“Down the Shore to Uptown” by Henry Justin Smith


“Down the Shore to Uptown” by Henry Justin Smith

From Chicago: A Portrait by Henry Justin Smith, 1931

Editor’s Note: “Down the Shore to Uptown” comes from the 1931 travel guide, Chicago: A Portrait, by Henry Justin Smith (1875–1936), former editor of the Chicago Daily News. It provides a unique look at the Uptown neighborhood during its heyday, when it was boasted as “the shopping and entertainment center for a million people,” second only to the Loop.

Edgewater Beach Hotel. (Click to enlarge.)

Construction of the Edgewater Beach Hotel first began in 1916 at Sheridan Road and Berwyn. The 18-story tower was completed by 1924. The hotel was a home-away-from-home for the rich and famous. Its regular guests included the likes of Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, and Frank Sinatra. Sadly, the hotel was torn down in 1968, although the trademark pink Edgewater Beach Apartments (not shown), companion to the hotel, is now part of the Bryn Mawr Historic District. The community of Edgewater seceded from Uptown in the 1980s. (Click to enlarge.) Postcard image courtesy CRCC collection.

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A little more than thirty-five years ago there lived a poet, in an old remodeled frame house in the suburbs. The house “had all the modern conveniences, including a genial mortgage. About it were the oaks, in whose branches the birds had built their nests before Chicago was a frontier post. He could sit upon the ‘front stoop’ and look across vacant lots to where Lake Michigan beat upon the sandy shore with ceaseless rhythm.”

Such is the picture drawn by Slason Thompson of the home of Eugene Field the poet, in a place deemed sufficiently far from the city so that he might dream there for a long time. The lot was large; it was a serene corner of earth. The birds sang happily. Flowers flourished. Field named the place “The Sabine Farm,” in what another biographer, Charles H. Dennis, called “a mild Horatian jest.”

Earlier than that, Field and his family had rented a cottage a few blocks farther west, “in the green open spaces of Buena Park,” as Mr. Dennis describes the region of the day. The cottage, to quote Hamlin Garland, a frequent visitor, “swarmed with growing boys and noisy dogs.” And the poet’s bedroom overlooked a vacant lot belonging to his friend and landlord, Robert A. Waller, known as the founder of Buena Park. It was Field’s contemplation of the grassy area that inspired his lines:

Rainbo Gardens, Uptown, Chicago. (Click to enlarge.)

Rainbo Gardens, Clark and Lawrence, Uptown, Chicago. Before it became an ice skating rink, a roller arena, or a hip rock club, Rainbo Gardens was the premiere northside entertainment destination with a casino, vaudeville/music stage, two-story beer hall, outdoor dance floor, and even a bowling alley! Three Stooges fans should note that this is where Larry Fine was working as a Master of Ceremonies when he was discovered by the Stooges and invited to join the troupe. The remaining Rainbow building was recently torn down and construction is currently underway for a condo development. (Click to enlarge.) Postcard courtesy CRCC collection.

  • Up yonder in Buena Park
  • There is a famous spot,
  • In legend and in history
  • Yclept the Waller Lot.
  • There children play in daytime
  • And lovers stroll by dark,
  • For ’tis the goodliest trysting-place
  • In all Buena Park.

Mr. Field did not live long to enjoy the Sabine Farm. Had he occupied it until old age he would have found his place of retirement hemmed in by apartment buildings, the street that passed it swarming with automobiles, and the green and charming landscape to the north virtually overspread with concrete, brick, and stone. A flat-building has replaced the Field homestead.

Regret it or not, all this is the work of a generation.


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