A Son Looks Back

Vol. IV No. 2 - SPRING/SUMMER 1992

By: Roger McCabe

My father was James McCabe, an employee of the City Clerk’s Office and also an attorney for the city of Chicago. He started with the City Clerk in 1893, went under municipal Civil Service in 1908 and retired from the City Clerk’s Office in 1944. For many years, he took down the minutes of the City Council meetings in shorthand. Later, his notes were transcribed in longhand into large volumes by the excellent old-school penmanship of fellow employee Herman Meyer. Herman lived at 1214 Elmdale and was a great pal of my father.

Dad was also Secretary of the Fire Department Pension Fund from before 1900 until 1931, when the law changed and the Pension Fund opened its own office. Dad got me a job there in 1934.

Jim McCabe, as he was known around Edgewater and City Hall, was an expert on remembering the ordinances regarding street track elevation, beginning in 1894 with the Chicago Rapid Transit Co. That’s how I know the Howard Street branch of the elevated lines was built on the right-of-way owned by the Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Company. I remember hearing the story about the proposed elevated embankment down the alley between Glenwood and Wayne, that never got beyond the talking stage, when I was in the third grade.

Glenwood was Southport Avenue (1400 west) until around 1914. Southport had a streetcar for years that ran all through the old northside German neighborhood. Circa 1914, residents of Southport, starting at Argyle north to Devon, pressured the city to change the name of their section of the street. They simply wanted a nicer moniker for their “fancier” neighborhood and so the name was changed to Glenwood.

About the same time, Glenwood was paved with cement and topped with asphalt. In 1917, Wayne, Lakewood and Magnolia were likewise paved from Foster to Bryn Mawr. Streetcars ran down Evanston Avenue (now known as Broadway) before it was paved. Hand-lit street lamps lined the streets until about 1916.

Long before Hollywood was considered the country’s film capital, the Essanay moving picture Studio was alive and doing very well in Uptown. It was located on Argyle, about a block and a half west of Broadway, on the south side of the street, on what formerly had been a 16-acre celery farm. Many early movies were filmed there, both on the inside sets and outside in the back of the studio.

Many famous stars - Mary Pickford, Wallace Berry, Gloria Swanson, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Frances X. Bushman, Mack Sennett and Mabel Norman to name a few - got their start in movies at the Essanay.

The glorious Gloria Swanson was, in fact, born right here in Edgewater on Ashland Avenue, somewhere between Foster and Berwyn. Her father was a painter. When I was a small boy, firemen at the local firehouse at Balmoral and Ashland would tell how, as a child, she would come to visit them and pet the horses.

My father was honored to be introduced to Frances X. Bushman one time at The Winona, an inn at Winona and Broadway. That was before Prohibition and The Winona was famous for its “free lunch” in those days. After buying a stein of beer or a drink or two, patrons could help themselves to a large cup of hot beef stew or a large corned beef sandwich. The inn had stained glass windows, a mahogany bar and wooden booths. Actors and other Essanay personnel often went there or to Sternberg’s Place on the northwest corner of Argyle and Broadway. Dad preferred The Winona.