Alleys Alive

Vol. XVII No. 1 - SPRING 2006

They have been ignored for years. The alleys of Chicago were just taken for granted until the Chicago Tribune featured the “Alley investigation” of Edgewater resident Patrick Reardon. Mr. Reardon writes regularly for the Tribune but his series on alleys, which began on November 7, 2005, piqued our interest, so Bob Remer sought Pat out and persuaded him to come to our museum on March 18 for a discussion of alleys.

What we learned right at the beginning is that Chicago has 1,900 mile of alleys, “the most of any city on the planet.” Mr. Reardon reported that it’s because Chicago was built right at the time when alleys were thought to be a good idea. For examples of cities without alleys, just visit New York or Boston. On the other hand, the design of most suburbs eliminated the alley. It was a dirty place and not needed. But that’s only the recent past. For a more in depth look at the history of alleys, you’ll just have to read the articles entitled “Unauthorized alleys.”

The audience was full of stories about alleys. One person told of riding through the alleys to get to work during the Blizzard of 1967. The alleys were cleared first so the garbage trucks could get through. Some even had questions about things found in alleys. Mr. Reardon brought along some of the photos from the articles. On November 9, 2005, the article by Lucinda Hahn featured the “The World’s Greatest Alley Party,” which is held each year in Lakewood Balmoral. The photos by Alex Garcia show neighbors seated at tables enjoying a dinner. It wouldn’t be recognizable as an alley except for the garage doors.

On November 10th, the feature was garage doors and Architecture. Critic Blair Kamin wrote about the architecture found along alleys. There’s a lot more to read so go to: to find out more. Here’s a trivia question to answer. How many block of brick alleys remain in Edgewater? The boundaries of Edgewater are the Lake to Ravenswood; Foster Avenue to Devon.