#476: The Corner, 1909-1931

May 13th, 2015

1919, Eddye H.B. Kendall

“Morning ’til night (say 10 a. m. to 5 p. m.) the sidewalks on the northeast and northwest corners of N. Dearborn and W. Randolph Sts. were crowded with vaudeville performers. There were acrobats, aerialists, singers, dancers, ventriloquists, jugglers, animal men, dramatic sketch artists, piano teams, dialect comedians in all classes, wire walkers, trick cyclists, sister teams, trios and quartettes, pantomimists, trick cartoonists, novelty musical acts, monologists, soubrettes and prima donnas, mimes and entertainers in all the infinate [sic] variety which was Vaudeville.”

Picture a man. His name is Eddye H.B. Kendall, Chicago-based booking agent. It’s 1939 and he’s 48, recounting his glory days to an interviewer from the U.S. Work Projects Administration Federal Writers’ Project.

“About 5’ 8” in height. Weight 185 lbs. Has an artificial leg (right), other foot cut off near ankle. From Hopping freight train while a kid in Ohio. Smooth shaven. Loud voice. Corpulent,” wrote the WPA interviewer, a neighbor.

The Kendall of 1939 lives in “furnishings typical of middle-class America” in Midlothian, Ill. He has a wife and six children. And he’s our view into one Chicago intersection nearly a century ago.

Today, there’s a towering government building on the southwest end of that intersection, a McDonald’s two-story attempt at fanciness kitty-corner from that. The northwest corner holds a bar both catering and connected to the Goodman Theatre. The southeast houses a shopping center mostly noted for a hateful street preacher who damns passersby using a portable speaker system.

Randolph and Dearborn has seen horse-drawn carriages and Critical Mass bike rallies. Police cracked heads here in Vietnam War protests. It’s been a place to find a show or to find a hooker, the caliber of each dependent on the era.

Kendall’s vaudevillians called it “The Corner.”

Here are a few moments of its past, and of the people who captured them.

1909, Frank M. Hallenbeck

If the one-legged, no-footed booking agent brought us our look at 1919, our look at 1909 comes with an actual look.

It’s a photo, made available in stunning detail by the Chicago Historical Society. It’s the corner in 1909, a madness of streetcars, horse-drawn carriages, bowler-hatted pedestrians and signs.

Bustled women cool themselves in windows above the Koester & Zander Real Estate and Cunard Line offices. Horses pull trucks for Fredriksen Ice and Physicians Hospital Supplies. And past a sign for Goodfriend Shirts and a larger one that just says SMOKE, there is a wall of bills, the one advertising the night’s shows at the Blue House the most legible.

In the left corner, the words “Frank M. Hallenbeck Photo” are superimposed over a streetcar bound for Elston Avenue.

I couldn’t find a description of Frank M. Hallenbeck, just an online photo of a grave that roughly fits the timeframe. If it’s the same Frank M. Hallenbeck, he died May 31, 1933, and was a Freemason. His wife Gertrude outlived him by 15 years.

1931, John Drury

“When the tungstens and the neons at dusk change Randolph Street into a world of gaudy incandescence; when you have arrived in this Great White Way with your companion for an evening at the theatre; when you have finally found a place to park your car and once more reassured yourself that the theatre tickets are still in your coat pocket; and, lastly, when you and the fair lady with you begin to feel that familiar inner void at this time of day, then the restaurants of the Rialto beckon most invitingly.”

Our early Depression look at the corner — or at least the theater district — comes from John Drury, the author of a surprisingly well-written restaurant guide.

Drury and his wife Marion Neville were part of the 1920s smart set. Journalists both, they attended the most bohemian of galas, rubbed elbows with poets and criminals and wrote wrote wrote.

There were married Oct. 20, 1929, nine days before the stock market crash.

Their writing careers continued through the Depression and the war years, but faltered after Drury quit his job at the Chicago Daily News for a soon-canceled radio show. They eventually moved to Chesterton, Ind., in the 1940s to “get back to the land,” according to a biography at the Newberry Library, which houses the Drurys papers.

“The move proved to be detrimental to both John and Marion’s writing careers, as they were unable to report first hand on Chicago events. Neither was able to obtain enough freelance work to keep them financially stable and they struggled with poverty until the end of their lives.”

The bustling hive of Hallenbeck’s photo and Kendall’s vaudeville memories would also soon see a reversal of fortune.

Coming Friday, the corner as told by the authors of a 1950 Chicago guide to sin, Mike Royko and other people Frank Sinatra threatened to punch.

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