That which is old is new again...
December 11, 2004 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Chicago - Then and Now. Chicagoan Luke Seemann takes Charles Cushman's early Chicago photos and attempts to recreate them from the same perspective with sometimes startling results.
posted by KevinSkomsvold (28 comments total)
For quick reference:
Central, Maxwell Street Area, South Side. and North Side
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 5:47 PM on December 11, 2004

Nice find, I love these comparative photos. With each pair I found myself chosing which one I'd prefer to walk into. In some the older ones seemed more open and free, and in others the new ones seemed cleaner, stronger and more free in a different way.
posted by scheptech at 5:58 PM on December 11, 2004

Neat project and well done. What I found (and I've only been to Chicago once) is that while comparing images I never really thought the current picture was "ugly" or "lacked the charm of yester-year", which is often the result with progress. Basically, my opinion of Chicago is still the same... what fantastic and beautiful city.
posted by Witty at 5:59 PM on December 11, 2004

Like the others, I have a hard time choosing between old and new, but it looks like a lot of beautiful old buildings on the South Side failed to make it, which is a shame.
posted by thewittyname at 6:15 PM on December 11, 2004

Previous post about more of Cushman's photos

Excellent link, KevinSkomsvold.
posted by briank at 6:20 PM on December 11, 2004

This is awesome.
posted by cmonkey at 6:23 PM on December 11, 2004

Like the others, I have a hard time choosing between old and new, but it looks like a lot of beautiful old buildings on the South Side failed to make it, which is a shame.

The south side ones were particularly interesting because I spent a lot of time down there this morning helping a friend with his new rehabs he purchased. The area just east of Hyde Park is currently in upheaval with new construction and new investing. Driving through the area in general was a fascinating study in change.

I never really thought the current picture was "ugly" or "lacked the charm of yester-year", which is often the result with progress.

Agreed. Was it just me or do some of the older pics seem newer? I like that.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:40 PM on December 11, 2004

East of Hyde Park? Isn't that in the lake?

This is cool. Other old pictures I've seen of Chicago are sometimes heartbreaking, like pictures of 55th Street before urban renewal, when it was packed with three-story street-side buildings, instead of a whole lot of nothing and parking lots, with the huge and menacing University Apartments dropped in the middle. The #4 down Cottage Grove (how I get to Target on 79th) is an eye-opener because although those neighborhoods are in bad bad shape there are lots of glimpses of the kinds of commercial-type buildings Hyde Park had before it was all torn down.
posted by rustcellar at 6:48 PM on December 11, 2004

This is really, really awesome.
posted by Jairus at 6:55 PM on December 11, 2004

Yeah, this is great stuff. Thanks for sharing.
posted by selfnoise at 7:26 PM on December 11, 2004

Thanks for posting this, Kevin! Lots of stuff on the South side and in the Maxwell area is gone, yet the North side is pretty much the same. Interesting to see.
posted by sugarfish at 7:31 PM on December 11, 2004

I found it interesting that in the church photographs (central), even though the background skyscraper now looms over, the church still stands out, albeit in a different way.
posted by dhruva at 7:39 PM on December 11, 2004

Here's a similar thread a few weeks ago about New York.

Great link. I always love these.
posted by Arch Stanton at 7:55 PM on December 11, 2004

While these photos show the difference in buildings between then and now, they don't begin to tell the human story. There are hardly any people in the pictures, and let's face it that's what makes a neighborhood. When I clicked on the Maxwell Street link, I expected to see the old Maxwell Street Market that my dad took us kids to in the 60s. In its heyday it was alive with vendors who sold anything you would want to buy, and street musicians playing blues and jazz. That was all lost in no small part to the creation of the University if Illinois campus, filled with more ugly and impersonal buildings than you can shake a stick at.

And photos of the south side don't begin to touch on the rich ethnic diversity of that area both then and now.
posted by SteveInMaine at 7:59 PM on December 11, 2004

Lilieks also did this with both Minneapolis and Fargo, ND.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:33 PM on December 11, 2004

Cool, but it's even cooler with a slider (shockwave).
posted by nonmyopicdave at 9:55 PM on December 11, 2004

I keep looking at those old buildings and mansions and thinking to myself, "How could they? How dare they..."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:50 PM on December 11, 2004

Don't forget Vertigo Then and Now
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:31 PM on December 11, 2004

Absolutely fascinating! The Cushman posts never fail to draw me in. I have just spent the past two hours checking this one out. Such a massive amount of work and every photo has something in it that intrigues me.

Like Civil_Disobedient, I was stunned that some of those buildings had actually been torn down. What on earth where they thinking?
posted by codeofconduct at 11:55 PM on December 11, 2004

For another heartbreaking story of lost Chicago architecture, track down a copy of the Lost Buildings DVD from This American Life. It's the story of a boy who falls in love with the buildings of Louis Sullivan and grows up trying to preserve what he can as building after building is demolished.
posted by eatitlive at 12:41 AM on December 12, 2004

Very nice post, thank you. Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the privilege to live in.

However, these photos also remind me of what I most hated about living in Chicago during the 90s: gentrification.

Unfortunately in Chicago, urban renewal often means the government working for millionaire developers and a huge market of monied speculators to create wealth. Some nice architecture comes out of the process in some areas, sure, but another result is the endless creation of tastless, superficial and generally shoddy yuppie housing for bored suburban kids and the concomitant destruction of problematic poor communities of "undesireables" that are simply uprooted and expelled with all of their problems intact in the most traumatic way possible. Some of these communities, and they are communities, are fighting back. Much has been written on this subject. Yes, this is progress. But this is not the elimination of poverty and crime. This is the displacement of poverty and crime to less valuable real estate. This is gentrification.
posted by sic at 3:39 AM on December 12, 2004

The Toronto Star recently did a piece (with reference to the NY piece) on Toronto, comparing T.O. in the mid-to-late 1920s vs. today. Unfortunately I can't find it on The Star's site, and it would require registration anyway...

I love comparing what we've lost and what we've gained, like this...
posted by Al_Truist at 7:27 AM on December 12, 2004

Gentrification isn't the reason those wonderful brownstones were torn down. The Brutalist/Modernist school of architecture (forever be they damned) and the futurist ideas of some over-zealous city planners are what destroyed those beautiful buildings.

One of the reasons I love Boston so much is because it didn't fall for this trend after the second World War boom that swept over the rest of the U.S. (actually, Boston was one of the few cities to go into a recession after WW2). The only neighborhood that wasn't spared was the West End and Scollay Square, now the nasty MGH/Government Center area. If you're ever interested in seeing just how ugly "progress" can be, check out the West End Before, and the West End After. For kicks and giggles, here's an old photo of some West End kids pre-demolition -- top right is Leanord Nemoy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:08 AM on December 12, 2004

This is quite awesome, great find. Makes me miss Chicago...

I have to agree with sic - too much of Chicago is being lost to "progress". I wonder how many of the photos contain the caption " make way for a new luxury condominium tower."

The girlfriend and I were living in Uptown, just off the Wilson red line stop, right before we moved west. Our neighborhood was a pretty stunning example of gentrification -- new "luxury" condos sprung up like weeds amongst beautiful turn of the century buildings. The apartment building we lived in had actually been gutted and completely remodeled internally, which was much nicer than just tearing the thing down and building yet another ugly condo.

Downtown, once a shining example of early 20th Century architecture, is even being over-run by projects like The Donald's phallic monument to his ego. Not that I'm sorry to see the Sun Times building go, but Trump Tower Chicago is truly an eyesore.
posted by jimray at 10:33 AM on December 12, 2004

I second (third, fourth, whatever) that comment about the atrocious tearing down of gorgeous old buildings. A friend of mine recently drew a comic (oh, sorry, "graphic novella") about this phenomenon.

What strikes me most, however, about those old photos is the dirtiness of the buildings. I know an Italian art restorer (she does mostly buidings/outdoor sculptures) who, upon her first visit to Chicago, was just horrified at the condition of the facades. She would have a heart attack if they were still so blackened.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 1:32 PM on December 12, 2004

Here's another of the then and now photographs: East End in London
posted by dhruva at 6:58 PM on December 12, 2004

Also related: Atlanta Time Machine, then-and-now photographs.
posted by GirlFriday at 7:22 PM on December 12, 2004

These photos are amazing. I've lived in Chicago all my life but I was born after the then photos were taken, so it is interesting to see just how much of what I remember really isn't that old.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:05 PM on December 13, 2004

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