Old City, New Perspective
Chicago never seems to change. If you’ve spent any significant amount of time there, you know that though years may pass, Lakeshore Drive is always Lakeshore Drive, Michigan Ave is always Michigan Ave, and so on.
The city’s grid-like structure, its architectural landmarks and its curving lakeshore are a steadfast mountain range, and its millions of residents and visitors a river perpetually flowing through it.
People come and go, eras end and new ones begin, and the city you know and adore retains the same flavor and spirit that it always did. It’s easy to see that once you’ve watched the latest and greatest vintage video about the Windy City, a recently uncovered 32-minute gem produced in the 1940s by the Chicago Board of Education.
This digital time machine shows so many things I know and love about the city – the view heading north on Michigan Ave, “majestic, fascinating, monumental” Buckingham Fountain, sweeping vistas of waves rolling in from the lake, and a nightlife scene with crowds spilling onto the streets.
I have specific memories tied to all of these locales – little narratives that bubble up in me when I see a certain intersection or vantage point. For me, watching these clips isn’t just educational – it’s a little emotional.
And to think this video has been sequestered for years, and might not ever have seen the light of day. We owe its recent debut to Jeff Altman, a former Chicago resident and professional film and video colorist who bought the reel on a whim when he saw it at an estate sale last fall.
“I was curious,” Altman is quoted as saying by DNAinfo, “so I picked it up, and it turned out to be pretty cool.”
When thinking about America’s great cities, it’s easy to forget about Chicago. Part of the price paid for being a resident there is a nagging resentment toward New York and Los Angeles, the two golden children of urban sophistication that seem to get credit for any and all things cool.
But pay close attention to the stats and superlatives spewed off by the narrator in this dazzling little snippet of old-time Chicago. “Chicago, commercial capital of the nation, agricultural market and industrial center of the world…”
This city may be an underdog in some ways, but it clearly wasn’t always viewed that way. Here’s how the narrator sums up Chi-town in the dramatic last scenes of the film:
Chicago, tall in stature, a city of inspiring towers, mountains of buildings rising everywhere – in the business district, along the river’s edge, and on the lakeshore. Beautiful to behold, queen of cities, overlooking the waters of a great inland sea with its ever-shifting moods.
An enormous playground with broad acres of landscaped parks. Miles of smooth, sandy beaches and harbors sheltering yachts and white-sailed craft. Renowned educator, providing unlimited facilities for learning. A city which safeguards the health of its people, and through its medical facilities, serves humanity everywhere.
A great provider, she gathers from the West, the North and the South raw materials for processing. She distributes the merchandise of the East, she gives to the world iron and steel, newspapers and books, vast supplies of petroleum, lumber for every need, and machinery which has revolutionized industrial America. [With] close to a million visitors annually, the transportation of a nation centers in Chicago.
Chicago, a city where people live in pleasant surroundings. Chicago, a city warm in spirit, friendly to know. Chicago, a city of opportunity, progressive in spirit, confident of a glorious future.
Enjoy the video, and learn something from it. Whether you’re a stranger to the Windy City or a lifelong resident, you’ll be impressed by the city’s accomplishments and its rich history.