Amazing Pieces of Chicago History We Wish Still Existed

Published On 05/03/2016 Published On 05/03/2016
Old School Chicago
Lisa Chatroop/Thrillist

Anyone who’s lived in Chicago long enough has definitely felt the heartbreak that occurs when a much-loved institution unexpectedly closes down (not just Hot Doug's). For better or for worse, the city is constantly evolving, and along the way we’ve had to bid adieu to some pretty damn important spots, including legendary jazz clubs and the world's biggest outdoor market. All of which make us wish someone would hurry up and invent a time machine ASAP (not just to change the outcome of a Blues/Blackhawks series).

Chez Paree

The club that epitomized Golden Age entertainment.
While many establishments call themselves “world famous,” Chez Paree truly was. From 1938 to 1960, the club attracted both Chicago and Hollywood elite as guests. Peggy Schatz, wife of one of the club’s owners, described Chez Paree as “filled with the young, the old, the glamorous, the overdone, socialites, [and] wise guys” donned in “sparkling adornments, stunning couture, beautiful furs draped over the backs of chairs, and gold-and-jeweled cuff links.” During its 22-year run, some of the world’s greatest musicians, comedians, and performers graced Chez Paree’s stage, including Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, Bob Hope, and Ella Fitzgerald, to name a few, and many of the shows were broadcast live nationwide via radio. While Chez Paree closed its doors in 1960, the building has remained in the Schatz family. In a nod to its iconic past, the building now houses an event space called Chez and features an outdoor mural depicting Jimmy Durante performing at Chez Paree.

Chess Records

The legendary record company that shaped rock and roll history.
While you’re undoubtedly familiar with Rolling Stones songs such as "Gimme Shelter" and "Satisfaction," you may not be familiar with their 1964 song "2120 South Michigan Avenue," a reference to the address of the legendary Chicago-based record company Chess Records. The company not only launched the careers of Muddy Waters, Etta James, and Chuck Berry, but also played a key role in shaping the sound of rock 'n' roll. In fact, many songs recorded at Chess Records were reproduced by the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and the Beach Boys. In 2008, the story of Leonard Chess was shared in the musical biopic Cadillac Records.

eBay item/Wikimedia

Riverview Park

The massive amusement park that dominated the Northside for 63 years.
If you’re originally from Chicago, then odds are you may have heard a parent or grandparent wax poetic about riding “The Bobs” or getting their first kiss in “The Tunnel of Love” at Riverview Park. The amusement park dominated the land between Belmont Ave, Addison St, Western Ave, and the Chicago River from 1904 to 1967 and was so popular, it was even featured in the Beach Boys' song "Amusement Parks U.S.A.". These days, the site of the park is home to things that are decidedly less amusing, like the Chicago Police Department.

Rainbo Rink

The skating rink with some skeletons in its foundation.
While the demolition of Rainbo Rink was sad for patrons, it was particularly devastating to Chicago history buffs. The building at 4812 N. Clark St in Uptown went through several fascinating incarnations over 80 years. Originating as a theater in 1922, the building eventually turned into an entertainment venue, went on to became concert venue called Kinetic Playground that hosted notable artists including the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead before finally being turned into a skating rink in 1980. When the building was demolished in 2003, construction crews uncovered human bones. Not to point any fingers or anything, but the building did have an underground tunnel that connected directly to The Green Mill, which, you know, just so happened to be Al Capone’s favorite hangout.

Flickr/Boston Public Library

The “White City”

Fairgrounds of the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Just two decades after the Chicago Fire, Chicago had the audacity to believe that it could pull off the 1893 World’s Fair. We went head-to-head with New York in a bid to host the event and, much to their chagrin, we won. Against all odds, architects Daniel Burnham, John Root, and Frederick Olmsted helped us live up to our city’s motto of “I Will” by erecting 200 white neoclassical buildings in record time, the process of which was detailed in the book (and soon-to-be-movie) The Devil in the White City. Today, only two buildings remain -- The Palace of Fine Arts and World's Congress Auxiliary Building, which are now play home to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute.  

The Playboy Club

The legendary members-only club.
In 1961, a new club located at 116 East Walton St managed to become the most popular nightclub in the world despite being a members-only club that required visitors to present a key for admission. That club, of course, was Hugh Hefner’s famous Playboy Club. While various incarnations of the Playboy Club were eventually opened up in locations around the world, the first -- and most legendary -- called Chicago its' home from 1960 until 1986. While there were rumors that Chicago’s Playboy Club would be resurrected in 2011, the plan seems to have survived about as well as NBC’s short-lived TV series of the same name.

Regal Theater | Library of Congress

The Savoy Ballroom and Regal Theater

A historic, influential Southside entertainment complex.
Opened in 1928, the Regal Theater was one of America’s first theaters built specifically for the African-American community. The beautiful Byzantine-style theater attracted America’s most famous jazz musicians, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Nat King Cole, who played his first professional gig at the theater. Next door, The Savoy Ballroom offered dancing and live music as well as other attractions, including performances by a basketball team called the Savoy Big Five who eventually became known as the Harlem Globetrotters.

Maxwell St

One of the world’s largest -- and most offbeat -- outdoor markets.
While Maxwell Street still exists in name, today’s market is vastly different from what it once was. Established in the late 19th century by Eastern European immigrants, Maxwell St’s famous Sunday market evolved into a multi-cultural melting pot where one could buy virtually anything while listening to Chicago Blues musicians and watching the antics of performers like the infamous Chicken Man. Despite efforts to save Maxwell St, the market was relocated and downsized to make room for the expansion of UIC in 1994.

John Vachon/Wikimedia

Union Stock Yards

The smelly, gory, historic home of Chicago’s meatpacking industry.
Sure, the stockyards were basically a disgusting nightmare, and we’re sure many people are glad they’ve closed -- particularly area residents who had to put up with the stench emanating from the yards. However, we’ll be honest -- we really just wish we could have witnessed what actress Sarah Bernhardt referred to as "a horrible and magnificent spectacle” first-hand. For better or for worse (and in the case of fictional men named Jurgis, definitely worse), the Union Stockyards not only shaped Chicago’s history and earned us the now-outdated nickname of “hog butcher of the world," they also shaped US history.

The Chicagoan

One of the coolest -- and least known -- publications to ever come out of Chicago.
From 1926 to 1935, The Chicagoan highlighted the city’s cultural scene, publishing the very best writers and artists. According to its editors, the goal of the publication was to represent "a cultural, civilized and vibrant" city "which needs make no obeisance to Park Avenue, Mayfair, or the Champs Elysees." The magazine folded during the Depression and was largely forgotten until historian Neil Harris stumbled upon copies of the magazine in the University of Chicago’s archives, eventually going on to publish The Chicagoan: A Lost History of the Jazz Age featuring 400 pages worth of highlights from the magazine.


If the walls of this restaurant could talk, they would’ve been quoted in Kup’s Column.
It’s safe to say that Mike Fritzel was basically the Billy Dec of the jazz era, having owned several restaurants and clubs that were wildly popular among visiting celebrities, including Friar’s Inn and the aforementioned nightclub Chez Paree. Lauded as one of the best restaurants in Chicago history, Fritzel’s namesake restaurant has been described as “home of the three-hour lunch for columnists, models, and moguls,” playing host to the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Bennett, and Mickey Mantle. Fritzel’s was so popular among celebrities that iconic Chicago gossip columnist Irv Kupcinet preferred to remained stationed there. In fact, he allegedly had his own special booth with its own phone line, so his sources could easily contact him with fodder for his column, natch.

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Although she’s never personally seen him, Lisa Chatroop is now the Chicken Man’s biggest fan. Read more on DailyUrbanista or say hi on Twitter: @Chicagoista.



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