Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Footnote on Street Numbering


This is not really a crime scene, but relevant for Chicago historical research. Although Chicago 's city planners developed the city on an orderly grid of streets, the naming and numbering of those streets was haphazard until the 1880s. There were many cases of multiple streets with the same name, streets that changed name between blocks, and the numbering system was idiosyncratic to each street.

In the 1880s, North-South streets on the Southside were renumbered according to the street numbers. For example, 5200 S. Blackstone would be located at the corner of Blackstone and 52nd St. Later, in 1909, Northside streets were uniformly numbered as well. Finally, in 1911, State and Madison was declared the "origin" -- the zero North/South and zero East/West point -- for the city, and Loop streets were renumbered as well. This numbering system, developed and tirelessly lobbied for by Edward P. Brennan, remains today, making Chicago perhaps the easiest large city in the U.S. to navigate.

The photo above is at 915 N. Dearborn. Before 1909, this property would have been numbered 285 Dearborn, and the remains of that old number are still visible.

A directory of the 1909 and 1911 changes can be found through the Chicago Historical Society here (1909) and here (1911). Changes to street names can be found here.

1 comment:

Paul said...

Still reading this blog... (if the blog author is still reading these comments, you will note there are a lot of posts from me on this date).

I think it is great you mention the renumbering... Here are a few other things about streets and/or addresses you probably know but are just captivating (to me anyway):

that at some point in the late 1940s (don't know the year as there is not a lot of information about this), they raised all of the North-South streets that connected to a bridge over the main branch of the Chicago River (I think this would be Wabash, State, Dearborn, Clark, LaSalle, Wells, and maybe? Orleans) as they approached the river from the North. This is why there was that Latin music sounding club signage and building (probably from the late 1940s) that seemed to be both above and below Wabash. This building I am referring to got torn down when they razed/rebuilt the McGraw-Hill Building at 520 N. Michigan. However, there are many places showing evidence of this raising... you just half to look. The incline begins around Kinzie I believe and seems to be approximately 20-25 degrees.

Offhand I cannot think of another notable example except a slightly minor one.. The building on Kinzie and Dearborn (housing Harey Carey's restaurant) has what at one time was the main corner entrance with two doors: one facing Kinzie, and one facing Dearborn. Starting at the corner door, if you follow the sidewalk line as it meets the building going south on Dearborn, you cannot help but see the incline (maybe you saw it before and wondered why it looked like that).

Also, I think there is evidence at that old building (cannot think of what's in it... but it once was Cannonball Delivery) at Kinzie and Orleans. I believe a longer part of Orleans was raised, perhaps starting much farther north, because there are what appear to be two levels of Orleans at this point.

Also... just a fun one... you probably know about their slow eradication of Ogden Street since approximately 1960. First they vacated that portion of Ogden between Clark and North (which originally was the third side of the original "Old Town Triangle"). Then later in the 1970s they vacated Ogden between North and Clybourn. I moved to Chicago in 1991 and I remember how on Halsted— just south of Clybourn/North where the Philips Towing car pound is located, Ogden still had a short stub that was the original Ogden built over it... Ogden once crossed Haltsed angled to the Northeast, but at some point, perhaps when they built Cabrini Greene, all of Ogden was raised up and over some CHA Building at that intersection. It was quite a spooky place to be in the middle of the night if your had to retrieve your car.

But then around 1995, they vacated and removed this part of Ogden. With this demolition of Ogden, they took it back to just a few blocks north of CHicago Avenue. What is often interesting is to walk through that area around the North Branch of the River. You will see old buildings and warehouses with "1185 North Ogden" them... but there is no Ogden to be found.