The 1920s also saw the movement of Eastern European Jewish families from the tenements of the Maxwell Street ghetto to the spacious Victorian gray stone apartment buildings that dominate the North Lawndale landscape. The area grew from 46,000 people in 1910 to 112,000 in 1930, and over half were of Jewish descent. The population diversified in the 1940s and 1950s, as more affluent families moved to Rogers Park, Albany Park, and suburban communities. The "Great Migration" brought in African-Americans from southern states, attracted to North Lawndale by the availability of housing and jobs at nearby major industrial plants: Sears, International Harvester, Western Electric, Zenith, and Sunbeam. The period was remarkable for peaceful co-existence amongst the varied ethnic groups.
Economic decline in North Lawndale in the early 1960s came from many factors. Huge among them was the opening of the Eisenhower and Stevenson Expressways, which moved a significant portion of transient traffic off Ogden and forced the closing of most of the automobile service businesses in the corridor. The passage of time has removed almost all trace of this history--but the Castle Car Wash is one of a few survivors of this bygone era. The importance of this building to the understanding and interpretation of the history of US highway 66 through Chicago and the community of North Lawndale cannot be overstated.
Enhancing this value is the building's unique architecture, utilizing rusticated concrete blocks to evoke a memorable experience with customers. Amongst all the competitors for car business along Ogden in its early years, the Castle surely stood out as one-of-a-kind. It is now nearly all that is left. Based on its intrinsic historic and architectural value, the building deserves acceptance onto the National Register of Historic Places.
Recently, the first steps towards the goal of preserving the Castle Car Wash began. In October 2004, representatives of groups with a common interest in the revitalization of the North Lawndale community area held a meeting at the offices of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago; the usefulness of the Castle to overall planning was recognized. Many community leaders were present at the meeting, as well as Michael Taylor and Kaisa Barthuli of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and Lynn Bagdon and I, of the Route 66 Association of Illinois.
In April 2005, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program conducted fieldwork in preparation for a nomination of the Castle Car Wash to the National Register of Historic Places. The current owners of the Castle were contacted to determine their plans for the property and their willingness to participate in the nomination. Future research is needed to document the timeline of former ownership of the property, to learn the names of prior business operators, and to assess the potential for contacting surviving family members of the people who owned or operated the Castle.
UPDATE--Additional Info Received July 6, 2005
Phil Thomason, the gentlemen under contract with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program to prepare National Register of Historic Places nominating documentation, e-mailed me on July 5, 2005. He informed me that he had done a deed search on the Castle Car Wash property. We already had information that the building was constructed in 1925, and his research has confirmed this as well. He has also uncovered the fact that the property was operated as a filling station from 1925 through at least 1970. A Mr. John J. Murphy was a business partner with the property owner, Louis Ehrenberger. The property was leased to Standard Oil from 1930 through 1970, and subleased to American Oil from 1960-1970.
Mr. Thomason asked me to check city directories from the 1920s through the present to see what names are listed at the address. I already had this information from 1927--the phone book of that year shows a filling station at 3801 W. Ogden operating under the name "Murphy." Today, July 7, 2005, I was able to check a 1928 directory, which shows "J. J. Murphy Filling Station" at the same address. I will be doing more research at the library this weekend.
UPDATE--Additional Info July 9, 2005
I spent the day on Saturday July 9, 2005 at Chicago's main public library, the Harold Washington Library Center. I worked through the library's microfilm holdings of Chicago Classified Telephone Directories from 1926 through 1971 looking for listings for the location of what we now know as the Castle Car Wash building. As expected from what we already knew (above), I found the following listing for all the early years, from 1926 through 1929, among the listings for Gasoline Filling Stations:
Phil Thomason had information that the station was then leased to Standard Oil in 1930, so I expected to find a different name starting that year. However, this is not so--the John J. Murhpy listing persists with the same phone number through 1944. I decided to jump ahead to 1954, and while the business name is the same, the phone number is changed:
I then jumped ahead to 1964 and saw the same information:
Then in 1965 there was no listing at all for a filling station at 3801 W. Ogden. The library had no directories for 1967 or 1968, but there were no listing again in the 1968 and 1969 directories. The 1970 directory had this listing:
It would certainly be nice to know who "S&B" are! The 1971 directory has this splash ad:
And that is the most recent directory that the library has on microfilm. This research has resulted in a surprise, in that the name "John J. Murphy" persists past the point where other records indicated that the business was leased out. It also is puzzling why there are no listings for the middle 1960s. Did Mr. Murphy simply stop paying the Yellow Pages? Future research will include checking the alphabetical directory (the white pages) to see if the business is listed under the Murphy name during those years. Stay tuned for more updates as they become available!
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