedy Expressway.  The meat packing company was not missed because they burned their refuse and the smell was awful. 
 

During World War II we had air raid drills.  Everyone had to shut their house lights off, or cover their windows with heavy drapes to prevent any light from showing.  These blackouts were meant to show citizens how to hide from foreign aircraft should they come overland to bomb cities here.  This was a scary time, the whole city of blacked out, my moon was gone, the stoplights were out, and  time seemed to stand still.  A designated air raid warden would walk the streets to be certain that their area was blacked out.  We sat in the window and watched our warden in his hard hat walk by swinging his darkened flashlight. 

In this picture, Mr. Ross, the Scoutmaster at the Settlement is instructing Air Raid Wardens about their responsibilities in the Gymnasium of the Northwestern University Settlement House.  Please note the fake windows and old world designs painted on the walls. This room was used in many ways including Polish Dance recitals so the décor was in keeping with the neighborhood makeup. The Chicago flag to the right predates the official Chicago Flag.    Miss Vittum, Head Resident of the Settlement is there among the volunteers. 

The War Years were a scary time even for those of us who lived far inland.  I was always very happy to see my moon light up again after these drills. 

 


The House on LeMoyne, aka Blanche

by Rosalie Lindberg

Posted July, 2008

 

For most people in Chicago, LeMoyne is a street that was once named Blanche.  In 1923, Anthony Jankowski and his wife, Martha (Netzel) purchased the property at 1344 Blanche.  In 1932, courtesy of the city of Chicago, the house on Blanche became the house on LeMoyne.  For the Jankowski family, LeMoyne was not only the pie shaped lot at 1344 with a main house and small cottage, but also the hub of activity and place of many memories.  When anyone in the family talked about “LeMoyne”, we understood the reference.

In 1890 both Anthony Jankowski and Martha Netzel had been born in Chicago’s Polish Downtown neighborhood only a few blocks from each other.  They attended St. Stanislaus Kostka School and sang in the Junior Choir together.  Much to the chagrin of Martha’s mother, who had her eye on a certain good-looking doctor for her daughter, Martha and Anthony were wed at St. Stanislaus on June 25, 1912.

        When they bought the house, it was out of necessity.  By that time the Jankowski family included six children, Aloysius, twins Florence and Theresa, Edward, Loretta and Dorothy and by the end of 1923, the seventh, Eleanor, had entered the picture.  But as it stood, the house was not quite ready to accommodate a family of six (going on seven) children.

The property consisted of two houses on a somewhat pie shaped lot about 40 feet in width at the front and 25 feet across the back.  The main house was sturdy with a red brick front that faced LeMoyne/Blanche and common brick on its sides.  A tiny frame cottage squeezed onto the property between the brick house and the back property line and faced the alley on the east.  It was the alley, which followed the angle of Elston avenue about 250 feet to the east, that fronted the triangular side of the property, that provided its interesting shape.  Sometime after the house was built in 1881 the sidewalks were “raised” to accommodate sewers, and so like many homes of its era, it was necessary to go down the stairs into the side yard to reach the entry on the “first” floor. 

At the end of the block to the west was Noble Street which had an interesting “architectural feature”— “the viaduct”.  It wasn’t just a simple railroad bridge but a huge, cave that darkened the houses that faced it and extended almost a full block south from the corner.  Anyone traversing its menacing length was always glad to emerge into the light.  At its north end, Noble Street, the top of the viaduct continued on a built-up section of land.  Buildings and homes on the east side of Noble looked across the street at the un-lovely view of the railroad embankment and the trains that rolled by, spewing their soot and smoke.

The location did have the advantage of access to streetcars and other public transportation available on Elston, North and, within a short walk, Ashland avenues.  On the corner of Elston and LeMoyne was “Shelling’s store”.  It sold candy, newspapers, milk and bread and, best of all had wonderfully delicious ice cream.  Further north on Elston closer to North Avenue was Rzeszotarski’s bakery and “Mix, the butcher” had a store under the viaduct. And, of course, all the stores at the heart of Polish Downtown (Milwaukee/Division/Ashland) were close by, too.  For school and church, St. Stanislaus Kostka was only two blocks south on Nobel Street.  What could be better!

In 1923 the main house at what was still 1344 Blanche had 4 “flats”, 2 on each floor, and the cottage had another flat.  Except for this potential for rent, it would have been impossible for my grandparents to become homeowners.  However, before the main house was ready to accommodate the Jankowski family, there was a lot of work to be done.  Until that was accomplished, the entire family lived in the cottage.

The cottage had 4 rooms on the “second floor”—a kitchen, living room, and two bedrooms.  According to my Aunt Florence, the kitchen and living room were “for company”.  Busia and Grandpa Jankowski slept in the little bedroom off of the kitchen and ALL the children slept in the other bedroom in two double beds (with the baby in a cradle in-between).  To accommodate everyone, the children, who thankfully were still small, slept across the beds.

The real living space was the lower floor, which included a working kitchen, and all-purpose dining, study, play and laundry room as well as a work area for Grandpa.  Heat came from the coal stove and gas lamps furnished the light.  Grandpa was the only one allowed to replace the mantle in the lamps.  Neither the cottage nor any of the apartments in the main house had toilets.  During the night or when it was exceptionally cold a bucket served the purpose.  At other times or to empty the buckets, the toilet facilities under the sidewalk were used.  (Rumor has it that this gave rise to the name “Joe Posadwokem”)

As time and finances allowed, Grandpa, my Dad (who was 10 years old), and other volunteers worked to prepare space in the main house for the family.  The kitchen in the front apartment was turned into a dining room but the 2 bedrooms and the living room didn’t change.  In the back apartment the living room became a bedroom, a little bedroom became Grandpa’s workroom, and the kitchen remained “as-is”.  Off the kitchen was a tiny pantry and another bedroom.  The most significant change was that this bedroom became the first real bathroom on the property.  It not only had a sink and toilet but a bathtub as well!  Over the years, since the apartments were often rented to family members, it wasn’t unusual for the other adults to come in to use the tub.  Most children, though, were usually bathed using a large galvanized tub in the kitchens of their own apartment.

The challenge of the merged apartment was to find a way to make the front and back ends accessible.  Separating the two was the entryway from the yard and the stairs that went straight up to the second floor apartments.  The logical solution was to break through the wall between the (new) dining room in front and the kitchen in the rear.  That was what Grandpa did.  However, since the opening had to go under the stairs, it was only an angular opening about 5 feet at its highest point.  Unless you were “vertically challenged”, you quickly learned to duck. 

Eventually the cottage and each of the second floor apartments got their own toilets.  To accommodate the one for the back apartment upstairs, Grandpa built out a wall on the second floor landing.  The front apartment had to sacrifice the tiny closet off its back bedroom that, fortunately, was adjacent to the hall, simplifying the plumbing challenge somewhat.  With these “indoor amenities” in place, the toilet space under the sidewalks were turned into storage and coal sheds.

For the most part, the Jankowski family spent many satisfying years in the house on Blanche.  But a tragic event occurred in February of 1938 while Mom, Dad and I were living in the cottage.  By then all the apartments had the “luxury” of electricity and the story is that somehow a “short” in the lines started a fire that burned the inside of the cottage, destroying most of its contents and making it uninhabitable.  Several months later we were able to move into the second floor front flat which had become vacant.  About 10 years later, the youngest Jankowski (uncle Tony, born in 1927) put a lot of sweat equity into making it livable again.

As Anthony and Martha’s children married most occupied, at least for a few years, one of the apartments and when those tenancies were exhausted, other close family members frequently replaced them.  It seemed that the house and neighborhood would always be there to welcome and be a part of the family.  Fittingly, even when Grandpa Jankowski died in 1946, his wake was held at the Reisel Funeral Home, 1501 Elston  (the southeast corner of LeMoyne and Elston). 

During this time our own small family was growing and the 4 room, second-floor front flat was over-crowded with three young children.  Recognizing the advantages of home ownership Mom and Dad were able to make an arrangement with Busia’s brother, Frank, to buy his house on George Street, and in 1944 we became the first family in my parent’s generation to move out of the neighborhood.  But at least we weren’t too far away as our new home was in St. Alphonsus parish about two miles north.  

  As years passed there were rumblings about an expressway connecting downtown Chicago with the northwest suburbs.  The noises got louder and louder and it was said St. Stanislaus and other churches in the area could be threatened with demolition.  Being the oldest, my Dad reassured Busia, that if it became necessary for her to move, he would see to it that she would not be without a roof over her head.  But possibly because of the threat to the churches, after a while the potential for an expressway appeared to be a dead issue.

So in 1955, ten years after what we assumed our family was complete with 4 children, my sister Annie was born.  Since the expressway no longer seemed a threat to LeMoyne, Mom and Dad opted to buy a brand new house without tenants in Edison Park . . .a long way (at least so it seemed) from the old neighborhood.

But less than a year after our move, an ominous letter from the city of Chicago appeared in Busia’s mailbox.  The expressway project was back in full force and, while the new plan would save most of the churches, our part of LeMoyne and the rail lines using the viaduct at the end of the street, were directly in its path.  Busia and all the tenants would have to move!

Ten miles from the old neighborhood, our family felt the impact.  Since our house was a single story, Dad proposed building a second floor apartment.  But the city refused citing zoning ordinances.  The only choice we had was to move again and Mom and Dad gave up the new single-family house and bought an old two-flat in Jefferson Park.   It was older than the house we had left on George Street and in desperate need of repair and remodeling.  It was a far from cry what the folks wanted, but it was all they could afford and available immediately.

In the meantime the remaining tenants on LeMoyne and many others in the expressway footprint scrambled to find places to live.  As the road sliced through the neighborhood it took with it thousands of existing homes.   By 1960, 2000 families had been displaced and the only choice most residents had was to move to other parts of the city.  The old neighborhood would never be the same again!

In the last few years, photos of LeMoyne just before its demolition came to light.  It was heartbreaking to see the house that had held so much love for so many years sitting  with its windows full of gaping holes looking like someone terrified of the destruction that was about to take place.  It wasn’t just a building, it was our protector, our friend . . .and we couldn’t do anything to save it.

Today, the place where LeMoyne once stood is at the very edge of a narrow street sometimes used as a cutoff from North Avenue to Elston.  To the south are walls of gray stone and above it the trains still come rumbling by.  The only remnant of what was “our” neighborhood is a narrow corridor of homes on Elston Avenue.  Although gentrification has come to the area, this little island of homes remains untouched and a sad reminder of what once had been. 

 We all hope for progress and know that change is inevitable.  But when change comes to your neighborhood, it can be heart wrenching.

1344 W. LeMoyne (aka Blanche) . . . . .Dear Friend, Rest in Peace!

Editor's Note:  Rosalie Lindberg is a past president of the Polish Genealogical Society of America.  The story above is part of the family history she has prepared.  Rosalie Bock and Rosalie Lindberg are contemporaries and lived within blocks of each other growing up.  However, they attended different schools and never met as children.

1344 W. LeMoyne Gallery

 

Today: 1300 block of LeMoyne,

looking West from Elston

1344 LeMoyne (Blanche)

circa 1935 and

W. Anthony Jankowski

Corner of 1200 block of LeMoyne

and Magnolia, looking

Southwest toward St. Stanislaus

Looking West on 1200 block

of LeMoyne. Stop sign at Elston.

1344 LeMoyne: House

and Cottage layout

Today: Homes on

East side of alley

facing Elston

 

Corner of 1200 block of LeMoyne and Magnolia, looking Southwest toward St. Stanislaus

Today: 1300 block of Elston, between Elston and alley

Demolition of 1344 LeMoyne, side view

Demolition of 1344 LeMoyne, front view