“Historic” Milwaukee Avenue

Comfort and Image of Milwaukee Avenue: in its history

The Project for Public Spaces identifies “Comfort and Image” as one of the key attributes of a great place (see diagram below or larger pdf diagram available to download). Much of what I’ve been writing about Milwaukee Avenue, and will continue to write about, has to do with
PPS place diagramits comfort and image, or lack thereof at the present. While I’ve so far pointed out mostly the negatives or why it is not comfortable and does not have a good image, Milwaukee Avenue does have a historic quality (as does Logan Square as a whole) that contributes positively to its comfort and image and potential as a great place. Just ask the folks at Preservation magazine who just featured Logan Square in the July/August 2008 issue in “New Life in the Old Neighborhood.”

The Logan Square community has historic ties to some pretty impressive people. The community is named after Civil War General John A. Logan, who also was the founder of Memorial Day. The square and its boulevards were designed by William Le Baron Jenney. Jenney just happened to design the Home Insurance Building in Chicago, which, at a whopping 10 stories then, had the distinction of being historic boulevards sign
the first skyscraper in the world. The Illinois Centennial Monument in the center of the square was designed by Henry Bacon, who, by the way, also designed the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Logan Square was once called home by Marilu Henner (of “Taxi” fame), Ignaz Schwinn (of bicycle fame), Knute Rockne (of “Win one for the Gipper” and Notre Dame football fame), and Walt Disney (of, Mickey Mouse and, well, Disney fame).

Cycling, football, and a baseball connection too: the Logan Square Ball Park was located on Milwaukee Avenue north of Logan Square proper until 1925.

And the Logan Square Theater may be the last second run movie house in Chicago.

Milwaukee Avenue has always been a commercial way from its early days as an Indian trade route from Chicago to Milwaukee. That original dirt trail became the Northwestern Plank Road in the mid-19th century when heavy wooden planks were laid across stringers on either side of the road and our first “toll road” was constructed. Logan Square was long the streetcar terminus and terminus for the elevated train line as well. Prior to World War II, the Logan Square business district, centered around this stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, was ranked fourth in sales volume in the entire city.

Milwaukee Avenue has always been a panoply of Chicago ethnicities too, from the early German and Scandinavian settlers, to the Poles and Eastern Europeans and Italians and Cubans, and the Puerto Ricans and other Latinos of today. Some of their history is told through buildings and signs that remain today.

Much of the building stock on Milwaukee Avenue north of Logan Square’s square was constructed about 100 years ago, when craftsmanship was rampant and buildings were built to appeal to people walking down the street. The mostly residential Logan Square Boulevards District has been designated an official Chicago Landmark, as has a substantial part of the Milwaukee-Kimball-Diversey intersection with its historic commercial buildings.

One sure thing Milwaukee Avenue has going for it is its history.

El Sueno del Paraiso movie poster
Summer diversions in Logan Square:

Cine en el Parque: películas en español bajo las estrellas, dos miércoles del verano/Movies in the Park: Spanish language films (with English subtitles) under the stars, two summer Wednesdays:Elsa & Fred movie poster

“El Sueño del Paraíso
Mozart Park June 25

“Elsa & Fred” at

Mozart Park July 9


3 Responses to “Historic” Milwaukee Avenue

  1. Shai Coggins says:

    Interesting concepts you share here, Lynn. 🙂

  2. m d says:

    Milwaukee Avenue is such a distinct and historic street, and has a lot of charm that often gets lost behind the garbage and window bars. There has to be ways to bring back the charm without selling out to big chains, which seems to be the strategy for much of today’s revitalization throughout the nation.
    Recently, I was doing some research on Toronto for a trip I will be taking in the near future, and I came across information on the Distillery District. A historic warehouse district in Toronto that has undergone revitalization and has preserved its Victorian charm all with local artists and business owners. There may be something Milwaukee Ave. buisnesses and developers can learn from this community.
    In the meantime, check out the website for the community: The Distillery District

  3. Christopher says:

    SF (like much of California) has micro zoning overlays, and a zoning system that preferences existing uses. If something is a bar, it will stay a bar for a 100 years. It is much easier to keep things as they are. They also have a very strict ban on chain stores — each neighborhood is allowed to decide whether new chains stores are allowed in or not.

    In addition, you could the things that Providence, RI, has done to encourage artists and designers to open business and revitalize streets — preferencing certain kinds of businesses and ownership structures for property tax breaks.

    Milwaukee Ave has always been working class, and it would be unfortunate if it lost some of the character for Starbucks and Bar Louie. It has a messy urban vitality. Change will be best if it happens slowly. There are ways to prevent developers from speculating and taking over.

    Let’s hear it for messy urban vitality and slow change–three cheers! ~ Lynn

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