July 11, 2015: The morning was a bit warm and a little hazy but still a great summer day to take a walking tour of the Landmark Motor Row Historic District. Eighteen CTCC members gathered at 2222 S. Michigan Avenue for a tour arranged by Annie Luginbill and Joel Greenberg through the Chicago Architecture Foundation.
While we waited for the tour to begin, Ken Smizinski recalled a trip to Motor Row in 1989 to a now bygone speedometer store. He was told of a 1955 T-bird on the second floor. The shop was perplexed at the time as to how to remove the Thunderbird. Ken wondered what became of the 1955 baby, or, even he was told a true story.
Our docent from CAF, Dan Lempa, a car guy himself, (evidenced by his woody print shirt) actually researched and co-wrote the tour he was about to lead us on. He explained that Chicagos Motor Row is recognized as an official Historic Landmark District so the beautiful and architecturally significant facades will remain for future generations. Dan told us the first automobile dealership in the area, the Locomobile, was located at 14th Street and Michigan Ave. and that over 100 automobile manufacturers and dealers established themselves on Michigan Ave. between 14th and 24th streets during the very early years of the 20th century.
Our walk took us a little north and then a couple blocks south to hear the history of the buildings where Chicagoans once shopped for their autos. Many significant buildings in a variety of architectural styles remain, including the Hudson building and the Marmon. Their ornate facades definitely remind one of the movie palaces of the period. Ford, Thomas Flyer, FIAT, Auburn and Cord, Cadillac and more all had dealerships designed by some of the most prominent architects of the time. Holabird and Roche, Alfred Alschuler and Philip Maher found the automotive industry a lucrative source of commissions.
Most of the decorative building fronts we saw belied the massive structures behind as they were not only show rooms, but factories and repair shops, too. And all had elevators to accommodate the vehicles.
Dan certainly knew his history! Having such a knowledgeable guide and one with such enthusiasm for the subject made the hour and a half tour so much more fun. He carried a binder to show pictures, advertisements and renderings of some of the vehicles found at Motor Row.
As we walked back to our cars at the conclusion of the tour, we all stopped in a building that is now a gallery to catch a glimpse of yesteryear at Dans suggestion. Ken asked a couple people inside and found that there indeed there was a 1955 T-Bird and it was now housed in a back garage!
We then drove to Mannys Deli for an ample lunch. The half sandwich could be almost enough for two. However this reporter was really disappointed in the potato pancake. (Just an FYI)
Thank you Joel and Annie for a fun and informative morning.
The CAF website lists and describes other tours of Chicago and its neighborhoods. Maybe something to fill your summer days!
Our members who participated: Bob & Pam DeLucas, Joel Greenberg & Annie Luginbill, Larry & Karen Kelly, Lloyd & Joan Schellin, Ken Smizinski, Len Vinyard, Bob & Barb Sroka, Bob & Sue Wenderski, Bill & Liz Werth, and Jim & Jane Wilson.
Here is some Chicago Automotive Trivia;
First auto on Chicago streets: 1892
First auto dealership: 1899 Oldsmobile at 239 S. Wabash
First Ford dealership outside Detroit: 1444 S. Michigan Ave.
Americas First Automobile Race held in 1895 and started in Jackson Park. It went to Evanston and back for a 52-mile round trip. It took just less than 8 hours and averaged 6.7 mph.