Tuesday December 12th 2017

Memory Lane or as it was called “Motor Row District” reborn!

There was a time when the automobile industry blossomed. For many Chicagoans, the Auto Rows were streets like Western Avenue (on both the North and South sides), where one dealer after another existed. As the city grew, these types of streets also went “suburban”. The northwest suburbs, such as Schaumburg had  Golf Road, Buffalo Grove/Arlington Heights (Dundee Road), Oak Park (Madison Street) , Oak Lawn /Evergreen Park (95th Street) and more. But there was another street in Chicago that has been somewhat forgotten. Believe it or not, that street is not really a street, but an “Avenue” and a second shocking fact, the Avenue is Michigan Avenue!

Yes, there was a time when a portion of Michigan Avenue, located on the near south side, was designated “Motor Row”, and in fact was one of the largest “automobile rows” in the United States. In fact, the Chicago Landmark Districts has designated it as such. Auto Rows developed in major cities somewhere around the 1910 era as car companies looked for ways to create excitement over this new mode of transportation. Why not have an area where consumers can buy their new vehicle as well as repair them? There was a time in history where 116 different makes of automobiles were being sold on Motor Row. Remember, this was an area that began at 1400 South Michigan and headed south to the major blocks of2200-2500 South Michigan Avenue. The area also included dealerships on streets such as Indiana and Wabash and several at Cermak (22nd Street).

Familiar brands such as Ford, Buick, Cadillac, Fiat and other names from history, Hudson, Locomobile, Marmon and Pierce-Arrow. The blocks located at 2200-2500 South Michigan Avenue were designated a Chicago Landmark on December 13, 2000. The Ford dealership in this area outlasted all the others, and this building has become the new Fiat dealership. During its heydays, this portion of Michigan Avenue was busy seven days a week. Those of you who might remember the “good old days”, auto dealers were not only open on Sundays, they were as busy as a mall the day before Christmas, almost every Sunday. There was also a newspaper located in this historical area, The Chicago Defender, the “eyes and ears” of the African-American population of Chicago. Those of you who know the name of Chess Records will recall the great talents that they recorded (Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones and Willie Dixon to name a few) were right on this Avenue (later the home of Fearless Radio).

The entertainment industry, seeing the auto dealers leave the area, began to open clubs and venues along the corridor as well and along with this a micro-brewery, Broad Shoulders Brewery which is now Motor Row Brewing. The area is alive again. Part of the re-birth of the area is the location. In the shadows of McCormick Place and just North of the ITT campus and very close to the  Chicago White Sox Stadium (whatever it might be called today, I still think of it as Comisky Park) it has become an extension of the “South Loop” corridor. New residences and businesses being built where at one time all you saw were scrap yards and union halls as well as alleged “gangster refuges” . The Capone family headquarters were very nearby. Yes, there is a great deal of history in this area. History that should never be lost!

In the first step to bring the street back, New City Auto Group took over the building that was Joyce Ford (this was the last remaining dealership in the city limits until Fox opened up on the north side last year) and restore the building as a Fiat and Alfa Romeo store. Even that has history on this famed Avenue. The building two buildings north of what was the Joyce Ford dealership was the first Alfa Romeo dealership. In fact, the inlaid tiles in the façade bear the logo of this automaker. The building is empty now, but New City GM, Michael Helmstetter hopes to be able to restore that building as well. In fact, if he can, this auto historian will bring back the street to have the feeling that he thinks it once had; a place where the family could go and see the auto they will call their “family auto” for years to come.

To see what is available now, visit the New City Auto Group at 2401 S. Michigan Avenue, or visit  www.NewCityAutoGroup.com

If you drop by, tell them that I sent you-

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