Monday, March 2, 2015

Maxwell Street
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Maxwell Street, 700 Block West (2006) adaptive reuse, Hasbrouck Peterson Zimoch Sirirattumrong, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the late 1940s an amateur photographer named Charles Cushman went to Chicago's Maxwell Street Market and took some pictures. The images could have been taken 40 years earlier since not much had changed along the city's famous, old world outdoor market. In 2001 Steve Balkin took photos along the same street now in the collection of the University of Illinois at Chicago, but by the time he arrived to take his snaps the old market looked very different. Of the buildings still standing, most were abandoned and awaiting demolition. The hustle and bustle of negotiating a deal for hubcaps, shoes, socks, underwear, toilets, and an assortment of bric-a-brac that a lot of people might consider junk had moved a few blocks to the east in a cleaned-up and sanitized version of the old barter and trade business. The Maxwell Street that ran the entire length of the 20th century came to an end at the dawn of the 21st.

  [726 W. Maxwell Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The neighborhood around Maxwell and Halsted Streets came to be known as one the city's ports of entry at the dawn of the 20th century. First settled by Germans in the 1850s and then by the Irish after the fire in 1871, the area gained its notoriety and fame as tens of thousands of Eastern European Jews fleeing the pogroms of the Russian Czar began streaming into the area. By the late-1880s a cluster of shops catering to a Yiddish speaking clientele began selling goods along Jefferson Street north and south of Maxwell. As the already overcrowded population continued to soar, merchants expanded on to Maxwell and inched further and further west to Halsted Street. By that time not only were shop owners trading goods in storefronts, but in an old world shtetl style vendors began selling wares from pushcarts and stands at the street's curbside.

  [Halsted Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

You could bargain for a chicken, potatoes, a bushel of apples, a pair of pants, a kettle, an iron, a sewing machine, if there was something to be sold cheaply, you could find it on Maxwell. In 1912 the city enacted guideline-setting legislation and officially designated the area as the Maxwell Street Market. The curb to curb vendors were permitted to sell goods from stands, carts and wagons for a daily fee of 10 cents to be collected by a government designated market master appointed by the local alderman. Emanuel "Manny" Abrahams alderman of the 20th Ward and "Boss of the Ghetto," gave the job to one of his precinct captains A.I. Goldstein. It wasn't long before the Market Master was accused of shaking down certain vendors considered to be unfriendly to Abrahams, sometimes demanding a payment of 20 cents or more. Then when Goldstein began insisting on collecting from merchants along Jefferson Street which was not included in the ordinance, and from storefront merchants for their side walk displays, also not subjected to the law, the offended constituency found a champion in the reform minded alderman Charles E. Merriam who ordered an investigation. On July 1, 1913 after defending his territorial reign in a speech on the floor of the City Council, Manny Abrahams sat down at his council desk, had a heart attack, and died. His brother Murray was appointed to fill out Manny's term, and although Goldstein stayed on as master, the merchants along Jefferson Street and the storefront shop owners on Maxwell and adjacent Halsted Street, were left alone.

  [Maxwell Street building facade /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As the first waves of Jewish settlers, their children and children's children attained the American dream and began moving out to neighborhoods like Lawndale, Humboldt and Albany Park, the tradition of hawking goods in the old neighborhood continued to thrive. By the 1950s as Chicago experienced a second large migration of African Americans from south to north in search of a better life, Maxwell Street began to attract a new group of shoppers, vendors, and musicians like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Jimmie Lee Robinson. Soon Hispanic immigrants moving into the adjoining Pilsen neighborhood began to frequent the market. In the late 1950s as the demolition express of super-highway expressway construction began slicing through neighborhoods across the city one segment cut Maxwell Street in half. Jefferson, where it all began, was now isolated from the the market it had helped to create. Then in the 1960s the University of Illinois moved into the neighborhood. Circle Campus as it was once known, was situated north of Maxwell and Halsted, and by the early 1970s the University and the city began using eminent domain to acquire more and more property to the south and west. By the late 1990s the school was ready to make its big move into the area south of Roosevelt Road and demolished the last remnants of the old Maxwell Street. The new Maxwell consisted of a massive parking structure covered with the facades of torn-down buildings and lined with bronze markers and statues attempting to tell the story of the street's historic significance.

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