The Chicago Area Highways of 1909

Lake Shore Drive 1906

This undivided back postcard was postmarked August 14, 1906 and shows the view looking southbound on a portion of Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. Original Lake Shore Drive was begun in the 1880s, when millionaire retailer Potter Palmer purchased lake front property in the northern part of Chicago and championed a boulevard that would enhance the value of the land. The original section of the Drive began at Oak Street and ran north to Fullerton Avenue. Postcard manufactured by Curt Teich & Co., Chicago, IL.

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Southbound Lake Shore Drive

Undivided back postcards, such as this one showing southbound Lake Shore Drive, published by Alfred Holzmann of Chicago and Leipzig, were made from 1901-1907. During those years, the Post Office allowed nothing except the address to be written on the back, along with the postage and postmark. Any message had to be placed on the front in the small white space provided.

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Lake Shore Drive - Northbound

Another undivided back postcard circa 1901-1907, this one manufactured by Hugh C. Leighton Co. of Portland, Maine, printed in Frankfort on Main, Germany. Since the trees are taller than in the previous two postcards, it is likely that this view is of Lake Shore Drive a few years after the others. Since the homes are on the left and the lake on the right, this is a view looking north along the Drive.

Lake Shore Drive was under the jurisdiction of the Lincoln Park Commission, one of three park districts created by the Illinois Legislature in 1869. According to the law, the park commissions would each be a "body politic," "with powers to sue and be sued . . . and enjoy all powers necessary to govern, manage, and direct all parks, boulevards, and ways . . . to levy special assessments on all property deemed by them benefited . . . to select and take possession of, and acquire by condemnation, contract and donation, title, in trust for the public, to all land necessary for a road or boulevard, not less that 25 feet nor more than 400 feet in width." The nomenclature normally referred to thoroughfares that connected parks as "boulevards," and thoroughfares within the confines of park property as "drives." A person on a Sunday excursion in their horse and buggy would take the nearest boulevard to the drive in the park of their choice. Since the entire lakefront north of the Chicago River harbor was a part of Lincoln Park, the entire lakefront thoroughfare of the district was properly called a "drive," rather than a "boulevard." All roads under the jurisdiction of park commissions restricted commercial traffic to that required for local delivery and were some of the smoothest paved roads within the city limits.

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Grand Boulevard

This divided back postcard is postmarked November 14, 1908. The Post Office allowed for a message area on the same side as the address starting in 1907, so this is an early example of the postcard style still in use today. On the back it states "Made expressly for S. M. Knox & Co., Printed in Germany."

The thoroughfare known as Grand Boulevard also was known during its lifetime as South Park Boulevard, and is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. It was part of the Boulevard system of the South Park Commission, and it connected Washington Park to 22nd Street, where travelers could continue on Michigan Boulevard north into Chicago's Loop and a connection with Grant Park. By 1897, those travelers could then turn west on Jackson Boulevard to go towards Douglas and Garfield Parks.

A careful reading of the Plan of Chicago leads to an inference that the park boulevards of Chicago were the standards that Burnham and Bennett had in mind for their radial and encircling highways. With the majority of commuter traffic using rail, and most freight being handled by a new rail center west of the city, the highways would be for farmers and travelers on holiday. There was no concern for high-speed traffic--only for connections between municipalities in the region for agricultural traffic and pleasure travel. It is doubtful that Burnham or Bennett anticipated any automobile traffic traveling at speeds higher that 20 to 30 miles per hour.

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Lake Shore Drive North from Drake Hotel

The caption on the back of this postcard states, "A bird's eye view of the famous boulevard link from the junction of Lake Shore Drive and upper Michigan Avenue to Lincoln Park, the residence district of the city's most distinguished citizens. This exclusive section is seen from Chicago's wonderful new hotel, The Drake."

The Drake Hotel opened in 1920, and by then Lake Shore Drive had been extended east and south from its original southern terminus at Oak Street and Michigan Avenue. Just left of center at the bottom edge of the image, we can see the curve of the Drive, which extends out of the view to its new terminus at Navy Pier. In the distance to the north, the Drive extended up to Diversey Parkway, where drivers intent on a trip into the country towards Wisconsin could continue on Sheridan Road through the north side of Chicago and the suburbs that hugged the lakefront from Evanston to the state line.

The postcard was published by the Max Rigot Selling Co., Chicago.

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Lake Shore Drive and Oak Street Beach

Here is another view from the Drake Hotel looking north at Lake Shore Drive, this time circa 1935-1937. The Drive is now widened to 4 lanes in each direction and has been divided; access to the Drive from Oak Street and Michigan Avenue is controlled by traffic lights. The additional width of the Drive was accommodated by landfill that created additional lakefront real estate.

The caption on the back of the postcard states, "Looking north toward Lincoln Park, from The Drake along Chicago's famed Boulevard Link at the junction of upper Michigan Ave. and Lake Shore Drive. The view shows the exclusive near North Shore Gold Coast residential section overlooking Oak Street Beach." The card was produced by A.C. Co.

Although Lake Shore Drive was widened to handle more automobile traffic, it was still integrated into the street grid in terms of access.

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The Superhighway Concept of 1929

The Plan of Chicago called for a new boulevard running west from downtown along the corridor of Congress Street. According to an article by reporter Hal Foust that was published in the Chicago Tribune on February 15, 1938, ("1938 Facts Blur Dreams of 1908 on Congress St.") "When the Burnham plan was published, Congress street land assumed a speculative value, based on the assumption that some day it would be needed for the improvement. As the years passed and the possibilities became more remote for the opening and development of Congress street, those speculative realty values waned."

According to the Plan of Chicago, on the country highways, "a work-road for heavy loads" would be separated by a grassway from "a pleasure drive. The two should be separated by a grassway and there should be grass plots at the sides, and not less than three roads of trees should be planted. The country schools should be on these highways." Similarly, the city boulevards would ideally be "streets from which all heavier traffic is excluded; the streets lined with commodious and even fine dwellings; the streets where grass and shrubs and trees assert themselves, and where they may be continuous playgrounds for the children of the neighborhood . . . The smaller parks may well be adjacent to the boulevards, or may be expansions of them, thus providing larger playgrounds, for places of assembly, and for display of plants and flowers and rare and beautiful trees which appeal to the almost universal love of nature."

Clearly, developments of this type differ greatly from high-speed automobile superhighways, which are anything but "streets from which all heavier traffic is excluded," and we certainly would not even consider placing "continuous playgrounds" adjacent to our limited access superslabs. In 1929, when the ideal boulevard along Congress Street envisioned by the Plan of Chicago had not materialized, Edward H. Bennett went back to the drawing board and proposed a hybrid parkway that would segregate express traffic from the adjacent communities along the corridor, but would be landscaped so that it would still be a picturesque addition to the neighborhoods along its borders. It was hoped this approach would enhance property values through the west side of Chicago. By 1938, the financial realities of the Great Depression had erased any hope that anything resembling either the original Plan of Chicago boulevard along Congress or Bennett's revamped parkway would become reality. It was also evident that "a pavement for express motor traffic is of no advantage to abutting property."

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Outer Drive North from Irving Park Road, Chicago

Although plans for the Congress Street Drive waned, work continued on extending and increasing the capacity of Lake Shore Drive. This Curt Teich postcard is postmarked June 15, 1943. The caption on the back states, "A bird's-eye view of Lincoln Park extension recently beautified by the Chicago Park District. The Outer Drive passes through here with frequent turn-outs leading to the beautiful Waveland golf course, Montrose yacht harbor, and great Montrose-Wilson bathing beach."

The separate Park Commissions (West, South and Lincoln) were consolidated in 1934 into a single Chicago Park District, which was still responsible for building the drives and boulevards that passed through and connected the parks under its jurisdiction. Landfill along the lakefront progressed northward to Foster Avenue, creating an extension of Lincoln Park as well as additional right-of-way for the extension of the Drive. The grade separation with on and off ramps at Irving Park Road was one of the first expressway-style interchanges built in the Chicago area.

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View North from the John Hancock Center

This view from the Hancock Observatory circa 2005 shows old and new Lake Shore Drive from North Avenue (just beyond the buildings in the lower foreground) to Diversey Parkway. The thoroughfare running north and south to the west (left) of the lagoon is original Lake Shore Drive, now known as Cannon Drive. The wider thoroughfare east of the lagoon and west of the beach and lakefront is current Lake Shore Drive, built on 1930s landfill. The older drive gives a good current feel for the type of highway and boulevard that Burnham and Bennett had in mind when they wrote and published the Plan of Chicago back in 1909.

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