Bike Uptown hosted a free bicycle tour of historic Uptown sites on a mild, sunny afternoon on Sat.,
May 26, from 3:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and followed by social time from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
More than 60 Uptown residents and residents from bordering neighborhoods joined 46th Ward
Alderman James Cappleman and Bike Uptown on a leisurely bike ride to discover more about
Uptown’s unique history.
The tour began at Uptown Bikes, 4653 N. Broadway St. and visited the Hutchinson Street Historic
District, the Peace Garden, Montrose Peninsula, the Aragon Ballroom and Essanay Studios. The
Tour finished at Big Chicks restaurant, 5024 N. Sheridan Rd., for discussion of transportation issues,
socializing and nourishment.
Among the tour highlights were interesting facts about the destinations:
Originally named Kenesaw Terrace the Hutchinson Street Historic District extends only
two blocks from Clarendon to Hazel and contains the city’s best collections of Prairie-style
residences. Hutchinson Street displays splendid examples of residential architecture for the 30
years between 1890 and 1920. Many of the original residences were built by Essanay Studio
executives, and one residence was former home to Illinois Governor James Thompson.
The Peace Garden at Buena and the Lakefront Bike Path existed as a garden since the 1930s
and was most likely designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen who designed Lincoln Park,
Douglas Park and Columbus Park in Chicago. In 1986 Greenpeace designated it a peace
garden, and from 1988 to 1992 the Chicago Park District partnered with Artists for Sharing to
create a lasting peace garden. Children’s Peace Council, an offshoot of Artists for Sharing,
helps with restoration and continues with maintenance. The garden also features a statue that
commemorates peace activist Daisaku Ikeda who witnessed racial discrimination while walking
through Lincoln Park.
Montrose Peninsula was engineered by the city of Chicago in 1872 for recreational space
and a harbor for boats. In the 1920s and into the 30s Montrose Point – designed by Alfred
Caldwell – was part of a massive landfill project from Foster to Montrose. In the 1950s and
1960s Montrose Point hosted a military base, but returned to its natural state in the 1970s. The
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary hosts 300 species, including some of the state’s rarest birds.
The Aragon Ballroom at Lawrence and Winthrop Avenues was built in 1926 at a cost of
$1.75 million – more than $22 million in today’s dollars – and designed to resemble a Moorish
(North African) palace. During 20s and 30s the Aragon featured most of nation’s well-known
jazz groups who were broadcast on radio live which promoted the Aragon nationally. It
became a mecca for young adults visiting Chicago to dance to the Big Bands of the 1940s
and 1950s, such as Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Duke
Ellington, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo and Wayne King. It continues as a popular venue for
contemporary musical groups.
The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company building at 1345 W. Argyle was the home of a
silent film studio that was best known for producing the Charlie Chaplin comedies of 1915.
Founded in 1907 by George Spoor and Gilbert Anderson, Essanay’s first film, An Awful Skate,
or The Hobo on Rollers (July 1907), starred Ben Turpin (also the studio janitor). Studio co-
owner Gilbert Anderson also starred as “Broncho Billy” in westerns. Louella Parsons was a
screenwriter there and went on to become a famous Hollywood gossip columnist. Both Co-
owners received Oscars: George Spoor in 1948 and Broncho Billy Anderson in 1958. Some of
the silent era stars were: Ben Turpin, Wallace Beery, Francis X. Bushman, Gloria Swanson,
Tom Mix, Ann Little, Helen Dunbar, Harold Lloyd, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford.
Some photos from the event courtesy of Arline Welty:
posted by Gene Tenner