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Michigan Avenue: 1941

Michigan Avenue: 1941

Chicago, July 1941. "Stop light, Michigan Avenue." 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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More People

I got to this one a few days late but my old eyes (with a magnifier app) pick out 20 folks on the sidewalks here.

Clockwise from lower left:

  • 2 at lower left
  • 2 behind a car at the front door of the Gasolene station
  • 7 strolling in front of Walgreen's
  • 1 at the curb infront of Walgreen's, talking to someone in the car parked there
  • 2 on the bench at the corner, facing the cross street
  • 2 on the far side of the cross street
  • 1 crossing at the crosswalk
  • 3 on the opposite side of Michigan Ave (hard to distinguish but I see 3 shadows on the pavement).

Please correct me if I'm mistaken, or if you find even more.

Totally changed

I lived two blocks west of here for 17 years starting in the late '70s, and still didn't recognize the location until I saw the old water tower. The lots with Sunkist signs and gas station had a series of small one-story buildings when I lived there, including a McDonald's and later a Banana Republic. For years there was also Evan's furs in the center of that block, a four-story building.

At Huron and Michigan (the intersection behind the photographer, not seen here) we had a Woolworth's! Complete with Luncheonette counter the length of the store. At Chicago Ave and Michigan, we had Wag's, the coffee shop of Walgreen's. My co-workers and I used to have lunch at Wag's when we worked at the Playboy (Palmolive) building.

Michigan Ave wasn't much of a shopping street until the late 1970s, when Water Tower Place went up. Just offices, hotels, apartments, and a few very upscale shops like furriers and jewelers (and Woolworth's!) The ad agencies were in this area. There were some great dive bars on Ontario, including the Inkwell, where all the Playboy people went after work.


I'd bet the reason for the odd and decidedly unsafe configuration of the left turn lane is a desire to avoid relocating the pre-existing traffic signal fixture. This is a workaround that would certainly not meet today's engineering standards, but reflects the evolving practice of the day.

I've seen the "gasolene" spelling from the turn of the century to the '20s, but never this late. At some point, I think there might have been a desire for a spelling consistent with kerosene.

Needs some careful weathering.

As a diorama-maker myself, I'd say one thing that makes this scene feel less-than-realistic is the near-uniform grayness of the streets (especially for longtime Shorpy fans who are used to seeing road apples and horse urine in many of the older photos). This looks like brand-new pavement. If I were crafting this one, I'd definitely add oil stains, more tire tracks, maybe a pothole or two, and more manhole covers. While I was at it, I'd do something about the turf; it definitely looks fake. By the way, I love this picture. It'll be my desktop wallpaper for a while.


About the only thing left in this picture today is the old Chicago Water Tower, the masonry building the bottom of which is partially visible at the top of the photo. That upper street is East Chicago Avenue.

Double-decker bus

I doubt there are many cities in the US still using double-decker buses on regular commuter routes. I know of only a few in California. Some cities have them for tourist use including NYC and Las Vegas. I think they might be a better option than the long accordian buses that take up so much street space.

The best photo

of a real photo imitating a model builders skill, and can this be the cleanest street in the world?

Miracle Mile

Marvelous image. Very likely we're looking north on Michigan, with Chicago Avenue intersecting near the top. What appears to be the base of the Chicago Water Tower is at the top, where Michigan kinks just a click to the NE. Charmette's Restaurant was located on the SW corner of Michigan and Chicago for many years. Spent many hours there in the late 50s, often in the company of a pretty girl from Navy Pier. Were we able to peek west on Chicago about three blocks, we would no doubt see men dancing with their wives.

East Superior Street

The intersection below is Superior Street and Michigan Avenue, and the street to the north is Chicago Avenue. You can see the base of the Old Water Tower at the top of the image.

Michigan & Superior

This view is taken from the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Superior Street, looking north toward Chicago Avenue, where Michigan bends to the right. In the upper right hand corner you can see a sliver of the famous Chicago Water Tower (W. W. Boyington, architect, built 1869), the best known survivor of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Needless to say, other than the Water Tower itself, every single building in this picture has been demolished.

Late Model and Upscale

It seems that the majority of the cars are late model and upscale.

This is not my Michigan Avenue

Judging by the clock on the Sunkist sign, it's 3:05 p.m. And for the lack of people, I'm guessing that North Michigan Avenue was not the hot shopping area. South State Street had Carson's and Field's with their large stores. Watch out -- no traffic lanes. That gas station is long gone, too bad, it's a nice looking building. Walgreen's is now on the the east side of Michigan. And that's the famous Water Tower, cut off at the top of the image.

Water Tower Place

There's not many places were Michigan Avenue jogs to right as shown above. And the building in the background is one that is particularly famous: the Water Tower. So this appears to be the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Superior Street (currently one-way, heading east). None of the buildings other than the Water Tower still stand.

The most shocking for me is seeing all those nice grass sidewalk lawns in the midst of an area that is now very densely urban.

N. Michigan

This looks like North Michigan at the foot of the "Magnificent Mile," perhaps. The barely-seen white stone structure at the top of the photo looks like the Water Tower, sole survivor of the Great Fire of 1877.

Taxi question

I've noticed in the pictures of New York cabs and now Chicago had peculiar cutaway fenders as well as open rear roofs. What's up?

[The low-maintenance fenders and landaulet roof were design features of the Checker Model A. - Dave]


What are you all talking about? I count 15 people not in cars. Now that's crowded!


I found it on Streetview, luckily. Everything is different except the ornate little building in back.

Kist again

Star-kist yesterday (Air Race) and Sunkist today. Is there a theme starting here?


I've seen it spelled this way in the Caribbean, but never here in the US. Was this an accepted spelling at the time, or something Cities Service did to distinguish itself from the rest of the crowd?


What an interesting affect; this photo looks like it was taken of a diorama of some sort. There is a feeling that one could just reach down and rearrange those model cars at will. Makes one feel like Rod Serling! I think it is accentuated by the perceived lack of people; there are only seven visible.

Train of Thought

Looks like somebody's model train layout. And they did a really good job with all the period correct cars and billboards. It just doesn't look real -- perhaps more because of the aerial angle than anything else.

Hanging a left

I find it interesting that the Left Turn Only lane has traffic turning before the actual light stanchion. Would it be safe to assume the street that traffic was turning onto was a one-way street? If not, it might wreak havoc if the oncoming traffic was making a right turn on red.

So Peaceful

Looking at this photo you would never believe Europe & Asia were in the middle of a war.

Sunday morning

Where IS everybody?

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