Ross Harano and the Kenwood “L”

Ross Harano as a toddler in 1945, with his uncle Susumu Okamoto, in front of the Kenwood "L" terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross Harano as a toddler in 1945, with his uncle Susumu Okamoto, in front of the Kenwood “L” terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

I first became interested in Ross Harano and his family’s story when I came across the picture shown above in the article What happened to Chicago’s Japanese neighborhood? by Katherine Nagasawa from WBEZ radio. I wanted to learn more, and found that Mr. Harano is, as they used to say, “in the book.” I wrote him a letter, and we began a correspondence that led to the interview that follows.

Ross Harano writes:

I was born in the Fresno Assembly Center which was at the Fresno County Fair Grounds on September 17,1942. When I was one month old, my family was shipped to the Jerome, Arkansas, internment camp. We were later allowed to relocate to Chicago.

My uncle’s name was Susumu Okamoto (1919-2005) who was married to my mother’s sister. When we settled on Oakenwald from the camp in Arkansas, my parents and my mother’s 3 sisters and their husbands along with my grandparents all lived there.

It was a full house.

During the war, my uncle Susumu served with US Military Intelligence in the Pacific along with two of my mother’s brothers. Another brother served in Europe with the Japanese American 442nd Combat Infantry Battalion. He was seriously wounded in Italy and also lived with us on Oakenwald after he recovered from his wounds.

This is a uniquely American story, and also one that is uniquely Chicago, a slice of history that deserves to be remembered.

-David Sadowski

From 1949 to 1957, the CTA operated the Kenowwd branch of the "L" as a shuttle operation, and here we see three such cars at the Indiana Avenue station. By the mid-1950s, the older gate cars had been replaced by ones formerly used on the Met "L", as those lines were equipped with more modern steel cars. Not sure why there are three cars here-- Kenwood usually used one or two car trains in these days.

From 1949 to 1957, the CTA operated the Kenowwd branch of the “L” as a shuttle operation, and here we see three such cars at the Indiana Avenue station. By the mid-1950s, the older gate cars had been replaced by ones formerly used on the Met “L”, as those lines were equipped with more modern steel cars. Not sure why there are three cars here– Kenwood usually used one or two car trains in these days.

Interview with Ross Harano, July 2, 2020:

Q: Maybe we could start by going back to the beginning of your family’s history, and when they  came to this country, and we can just take it from there?

A: Well, I’m third generation Japanese-American. Both of my grandfathers came to America in 1898. They landed in Hawaii first as laborers in the sugar cane fields and later on the mainland as laborers on the Union Pacific railroad. Prior to the Japanese immigration, the Chinese came to this country as Forty Niners to search for gold and later to build the first transcontinental railroad. As the Chinese began to settle on the west coast, strong anti-Chinese sentiments resulted in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. Japan was the next place where the railroads looked for workers and both my grandfathers worked on the railroads and eventually settled in California where my parents were born. My father was born in Berkeley, and my mother was born in Hanford which is just outside of Fresno.

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which authorized the interment of the Japanese community into 10 concentration camps away from the west coast. We evacuated out with my mother’s family because she was pregnant with me and she had three sisters who were not married at the time to care for her. We went from Hanford to the Fresno Assembly Center which was built on the Fresno County Fairgrounds. I was born in September of ’42, and in October we were shipped to Jerome, Arkansas. There were two camps in Arkansas, one at Rohwer and one at Jerome. They were about 25 miles apart and each held 8,500 Japanese internees.

Even though my family was interned behind barbed wire, seven of my uncles volunteered to serve in the US Military. Four of them served in Europe with the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team – one was wounded in Italy and one was killed in France. Three uncles served in the Pacific in the US military intelligence. This was kept a military secret until the late ‘50s. Japanese Americans were there on the front lines intercepting Japanese messages because the Japanese didn’t know that we had translators so they didn’t speak in code on the battlefield. The Japanese Americans were on the front lines in most of the campaigns in the Pacific including Merrill’s Marauders in Burma.

The house at 4201 S. Oakenwald. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

The house at 4201 S. Oakenwald. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross and his maternal grandfather Rihaci Mayewaki (1886-1969) in front of the Kenwood "L" terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross and his maternal grandfather Rihaci Mayewaki (1886-1969) in front of the Kenwood “L” terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross Harano and a cousin, in front of the Kenwood "L" terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross Harano and a cousin, in front of the Kenwood “L” terminal at 42nd Place. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross and his sled. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Ross and his sled. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Transfers from the Kenwood "L" and 43rd Street streetcar line. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

Transfers from the Kenwood “L” and 43rd Street streetcar line. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

This notice is from before October 1947, when the Chicago Transit Authority took over the "L" system. Fares were, if anything, being held artificially low for many years, while the system gradually deteriorated and the equipment aged. Once the CTA was in charge, they had more legal leeway to raise fares, in order to cover expenses, in the days before government subsidies. As a result, there were several fare increases in the 1950s. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

This notice is from before October 1947, when the Chicago Transit Authority took over the “L” system. Fares were, if anything, being held artificially low for many years, while the system gradually deteriorated and the equipment aged. Once the CTA was in charge, they had more legal leeway to raise fares, in order to cover expenses, in the days before government subsidies. As a result, there were several fare increases in the 1950s. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

In 1944 we were able to leave the camp and we eventually settled on the south side of Chicago on Oakenwald. At some point we had my mother’s three sisters and their husbands, two new baby cousins, my grandparents and my mother’s three brothers.

Q: How many people would you say were living in the same house?

A: About 14 (laughs).

Q: Things must have been kinda tight, but I suppose, you probably didn’t think about it too much, because that’s just the way things were.

A: Well it was a relatively large brick building. It was like a rowhouse where the buildings were all built next to each other with brick common walls. The upstairs had four bedrooms and one bathroom. Each bedroom had a family. When my uncle who was a carpenter returned from the Army, he built another bedroom in the basement, so we had five bedrooms. He also built another bathroom down there too, so we had two bathrooms. So, we had quite a few people in the building which was tremendous for me. I was the only child until I was four years old, so I had all my aunties and uncles to take good care of me.

CTA 6180 is at 43rd and Oakenwald on August 8, 1953, the last day of streetcar service on the 43rd-Root Street line. Note the Illinois Central station at rear. (C. Edward Hedstrom Photo)

CTA 6180 is at 43rd and Oakenwald on August 8, 1953, the last day of streetcar service on the 43rd-Root Street line. Note the Illinois Central station at rear. (C. Edward Hedstrom Photo)

And at that time, everybody was working. My mother was working at Hart, Schaffner and Marx, which was on west Van Buren near the Chicago river. And so, she would take the “L” to work every day which was very convenient since we lived across the street from the Kenwood “L” end of the line terminal. There was a 43rd Street Illinois Central stop next to us, and plus, we had the 43rd streetcar. It was a very convenient place to live in terms of getting to work and shopping, and plus, it was an interesting neighborhood.

In those days, Chicago was very segregated and African Americans were not allowed to live east of Cottage Grove. And so, the neighborhood, when we first moved in was all white. Many of our neighbors on Oakenwald were of third or fourth generation German ancestry. When the first African Americans began to move east of Cottage Grove, my neighborhood changed from white to black over the summer – like in two months. Most of my friends ended up moving to Oak Lawn which was basically farmland in those days. Oak Lawn was being developed and a lot of my friends built or bought homes in that area.

Q: What year was this, then, when the segregation ended?

A: Oh, probably about 1953, let’s see, I was in fifth grade. If you look at my grammar school pictures, you can see the change. When I graduated, my class was all black. I still keep in touch with some of my classmates from grammar school.

Q: Are they on Facebook?

A: No, I don’t do Facebook. I do emails. I have a flip phone, I don’t have one of those fancy phones.

The corner of Oakenwald and 42nd Place today.

The corner of Oakenwald and 42nd Place today.

Q: Is the house still there, that you guys lived in?

A: No, what happened is that in 1961, the City of Chicago tore down the whole neighborhood to build projects between Lake Park on the west and the Illinois Central tracks on the east and from 43rd Street north to 40th Street. Unfortunately, the projects were never successful because evidently there were two gangs that got involved and I heard that they were shooting at each other between these two buildings. And sometime in the 90s, those two projects were torn down. Actually, they were blown up and it was a big media event. Now, that whole area has been rebuilt. Oakenwald grammar school was torn down and now there are all new townhouses. So, the whole neighborhood has really changed. All the vacant lots on Oakenwald are now new townhouses.

Q: Wow. What was the address of the house you were living in?

A: 4201 S. Oakenwald. It was on the southeast corner of 42nd and Oakenwald directly across the street from the Kenwood “L” end-of-the-line station there.

Q: Had that been a wealthy neighborhood at one point in the past?

We ran a lo-fi version of this picture in a previous post. The location at first was a real mystery, but turned out to be 42nd Place, the terminal of the CTA Kenwood branch, looking west. The next photo was taken further down the platform. (We ran originally ran this with other pictures that we saw on eBay, but hadn't been able to purchase. It was relisted and we decided to buy it after all.) Ross Harano adds, "The view is looking north rather than west. The building with the chimney is Oakenwald Grammar School at 4071 S. Lake Park that I attended. The tower on the right is the "Kiosk Sphinx" that was on an estate just north of the grammar school. Geoffrey Baer had a segment on his WTTW's "Ask Geoffrey" about the wealthy family that built a Mediterranean style home with a pool and "Eiffel" tower. The property to the west of the station was owned by Nelson Coal. You can see the coal moving equipment in the photo. Nelson Coal stored mountains of coal east of the terminal tracks next to the Illinois Central Tracks. We used to play soldiers on the coal until we would be chased away by Nelson Coal workers."

We ran a lo-fi version of this picture in a previous post. The location at first was a real mystery, but turned out to be 42nd Place, the terminal of the CTA Kenwood branch, looking west. The next photo was taken further down the platform. (We ran originally ran this with other pictures that we saw on eBay, but hadn’t been able to purchase. It was relisted and we decided to buy it after all.) Ross Harano adds, “The view is looking north rather than west. The building with the chimney is Oakenwald Grammar School at 4071 S. Lake Park that I attended. The tower on the right is the “Kiosk Sphinx” that was on an estate just north of the grammar school. Geoffrey Baer had a segment on his WTTW’s “Ask Geoffrey” about the wealthy family that built a Mediterranean style home with a pool and “Eiffel” tower. The property to the west of the station was owned by Nelson Coal. You can see the coal moving equipment in the photo. Nelson Coal stored mountains of coal east of the terminal tracks next to the Illinois Central Tracks. We used to play soldiers on the coal until we would be chased away by Nelson Coal workers.”

A: No, it was sort of middle class, I suspect. The wealthy area was north of us. If you looked at Lake Park, around Oakwood Boulevard there were a lot of mansions there—big, big mansions. I remember as a kid in grammar school they were vacant, and we used to play in them before they were torn down. There was one mansion which was a Mediterranean style with a swimming pool and a replica of the Eiffel Tower which could be seen in one of the CTA pictures that you had.

Q: What happened to this Eiffel Tower replica? Is that still there, or is it gone?

A: There’s a whole long story on Ask Geoffrey (WTTW – Chicago Tonight) about it. (See link at the end of this article.)  The family made a lot of money. They built the home next to some other big mansions. Eventually, it was the last one left standing. The son had it and there was some dispute in the family so that it was eventually torn down to build an annex classroom building for the Oakenwald grammar school in 1955.

Q: Did you say that the grammar school’s not there anymore?

A: That was all torn down.

Q: Until 1949, the Kenwood “L” ran downtown, and wasn’t it such that they had these things called Kenwood-Wilson Expresses, or something like that?

A: Yes, what it was, was that there were three tracks, and so the Kenwood “L” ran as a local, so it would go to Indiana Avenue, then it would stop at I think like maybe 35th, maybe at Cermak, maybe at Roosevelt, it was a local that went around the Loop and came back. I remember riding it with my mother. She would shop at Marshall Field’s and there was an entrance to Marshall Field’s from the “L” platform. She would shop, and I would hang onto her as she walked around Marshall Field’s. And then when it became a local (shuttle) and ended at Indiana, the platform was extended to cover up the track.

Q: Right. And then from that point forward, I think they only used two tracks heading north. They weren’t using the express track anymore.

A: Correct.

Q: Do you know which trains would have used the third track, in the middle, the express track?

A: The Jackson Park and Englewood lines were using it.

Q: And then the Kenwood was the local, it went around the Loop and came back, but I saw some pictures of trains that said Kenwood-Wilson.

A: There might’ve been a Kenwood Express that ran downtown via the subway to Wilson. Maybe during Rush Hour, they ran express, I don’t know.

Q: And then the Stock Yards “L” was always a shuttle?

A: Yeah, it started at Indiana Avenue, went around a circle in the Stock Yards and came back to Indiana.

This postcard, circa 1910, shows one of the single track "L" stations that were a unique feature of the old Stockyards branch.

This postcard, circa 1910, shows one of the single track “L” stations that were a unique feature of the old Stockyards branch.

Gate car #204 at Halsted on the Stock Yards branch.

Gate car #204 at Halsted on the Stock Yards branch.

Q: Did you ever ride the Stock Yards “L”?

A: Once as a kid. I rode every train when I was a kid.

Q: Just to have the experience, you rode every line?

A: What happened was that if you were under 10 or something like that, you rode free with an adult. So, my friends and I would we would follow some adults through the ticket line. We would hop on the trains and ride ‘em. I remember we rode the Ravenswood line when it was one of the first to have the metal cars. So, we took the train up to Belmont and caught the Ravenswood line. We went all the way to the end and came back. I remember that we sat in the front. There was one seat at the front window that sat sideways and was across from the driver’s compartment. There were three of us. I remember that we all sat there making a lot of noise. It’s a wonder we didn’t get kicked off the train.

Q: It must have been quite a thrill to go down into the subway for the first time.

A: Yeah, we would ride the trains all the time just to ride the trains. We got on for nothing and we were never disorderly. During the Christmas season, we’d go downtown to Marshall Field’s and play in the toy department until a salesperson would ask us where our parents were at and we would leave. We would then work our way down to The Fair (department store), Carson Pirie Scott until we got kicked out. We would then get on the train and come home. That was our entertainment during the Christmas season—we’d play in the toy departments (laughs), there was only two or three of us at a time.

Q: You had mentioned that you got to know the people who drove the trains, the Kenwood line, especially, I would imagine, when it was a shuttle operation.

A: There were only one or two drivers at that point. There was a grocery store right next to the terminal. We just called it Fred’s. The owner’s name was Fred Mamet and I worked there from sixth grade as a stock boy, delivery boy and eventually as a butcher. And I made sandwiches for the “L” drivers and conductors so I got to know them, one of them would let me drive the train for just a very short distance.

Q: Do you remember their names?

A: I was trying to remember. This one fellow was named Dillard which was his last name. And then there was our neighbor and I don’t remember his name at all. He lived on Oakenwald. He was a driver and he’s the one who let me drive.

Q: Tell me about the Kenwood line. They had a terminal there, but I suppose there were times when they really didn’t park hardly any trains there, I think they stored them elsewhere for a while, after it became a shuttle.

A: When the trains were running downtown, the whole thing was filled. There had to be maybe ten tracks for storing and repairing the cars. I don’t remember the exact number, but there were always cars up there. But when it became a shuttle, those other tracks were always empty.

Q: And then they just used a couple of trains, going back and forth?

A: One or two at the most. At night, they just had one train running.

Q: They used both tracks, they didn’t just use one of the two tracks?

A: They used both tracks.

Q: And when they got to the ends, they would go down to a single track, just use one of the two tracks?

A: Before it was a shuttle, the tracks on both sides of the terminal platform were used. When it became a shuttle, they would switch into one track on one side of the platform.

Q: That makes sense. The stations themselves were on an embankment and were sort of different than usual “L” stations, because they had been built by some other company. I think that line opened in 1907, and it pretty much stayed the same until 1957, when they got rid of it, and they had some the oldest cars, those wooden cars. That and the Stock Yards were the last two lines to use wooden cars on the whole system.

A: I remember the ones with a platform on each side, with a gate there (laughs).

Chicago "L" car 24 (aka 1024) at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2019.

Chicago “L” car 24 (aka 1024) at the Illinois Railway Museum in 2019.

Q: Those gate cars, there is only one of those that was saved. It’s at the Illinois Railway Museum. It was originally called car 24, later they changed it to 1024, and within the last few years, they have restored that car back to its original appearance and changed it back to being car 24. That one’s out there, whenever the museum is going to open again. You can ride on that one when they have it out. It’s apparently been brought back to the way it was when it was new.

A: They had like straw seats, laminated with some sort of, it wasn’t plastic, looked like straw.

Q: I think it was cane.

A: Cane, it would be, yes. The train would pull in the station, the conductor’s first job was to reverse the seats.

Q: Are you talking about, on the gate cars?

A: Yeah.

Q: What about the other cars? The other cars they had, later, were from the Metropolitan “L”, where they weren’t needed anymore, those ones that had different roofs. Did those have reversible seats too, or not?

A: Gee, I don’t remember. I just remember, it struck me that the conductor would have to change the seats. That was the first thing they did when the train pulled into the station. And the later ones, they may not have had the reversable seats. I don’t remember.

Q: And the gate cars, did they usually use a two-car train?

A: Yeah, two cars at the most.

Q: And then, the conductor, to open and close the doors, had to stand between the two cars?

A: Correct.

Q: You can imagine what that would have been like in the wintertime. Did the conductors ride outside like that, between the two cars? Or did they go between the two cars when it went into the station?

A: They would ride in the car and when they would come to a station, they would go outside and open the gates. There would be a driver and a conductor.

Q: They continued that practice, even on the steel cars that they had from the 1920s, and it wasn’t until the early 1950s that they changed that, and tried to change it around, so the conductor didn’t have to go between the two cars like that.

A: I remember the subway. Every two cars had a conductor that opened and closed the doors. The Kenwood “L” was something when it was running downtown. There would be a lot of people getting off at Oakenwald. In fact, I remember when I was a kid, I used to have a lemonade stand in front of my house and sell lemonade to everybody when they were getting off the train.

Q: At that time, it was a very popular line?

A: The whole neighborhood, whoever worked downtown, there would be a lotta people riding it, as a kid I remember that.

Q: But later, by the time it quit, by 1957, how was the ridership then?

A: Oh, very few. Very, very few.

Q: Because it was a shuttle, or for other reasons?

A: The neighborhood was changing racially and fewer African Americans worked downtown.

My best friend Eddie Moore’s father worked at the Post Office. Another friend across the street, I think her father was a teacher. It was what I call a middle-class neighborhood in those days.

(This and the next picture) Danny Yoshida, Ross Harano and his sister Cathy In March 1951. Ross writes, "Danny is on the left. He lived on Lake Park and 38th and was a classmate at Oakenwald until he moved to 45th and Lake Park." (Both courtesy of Ross Harano)

(This and the next picture) Danny Yoshida, Ross Harano and his sister Cathy In March 1951. Ross writes, “Danny is on the left. He lived on Lake Park and 38th and was a classmate at Oakenwald until he moved to 45th and Lake Park.” (Both courtesy of Ross Harano)

Q: Right. I worked for LaSalle Photo for many years, are you familiar with that company at all? The Yamamoto family. (1700 W. Diversey)

A: Oh sure, I know LaSalle. A lot of my buddies worked there. My good friend Danny Yoshida married the daughter.

Q: Right. Now, he died?

A: Yeah, he died.

Q: What happened to him?

A: I don’t know. I lost track of him. I was at an event and I was talking to someone who turned out to be his cousin. I learned that both Danny and his younger brother, Kenny, died. I believe the sister Carole is still alive. She married a friend of mine, but I lost touch with them. I have a lot of pictures of Danny and me at Oakenwald.

Q: Was he from the neighborhood?

A: He was at Oakenwald Grammar School. Then they moved to 45th and Lake Park, so he might’ve gone to Shakespeare Grammar School after that.

Q: Small world, yeah. What I recall, of course, Bill Yamamoto, he was very much, I would say, patriotic, in the sense that he could have saved a lot of money by using Fuji chemistry and paper, but he would only use Kodak, because it was American.

A: My uncle, Earl Harano, in North Platte, Nebraska, was also in the same business, so they knew each other. My uncle had a photography studio, in North Platte, Nebraska, and he secured all the school photos in Nebraska and southern South Dakota.

If you needed a job, Bill would hire you. If your son needed a job, Bill had a job for you. I had a lot of friends working there.

Q: When they let you drive a Kenwood “L” train for a little while, that must’ve been quite a thrill.

A: Yeah, it was just a brass handled knob on this thing. There was no speed involved. The train couldn’t go that fast. It had a governor on it, anyway (laughs). I think you turned the knob to a certain point, if you wanted it to go fast, you had to do something to get it to go to the next speed. The train had two speeds—slow, and slower (laughs). By the way, each driver would bring his own brass handled knob.

Q: The brake was separate?

A: I don’t remember the brake at all.

Q: On those cars, I think it was separate—probably air brakes.

A: It might have been. I never had to use the brake because I was going so slow (laughs). I didn’t drive it that far… I just drove it between the next to the last station at Lake Park to the terminal. I didn’t drive the whole route. I just drove it a little bit, so I could tell all my buddies, “Hey! I drove the train!”

Q: You’re probably one of the last few people alive who ever did, on that line.

A: (laughs) I never told anybody except my buddies we did it. I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.

Q: Did they have basically the same two people working there, right up until the time it quit, or did that change?

A: All I remember is that I started working at the grocery store in sixth grade so that would be about 1954. Around that time, I met the drivers and conductors. I knew the ticket-taker in the station… it was a woman. I would just hang on to an adult and go right through. It wasn’t even a turnstyle.

Q: It’s unfortunate there really aren’t a lot of pictures of the interiors of many of these stations.

A: It was a pretty big station. If you look at pictures of the station, it was a pretty big building.

Q: Did they have a newsstand in there, or not?

A: At one point, there was a newsstand but it closed when the “L” became a shuttle. There was a ticket taker in the building where you paid your fare. When you arrived, there was an outside turnstyle cage to exit. You could also exit through the terminal.

Q: There was a short portion of the Kenwood line that was on a steel structure, and it joined up with this other embankment, and also had freight trains on it, right?

A: Right. It joined up at Lake Park.

Q: How far of a distance would that have been?

A: The tracks from the 42nd Place terminal went north to 40th and curved west to join up with the embankment. So it was about two and a half blocks. Along the north side of the embankment was 40th Street.

Q: That must have been fun, to ride some of these lines that don’t exist anymore. What was it like to ride on the Stockyards line?

A: I didn’t ride it that often. It was an adventure just to see everything. You’d get on at Indiana (Avenue), you’d ride, you’d see the Stockyards. I think I was having too much fun with my friends, to pay much close attention. We didn’t get off, that’s for sure. We just stayed on it for the round trip.

Q: I suppose there was quite an odor to the place in those days, wasn’t there?

A: We lived east of there, so yeah, when the wind was blowing, you could smell it. It wasn’t that bad of a smell. But you’d smell it when you went around (on the “L”).

Q: And that was unique, because they had a single-track loop there. They had some stations where there was only one track.

A: Yep. I don’t remember that. I only remember being on a train. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the tracks or anything, and plus there was two other kids, so we were joking around a lot (laughs).

Q: Tell me then, what happened to your family when you moved away from the neighborhood, to the north side. Was that because they shut down the “L”, or were there other factors involved?

A: What happened was that the “L” was shut down in ’57, and they began to tear it down in ’61. I was at Hyde Park High School. I started there in ’56 so I took the Kenwood “L” and transferred to the Jackson Park “L” and went to the end of the line at 63rd and Stony Island. In ’57, I started taking the 43rd Street bus to Drexel, and then I caught the southbound Drexel bus. It was a #1 or #5 Jeffrey Bus which dropped me off right in front of the school on Stony Island.

Q: Your family moved to the north side?

A: In 1961, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) purchased all the homes in the neighborhood to be torn down to construct the two high rise buildings. The CHA bought our property, which was lucky, otherwise we would’ve had a hard time selling it. We moved to Uptown only two-and-a-half blocks away from the (CTA) Red Line Argyle station. I would take the “L” everywhere. I gave my last car away to my son-in-law in 1990. I was working downtown so I took the subway every day.

Q: They recently completely rebuilt the whole Wilson Avenue station, and all the tracks around it. It was a huge project, and cost about $250m.

A: And now they’re doing a big thing. They’re gonna rebuild all the tracks along the way, get rid of the concrete bridges, and put in a steel structure to eliminate the center thing. They just started on it.

Q: Some of the stations are going to be shut down for a while. But at least they restored the lower portion of that Wilson station, bringing it back to its 1920s appearance. It was nice of them to do that, even though the whole inside is completely brand new.

A: They will have an organic food store there. The Argyle stop, when we first moved up north had two exits, one on the north side and one on the south side of Argyle. And eventually, when they redid the platform, they eliminated the south side exit.

Q: Tell me what happened to you and your family, after you moved north. You moved to Uptown for a few years…

A: We’re still in Uptown. My parents bought a 4 flat building on Argyle and we had our whole family in the building: my parents, my grandparents, my sister, my cousin, and my wife and kids lived there. Then I got wanderlust and I bought a building across the alley on Winnemac. My in-laws lived with us. It felt like a compound, like on The Godfather. We had all of our family around us, all the time, which was tremendous.

Q: What was your career, then?

A: I graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in finance and worked in the actuarial department at CNA Insurance. And then I went out in the field and sold insurance and later ended up being vice president of the Bank of Chicago on Wilson and Broadway. When that bank was sold, I was vice-president of another community bank in Andersonville and later left banking to run an international trading group. Afterwards, I worked in government for the Attorney General of Illinois, Neil Hartigan, and later Roland Burris. Then I became president of the World Trade Center of Chicago which was at the Merchandise Mart. Then I ended up working for the State again as the Director of Trade for the State of Illinois. I retired in 2005.

Q: And what do you do to keep busy now?

A: I am the principal of a consulting group that specializes in assisting companies to export and import products and services. So I do a lot of consulting work for several companies. I’m trying to retire, but I keep getting new projects all the time.

Q: The internment of Japanese-Americans was a dark chapter in American history, one which unfortunately was affirmed by the Supreme Court, in a kind of notorious decision (Korematsu v. United States), which still, I don’t think, has been overturned since.

A: The internment of Japanese Americans in World War II is still constitutional. Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hirabayashi and Minoru Yasui were the three cases in which the US Supreme Court ruled that the internment was constitutional based upon on the grounds of military necessity.

The Supreme Court decisions have not been overturned. In 1983, however, the US District Court in San Francisco ruled that the US Government had withheld a government report that indicated that there were no cases of espionage or sabotage by the Japanese and that there was no military necessity for the Japanese American interment. The US District Court vacated the three convictions, however, the Supreme Court decisions have not been overturned. (Editor’s note: The Roberts Court essentially disavowed the Korematsu decision in the majority opinion to Trump v. Hawaii (2018), saying it had been wrongly decided.)

Q: Like I say, a dark chapter in American history, and unfortunately, now, our government is not doing good things with immigrants, and separating families, and establishing things that seem almost like concentration camps all over again.

A; Yes, the Japanese-American community has really been actively involved in protesting all of this.

I don’t know if you are aware of it, but in 1950, during the Joe McCarthy period, the Internal Security Act was passed in Congress. Title I of the Internal Security Act set up the Subversive Activity Control Board, which would be like Nazi Germany, they would have somebody on your block to report you, if they thought you were a Commie. Well, the liberals thought that this would pass, so they added Title II, which set up concentration camps in this country to be used in the event of war or insurrection within the US. The liberals thought that would be so revolting that everybody would vote against it.

But the anti-Communist mood was so bad in 1950, that if you didn’t vote for it, you felt like you weren’t coming back to Congress according to Congressman Sid Yates. He was a Northside Chicago Congressman first elected in 1948. So it was passed and vetoed by President Harry Truman. Congress voted to override his veto and ten camps were actually built in the US. Eventually, Title I was ruled unconstitutional and Title II, however, stayed on the books and was never repealed.

The original bill was known as the Nixon-Mundt Bill. We knew that Truman wouldn’t implement it, and the same for both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. Eventually the ten camps were turned over to the Bureau of Prisons. And then in 1968 with all the rioting and everything else going on, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) said that the Black militants had declared war on the United States and were leading an insurrection and, therefore, the Internal Security Act of 1950 would be used to round them up and herd them into these camps.

So, what happened was, the Japanese American Citizens League led the effort to repeal Title II of the Internal Security Act and in 1973, it was repealed in Congress when there was a big wave of new Democratic Congressmen elected because of President Nixon’s unpopularity just like what took place in 2018. President Nixon signed the repeal legislation in Portland, Oregon, on his way to meet Emperor Hirohito. So the original Nixon-Mundt law’s repeal legislation was signed into law by President Nixon.

Q: That’s one of the ironies of history, I guess.

A: And the true irony is that Allenwood, Pennsylvania, where all of the Watergate conspirators went, was built under the Internal Security Act of 1950.

Q: I remember that when I worked for LaSalle Photo, the government issued some sort of an apology to the people who had been interned and offered them a cash payment.

A: In the mid-1970’s the Japanese American Citizens League began to seek redress and reparations for the Japanese community that were wrongfully interned during World War II. After many years of lobbying with Congressmen and Senators, a Federal Commission was appointed to hold hearings in several cities including Chicago. The Commission reported its findings to Congress and a Redress and Reparations Bill was introduced in both the House and Senate. After several years, it was finally passed in Congress. But it took a while to convince Reagan to sign the repeal legislation in August 1988. The original estimate by the Bank of America that financial losses were $5 billion in 1988 dollars which meant about $40k for every person who was in camp. Well, they didn’t do that. They sent $20k to everyone who was still alive. So, if you were alive in August 1988, you were eligible to get $20k in reparations. Most people felt the apology letter was more important than the money. The checks were finally mailed out when Bush was President. President Bush signed the formal apology letter and there was a check attached to it.

Q: Because you were in the camps, then, you did receive this kind of payment?

A: Oh yeah, I got a check, $20k check. I cashed it. Some folks said they weren’t going to cash it, I said good luck, I cashed mine. I made a copy of it, and I also have the original letter from Bush.

Q: I remember from when I worked at LaSalle Photo, this lady I worked with, said she was going to refuse the payment.

A: Some folks felt that way, I had no problem with that. I think that when the payment was refused, the money was put into a foundation. The foundation funds were spent on educational programs about the camps and the funds were used to take care of the camps. In the camp at Rohwer, Arkansas, there’s a cemetery for the internees who died in the camps that needs to be maintained. And also, the camps are now designated as national monuments.

Q: Well, if we don’t learn from history, we are probably doomed to repeat it.

A: That’s true.

Q: A lesson that unfortunately, many people haven’t learned.

A: Yes, and what is happening today, as you know, and even with this Covid-19 situation, Asians are being picked out. Because it started in China. We’re a visible minority, so in World War II I was a Jap, in the Korean War I was a Chink, in the Vietnam War I was a Gook. People can’t tell us apart, so because of that, and the fact that our existence in the US has never been legitimatized in the history books, we’re always viewed as foreigners. People keep saying to me, “Where did you learn English?”, Hyde Park High School, “Where were you born?”, California, “Where were your parents born?”, California, “Your grandfather?”, Japan, “You’re Japanese.” Now I don’t ask anybody where they’re from. If they’re white, you never ask anybody, are you Lithuanian, Polish, Estonian, or Ukrainian, whatever. We don’t ask that. Although I do ask people, I see your last name, and I say, oh, you have a Polish background, and I’ve been to Poland, and my son-in-law’s Polish. I have a lot of friends who are Lithuanian and Ukrainian. I was very active with the Baltic ethnic groups. We keep in touch with each other.

Q: This book I am working on is going to be called Chicago’s Lost “L”s. The idea is to tell a story through pictures.

A: Frank Kruesi, who was head of the CTA way back, is a hero to me because he eliminated the A/B stops. Argyle was an “A” stop, so if you heard a train coming, you’d run like hell to get up there and sometimes and it turned out to be a “B” train that went right by you. He is a hero to me because if you hear a train coming you know it’s going to stop (laughs).

Q: You know why that came about, because when the CTA, the Rapid Transit and the Surface Lines had been competitors, more or less. The typical thing was that, in some places, they had stations every two blocks on the “L”, and people lived in the neighborhoods and they would walk to the “L”. Things started to change when people got more cars, and the CTA took over, and they were trying to consolidate everything, and develop more of a cooperative system between the buses, streetcars, and the “L”, they closed a lot of stations, to try and speed up the service, because like you say, with those old cars, there were two speeds—slow, and slower. They found that if they speeded things up, they would get more riders. The A/B thing, that started out in Oak Park on the Lake Street “L”, in 1948, and it was credited with saving that line, because otherwise, the service was pretty slow. At first it was a good thing, because there were too many stations, but over the years, they closed so many stations, that by the time they got rid of the A/B thing, it was totally unnecessary. There weren’t that many stations, and now they’ve even put a few of them back. Now maybe in some places, they have too few stations. We’ve gone back to where the trains make all the stops again.

The view from the roof of the house at 4201 S. Oakenwald. In the distance, you can see the 43rd Street station of the Illinois Central Electric commuter trains. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

The view from the roof of the house at 4201 S. Oakenwald. In the distance, you can see the 43rd Street station of the Illinois Central Electric commuter trains. (Courtesy of Ross Harano)

A: I looked at your web site and I noticed your mentioning the South Shore “Orange” trains. They were fast. I had two friends killed by the Illinois Central trains. We used to cross the tracks, you know, to get to the park.

Q: Was that on a lower level than the rest of the neighborhood?

A: The Illinois Central tracks were slightly below level. And so, there was one kid, we used to play ice hockey together was killed by a local while I was in grammar school, so it probably had to be the early ‘50s. The other friend was hit by the South Shore “Orange” train.

Q: It’s been fascinating talking to you. A lot of your family’s history, it’s very important history, for the City of Chicago, because we value diversity here. And it’s history that I think more people ought to know.

A: I agree.

Q: Thanks so much!

Ross Harano in 2012.

Ross Harano in 2012.

Further Information:

Internment of Japanese Americans

Harano and Mayewacki Family World War II Veterans

Japanese-American Service in World War II

Korematsu v. United States

Mitsuye Endo

Jerome War Relocation Center

The McCarran Internal Security Act

WTTW segment from Chicago Tonight about the Kenwood “L”

WTTW segment from Chicago Tonight about the Kiosk Sphinx (Eiffel Tower replica)

Article about the Kiosk Sphinx

1939 Chicago Surface Lines Training Program

In 2016, we were fortunate to acquire a rare 16″ transcription disc, made in 1939 for the Chicago Surface Lines. This included an audio presentation called “Keeping Pace,” about 20 minutes long, that CSL used for employee training.

We were recently able to find someone who could play such a large disc, and now this program has been digitized and can be heard for the first time in more than 80 years. We have added it as a bonus feature to our Red Arrow Lines 1967 CD, available below and through our Online Store.

Screen Shot 03-16-16 at 06.58 PM.PNGScreen Shot 03-17-16 at 12.44 AM.PNG

RAL
Red Arrow Lines 1967: Straffords and Bullets
# of Discs – 1
Price: $14.99

This disc features rare, long out-of-print audio recordings of two 1967 round trips on the Philadelphia & Western (aka “Red Arrow Lines”) interurban between Philadelphia and Norristown, the famous third rail High-Speed Line.  One trip is by a Strafford car and the other by one of the beloved streamlined Bullets.  The line, about 13 miles long and still in operation today under SEPTA, bears many similarities to another former interurban line, the Chicago Transit Authority‘s Yellow Line (aka the “Skokie Swift”).  We have included two bonus features, audio of an entire ride along that five mile route, which was once part of the North Shore Line, and a 20-minute 1939 Chicago Surface Lines training program (“Keeping Pace”).  This was digitized from a rare original 16″ transcription disc and now can be heard again for the first time in over 80 years.

Total time – 73:32

The Trolley Dodger On the Air
We appeared on WGN radio in Chicago in November 2018, discussing our book Building Chicago’s Subways on the Dave Plier Show. You can hear our 19-minute conversation here.
Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 1938-- Secretary Harold Ickes, left, and Mayor Edward J. Kelly turn the first spadeful of earth to start the new $40,000,000 subway project. Many thousands gathered to celebrate the starting of work on the subway. Chicago, Illinois, December 17, 1938– Secretary Harold Ickes, left, and Mayor Edward J. Kelly turn the first spadeful of earth to start the new $40,000,000 subway project. Many thousands gathered to celebrate the starting of work on the subway.
Order Our New Book Building Chicago’s Subways

There were three subway anniversaries in 2018 in Chicago:
60 years since the West Side Subway opened (June 22, 1958)
75 years since the State Street Subway opened (October 17, 1943)
80 years since subway construction started (December 17, 1938)
To commemorate these anniversaries, we have written a new book, Building Chicago’s Subways.

While the elevated Chicago Loop is justly famous as a symbol of the city, the fascinating history of its subways is less well known. The City of Chicago broke ground on what would become the “Initial System of Subways” during the Great Depression and finished 20 years later. This gigantic construction project, a part of the New Deal, would overcome many obstacles while tunneling through Chicago’s soft blue clay, under congested downtown streets, and even beneath the mighty Chicago River. Chicago’s first rapid transit subway opened in 1943 after decades of wrangling over routes, financing, and logistics. It grew to encompass the State Street, Dearborn-Milwaukee, and West Side Subways, with the latter modernizing the old Garfield Park “L” into the median of Chicago’s first expressway. Take a trip underground and see how Chicago’s “I Will” spirit overcame challenges and persevered to help with the successful building of the subways that move millions. Building Chicago’s subways was national news and a matter of considerable civic pride–making it a “Second City” no more!

Bibliographic information:
Title Building Chicago’s Subways
Images of America
Author David Sadowski
Edition illustrated
Publisher Arcadia Publishing (SC), 2018
ISBN 1467129380, 9781467129381
Length 128 pages
Chapter Titles:
01. The River Tunnels
02. The Freight Tunnels
03. Make No Little Plans
04. The State Street Subway
05. The Dearborn-Milwaukee Subway
06. Displaced
07. Death of an Interurban
08. The Last Street Railway
09. Subways and Superhighways
10. Subways Since 1960
Building Chicago’s Subways is in stock and now available for immediate shipment. Order your copy today! All copies purchased through The Trolley Dodger will be signed by the author.
The price of $23.99 includes shipping within the United States.
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Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo) Redone tile at the Monroe and Dearborn CTA Blue Line subway station, showing how an original sign was incorporated into a newer design, May 25, 2018. (David Sadowski Photo)

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10 thoughts on “Ross Harano and the Kenwood “L”

  1. What a thoroughly fascinating story. Ross and I must be about the same age. He grew up at 42nd & Oakenwald and I grew up at 48th and Woodlawn.
    ________________________________

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    • What a fascinating story. I grew up at 73rd and University before moving to the burbs. I remember taking the stock yards L as a kid to see the GM Autorama at the amphitheater, What a thrill that was.

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  2. More nice photos to enjoy! Thanks, David A touching story of the Japanese family. Those Japanese internment camps are sure a dark story in our history. I have four grandchildren all adopted from S. Korea, so I can relate some to this story. Interesting about the uncle photographer living in North Platte, NE,out west in my state. Dan Frizane

    Virus-free. http://www.avast.com

    On Thu, Jul 23, 2020 at 1:58 PM The Trolley Dodger wrote:

    > David Sadowski posted: ” I first became interested in Ross Harano and his > family’s story when I came across the picture shown above in the article > What happened to Chicago’s Japanese neighborhood? by Katherine Nagasawa > from WBEZ radio. I wanted to learn more, and found that M” >

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  3. The picture from the roof also shows the ramp which allowed trains on the IC freight tracks to access the route over to the stockyards and junctions w/ several N-S mainlines decades ago. The Kenwood and Stockyards trackage was a second level over the CR&I ROW.
    As to the ramp, I have an extremely dim memory of a steam powered freight ascending which I would have seen from the window of an IC Electric in the early 50s.

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  4. Very interesting and thought provoking story that unfortunately has more than a few parallels with recent events, but we all can certainly relate to Mr. Harano’s youthful fun of riding trains simply for the entertainment of it.

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  5. thank you for sharing — the resilience of the human spirit can never be underestimated; my nephew just graduated with a masters in museum studies and has been hired as a curator at a camp site in Wyoming, so we are all learning much from his experience.

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  6. This is the kind of oral history that we need to find more often. It says a lot about our nation and, more importantly, about our people. Thank you, David and thank you, Ross.

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