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Table of Contents > Chapter 1

The Loop (continued)

Meanwhile, other businesses looked for downtown locations at reasonable rents. The music industry began to locate in new commercial buildings going up along Wabash Avenue. By 1891 the W.W. Kimball Company, maker of organs and pianos, opened its showroom on the southwest corner of Wabash and Jackson. In 1916 the company built the sixteen-story Kimball Building on this site; the building today houses De Paul University's Lewis Center. Across the street at the northeast corner, where a skating rink had stood, the Lyon & Healy Company built their new headquarters, also in 1916. These two companies provided the anchors for Chicago's Music Row, but other firms located along Wabash Avenue as well. At the very south end of Music Row stood the landmark Auditorium Building, linking the cultural institutions of Michigan Avenue with the music firms on Wabash.

The extension of the elevated trains into the downtown area in the 1890s reinforced the popular nickname of "the Loop," which had originated from the lines of Chicago's once-extensive cable car system. The trains also lowered land values and rents on Wabash Avenue. Until the elevated structure was built, Wabash Avenue merchants claimed that their street would become the retail center of the city. But once the tracks were constructed and the noise of the elevated trains began, the dream of challenging State Street disappeared.

The sixty-year period from about 1880 to 1945 was the Loop's heyday. All roads led to the downtown area. Chicago's central business district developed into the transportation center of Northern Illinois (See Fig. 1). The various transit lines that linked the city with outlying areas all converged on the Loop. From the horse drawn streetcars, then the cable cars which appeared in 1881, and finally the trolley cars and elevated lines connected outlying neighborhoods to the city's center. Commuter railroads, like the Illinois Central and the Chicago and North Western, also converged on the loop. Finally, by the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, the electric interurban trains tied Chicago to its satellite cities, Milwaukee, Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, South Bend, and many others.

This transportation network made the Loop a regional shopping and business center (See Fig. 2). No other place could compete with it. The large central business districts of the time were made possible by mass transportation systems. The "streetcar city" presented definite opportunities to the urban dweller. Retail and other businesses had to locate close to mass transportation if they were to succeed. Before the streetcar, Chicago was compact and crowded. With the coming of the streetcar, the middle class could join the wealthy on the fringes of the city and the outlying residential neighborhoods began to grow. The Loop lost its role as a residential area. The poor and the well-to-do abandoned the central city as commerce and government expanded. Warehouses also replaced the old "Patch" on the south edge of the Loop. Immigrants flooded the North, South, and West Sides of the city. By the last decade of the nineteenth century, the new transportation technology had created a new Chicago and transformed the Loop.

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Figure 1: A. Kroch and Company Bookstore, 26 West Monroe Street, c. 1907.  »

Figure 2: Visiting Santa, the Boston Store, northwest corner of State and Madison, 1910.  »

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