Following up on our earlier post Lost and Found: Chicago Streetcar #1137, I found this 1946 article in the Chicago Tribune archives. It gives some of the “back story” to how a Chicago streetcar body could end up being used as part of a house in the middle of Wisconsin.
Perhaps the people who bought car 1137 read this article, since the Tribune was distributed throughout the Midwest, and as a result, purchased one of the streetcar bodies. The one pictured in the article is part of the same series as theirs.
Given that the article says that 100 streetcar bodies were sold to the same scrap dealer for potential resale for use as sheds, chicken coops, and cottages, it’s possible there may still be a few more of these out there, waiting to be discovered in the future.
Over the years, several streetcar and interurban bodies have been unearthed in such fashion, and a few have even been restored and are once again in operable condition. Chicago & West Towns car 141, now at the Illinois Railway Museum, is but one such example.
These cars were superfluous because plans were already afoot in 1946 to eliminate all the old red streetcars in Chicago and replace them with buses. In some cases, the Surface Lines had retired some of these cars many years previously, and there was no chance they would be used again, not even in work service.
You can read a History of CSL car 2843 on the excellent Hicks Car Works blog. That will give you some idea of how a few of these old streetcars have somehow managed to survive to the present time against all odds.
Some Chicago area residents turned to discarded street cars yesterday for a solution to their housing problems.
Within a few hours after the first street car offered for sale was displayed at the scrap metal yard at 1220 Lake st., the proprietor, Frank Steiner, reported 21 had been sold, mostly to persons who will convert them to living quarters.
Steiner said he had arranged to buy 100 of the discarded cars from the Chicago Surface lines. They are offered for sale without mechanical equipment, wheels or seats at $300 delivered in Chicago. Out of town purchasers must pay $1 a mile from the Chicago city limits to the destination.
The First Purchasers
The first purchasers were James and Elsie Neykodem, Downers Grove, who plan to live in the car until they can build a home. Then the car will become a chicken house. At present they are living with relatives in Downers Grove.
Another buyer explained she had sold her home and was unable to find a place to live. She’ll put the street car on 1 1/2 acres of ground she owns and live in it until more suitable quarters can be found.
Six cars went to a buyer who will offer them for rent in his trailer camp. Two will become lunch stands and one a gasoline storage building at a factory.
The car put on display yesterday had been hauled by truck from the Surface Lines’ car barn at North and Cicero avs.
Court Denies Injunction
Circuit Judge Philip J. Finnegan refused yesterday to grant a temporary injunction, asked for by property owners, to restrain the city from placing trailers and prefabricated houses in Edison Park Manor, at the southwest corner of Touhy and Overhill avs. Atty. Walter V. Schaeger, representing the Chicago Housing authority, said the first temporary dwelling unit there probably will be ready for occupancy in 10 days.
In effect, Judge Finnegan upheld action of the city council which approved temporary housing at the site at its meeting Thursday. No date had been set for the petitioners’ request for a permanent injunction, and he denied theor request for immediate denial of the permanent injunction so that an appeal could be filed.
The petitioners had contended the temporary homes would depreciate the value of established residences and that the city zoning ordinance would be violated, but the judge held no permanent injury would result.
The design of these cars was derived from, and improved upon, those of the 83 prewar PCCs Chicago put into service in 1936-37. CSL experimented with various door arrangements on car 4051, which was tested in service on route 56 – Milwaukee Avenue in 1941.
The City of Chicago developed a transit modernization plan in the late 1930s, calling for the purchase of 1000 modern streetcars to replace CSL’s aging fleet. However, these plans would have to wait until the end of World War II to become a reality. Construction of new streetcars was put off “for the duration” as materials were needed for the war effort.
The Chicago Transit Authority was created by act of the Illinois legislature and approved by voters in Cook County in 1945. CTA took over both CSL and the Chicago Rapid Transit Company on October 1, 1947. However, the Chicago Transit Board, the CTA’s governing body, felt it had a mandate to make improvements even before the takeover.
CSL had a substantial fund set aside for equipment purchases that had been building up for years. The Surface Lines had been under the control of the courts for many years, as it was technically bankrupt. The fledgling CTA had no difficulty in persuading the CSL and the courts to order 600 new PCC streetcars for Chicago in 1945. Due to the size of this order, it was split between Pullman (310 cars) and St. Louis Car Company (290).
The first of the city’s new green and cream colored 1946 streamlined streetcars, which will be in use by the end of the month on the Clark-Wentworth line, was inspected yesterday by management officers of the Chicago Surface lines.
The management group of four trustees and Federal Judge Michael L. Igoe, who has jurisdiction over the reorganization proceedings of the Surface lines company, were taken for a ride in the streamliner, the first of 600 cars on order.
Several new features captured the fancy of the inspectors. Coming in for the most praise were the crank operated windows. For tall persons, windows have been placed above the regular side windows.
Aisles are three inches wider. Another innovation is a no glare windshield which eliminates need for the curtain behind the motorman.
In addition to the Clark-Wentworth line, the cars will also be in use on Broadway-State, Western av. and 63d street lines.
Eventually, the postwar PCCs also ran on the Cottage Grove, Halsted, and Madison lines. Prior to being introduced on Clark-Wentworth, car 4062, the first one delivered, was run in “Pre-View” service in a downtown loop.
The September 16, 1946 Tribune reported:
NEWEST STREET CAR WILL BE IN SERVICE IN LOOP FOR 2 DAYS
Loop visitors will have an opportunity today and tomorrow to inspect Chicago’s first post-war street car which the Chicago Surface Lines has received out of 600 ordered. The new car will operate during the two days in an area bounded by Wabash av. and State, Lake, and Harrison sts.
The public has been invited by surface lines officials to make short trips free of charge to get firsthand information on the new car. It will operate from 9 a. m. to 9 p. m.
The new car, which will be placed on the Madison st. run soon, seats 58 persons and operation is all-electric. The heating system uses only the high temperatures generated by braking.
While the new PCCS were very popular with the public, a “sea change” in management philosophy was already in the offing, even before the Chicago Transit Authority took over the Surface Lines on October 1, 1947, as this Tribune editorial from November 20, 1946 shows:
THE STREET CAR IS DEAD
About all that has happened to the straphangers of this city in the last year is that the Chicago Motor Coach drivers went out on a strike nearly two months ago and are still out. The bus riders, who are a small minority of local transportation passengers, seem to be getting to and from work, tho not without greater inconvenience than they suffered on the buses. Instead of sardining themselves into buses, they sardine themselves into street cars or the “L.”
If the latter systems were offering anything like acceptable service to the public, the strike might prove fatal to the bus company. Its patrons would learn that they could get to work for 8 cents on the street car instead of a dime on the bus. As it is, they undoubtedly will be back on their old corners the first morning they read that the bus strike has been settled.
There isn’t a single form of local transportation in Chicago whose service today isn’t disgraceful. The street car service is the worst altho some elevated patrons might dispute this. The surface lines are, insofar as service to the public is concerned, leaderless. They remain in their second decade of federal court receivership. The court evidently thinks the management is running the company, and the management seems to think the court is. The physical properties are run down, and, still worse, are obsolete.
The street car is dead. With the exception of a few long haul, heavy traffic routes, street cars, which came in before paved streets, are obsolete. They should be replaced by buses. The surface lines themselves recognize this in their extensions of lines. They put in buses because property owners will no longer consent to have street cars run past their doors.
Street cars depreciate property values on every street on which they run. Buses improve them. That has been the almost universal experience in New York, where the street car has virtually disappeared from Manhattan. The deteriorating effect of the street car has been demonstrated in Chicago. The beneficial effect of buses has not been so well proved here for lack of substitution.
street cars, experts assert, can carry more people over a given route than can buses. Very well, then, keep the street cars on perhaps a half dozen heavily traveled routes. The new, high speed, relatively quiet cars that the company is now buying can serve those routes and the thousands of old rattletraps that it is using elsewhere can be junked and replaced with buses. Trolley buses can be justified if they are cheaper than gasoline buses. Their use on certain streets might be permitted, but they, too, are a detriment to adjoining property, altho not as great a one as the rail cars.
This is a good summation of the prevailing philosophy that both CSL and CTA had in 1946. Soon, however, the Chicago Transit Board hired Walter J. McCarter as the first CTA general manager, and even before the 1947 takeover, he had made public his anti-streetcar sentiments.
Our recent post about transportation to and from the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair (aka A Century of Progress) jogged my memory a bit. I recall reading a while back about the discovery of early color films from the fair, taken in 1933.
There had been color films of a sort prior to 1933, however most of these were much less successful “two-color” processes, which showed red and green but not blue. For a list of early two-color Hollywood films prior to 1935, go here. (The technically minded can also delve into great detail on the early Kodak color processes here.)
During 1933, there were experimental versions of either Technicolor or Kodacolor being tested, but these products were not commercially available until 1935. A national spectacle, attracting millions of visitors, the fair was an obvious event to try out the new three-color films on.
Chicago’s second World’s Fair was also more colorful than its first one in 1893. The World’s Columbian Exposition featured a neoclassical “White City,” while the 1933 version had multi-colored buildings and lighting of a more modern style.
Fortunately, some color footage from the 1933 edition of A Century of Progress has survived, and can be seen in some of the video links later in this post. Without these films, our only evidence of color at the fair would be hand-colored postcards, posters, and such.
By comparison, by 1939-40, the time of the New York World’s Fair, 16mm Kodachrome movie film was available to the amateur market. Consequently, there is a tremendous amount of color footage showing that fair.
The films include footage of the impressive Sky Ride, an aerial cable car that transported visitors to Northerly Island, which was built on landfill in 1928. Fairgoers were transported nearly 2,000 feet at an altitude of 215 feet above ground. The cable tram was suspended between to 628-foot high towers at the ends, with observation decks, the highest such points in the city.
Each streamlined “gondola” gave out wisps of steam from its tail, in a manner not unlike the rocket ships in the contemporary Buck Rogers comic strip, which first appeared in 1929. (The competing Flash Gordon comic strip by Alex Raymond did not begin until January 7, 1934. You can read some of those early strips here. The movie serial versions of these comics did not appear until after the Chicago fair had closed.)
Apparently, each gondola was named after a different character in the extremely popular but controversial Amos ‘n’ Andy radio program, which had its roots in Chicago. (While I have read that there were 12 such gondola cars, I’ve only seen pictures of three, named “Amos,” “Andy,” and “Brother Crawford.”)
Both my parents visited the Chicago World’s Fair. My late father described how he had been stuck on one of the aerial cable cars for several hours when it broke down mid-flight. My mother, who is now 86, still recalls her trips to the fair when she was 5 or 6 years old. As you can see from the film footage, it was the type of event that many Chicagoans dressed up for in their finest clothes.
There were other novel modes of transportation at A Century of Progress. Although the Chicago Surface Lines brochure in our earlier post shows a Dirigible or Zeppelin in the air (and one did visit Chicago in 1933) the films show a Goodyear Blimp in frequent use at the fair.
There was also an experimental auto on display, the streamlined three-wheeled “Dymaxion” car designed by Buckminster Fuller. Unfortunately, interest in this car was quelled after it was involved in a fatal car crash, although the driver of the Dymaxion was not at fault.
The Chicago World’s Fair had an influence on the city that extended far beyond the 1930s. Many of its scientific exhibits wound up at the Museum of Science and Industry, where they can be seen today.
While an attempt to continue the railroad fair for a third year was deemed a failure, this did lead to the Chicago Tribune‘s Col. Robert R. McCormick to envision a permanent site for summer exhibitions and fairs on the lakefront.
After years of discussion and planning, this effort resulted in the creation of McCormick Place, which opened in 1960. Rebuilt after a disastrous 1967 fire, McCormick Place is now the largest convention center in North America. Since A Century of Progress and the Chicago Railroad Fair successfully brought millions of people to Chicago’s lakefront, it was considered an excellent location for McCormick Place.
As a result, it is perhaps the most important legacy of those earlier fairs. You can also read more about the genesis of McCormick Place in the book Political Influence by Edward C. Banfield, which we mentioned in an earlier post.
Finally, using the final Youtube link below, you can listen to the rousing Chicago Worlds Fair Centennial Celebration March (1933) by composer Carl Mader.
PS- Walt Disney (who was born in Chicago) is known to have visited the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair several times (one of at five such fairs he visited in his lifetime), and after watching some of these videos, it’s not difficult to see how A Century of Progress could have influenced Disneyland.