Photos show reshaping of Higgins, Milwaukee





by BRIAN NADIG

A series of photographs from the Northwest Chicago Historical Society shows the transformation that the intersection of Higgins and Milwaukee avenues has gone through since the 1930s, including the closing of a movie theater and the building of a 10-story structure.

The art deco-style Times Theater opened in 1936 at 4847 N. Milwaukee Ave., and it was known to have theme days, such as all western or mystery movies, according to the Cinema Treasures’ Web site. At one time Jefferson Park had a half-dozen movie theaters, including ones no larger than a single storefront.

Historical society researcher Frank Suerth said that his mother was working at the Times’ candy counter when someone announced that World War II was over, and a few months later the Greater Jefferson Park Servicemen’s Welfare Association had a war memorial erected across from the theater on a small island in the middle of the intersection, where it still stands today.

For the next 70 years, a group of World War II veterans from the Indian Portage VFW Post 3592 maintained the monument, including the replacement of an adjacent flagpole and the installation of a plaque honoring those who were killed in subsequent wars.

Some of the WW II veterans took their oath into the military at the intersection, which at the time was known as Bathtub Square due to a nearby plumbing store that had a bathtub on display in its storefront window.

Suerth said that he suspects that during the war there was a sign at the intersection honoring those who were serving.

"Neighborhoods all over Chicago had these temporary signs with the names of those serving, and in some cases they were made more formal after the war," Suerth said. At one time the names of those area residents who were killed in WWII were listed on the Jefferson Park monument, he said.

Some time after the war, a Wimpy’s hamburger chain, which was popular in the Midwest, opened across from the memorial, and then in 1954 the theater closed.

The theater was later converted into the Holiday Ballroom, whose operator Dan Belloc co-produced one of the early hits for the pop band the Buckinghams. The Buckinghams along with other popular performers, including Wayne Cochran, performed at the theater, which attracted people from around the city for its dance nights, Suerth said.

The ballroom and several other buildings on the block were demolished in the late 1980s to make room for the construction of the 10-story Veterans Square office building at 4849 N. Milwaukee Ave. Veterans Square became the tallest building in Jefferson Park, although a 16-story structure is planned for a nearby parcel at 4849 N. Lipps Ave.

The last building to be demolished on the block before Veterans Square was constructed was a 2-story structure that housed the Gen-Ki Karate and Fitness Center, currently located at 5756 N. Milwaukee Ave. Apartments were located on the second floor.

Gen-Ki owner Jerry Weiss said that he was given just a few days notice to vacate the storefront which he was leasing at the time.

"I was the last one standing. It used to be an old bank building years ago," Weiss aid, recalling the large safes which were in the building.

A picture of the intersection of Milwaukee and Higgins avenues from 1964 from the top of a Wimpy’s restaurant is featured on page 7.