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An Eight-Lane Expressway Runs Through It

Avondale Park was originally conceived as a five acre park in 1929 by the Irving Park District, in response to a local construction boom in the 1920s. By the 1930s it featured a playfield, playgrounds, tennis courts, a sand box, and a wading pool.

Just a few decades later, in 1959, all but one acre in the southwest corner of the park was plowed over to make way for the Northwest Expressway (now the Kennedy Expressway, I-90/94). The forces of change in an increasingly automobile-centered society may have made the park’s demise seem inevitable. However, a closer look reveals that the path of the expressway clings to the Union Pacific Northwest rail line from Division to Bryn Mawr with the exception of one abrupt swerve to the southeast by Kimball and Roscoe. It almost looks as if the expressway were intentionally trying to run over the park.

There’s evidence that this may have been the case. According to Chicago residents at a presentation on the Building of the Kennedy Expressway (including a senior with a marvelous cane that folded out into a hat stand), the expressway was intentionally built around factories along Avondale Ave.  Though the factories had vowed to remain in the area after the expressway’s construction, most of them reputedly ended up leaving for the suburbs.

The 1953 Polk Criss-Cross directory lists a number of manufacturers on that stretch of Avondale, including Avondale Master Stations, Lindstrom Manufacturing, Coating and Chemicals, Globe Metal Specialties, Avon Steel Corporation, Mapes & Sprowl Steel, and Avenson Industries. The 1982 Polk Criss-Cross directory reveals that only Mapes & Sprowl remained open, joined only by the addition of Superdawg. Today, that pocket of Avondale nestled between Avondale Avenue, Henderson, and Drake seems to be an active manufacturing center once again, home to the likes of Novak Construction, Homemaker’s Supply, Carpet Cushions and Supply, Brook Electrical Distribution Co., Allied Building Products, Chicago Golf and Tennis Supply, and Granite Gallery. A true recreational area for people who like manufacturing!

Interestingly, a 1944 Chicago Daily Tribune article cited H. Evert Kincaid, the executive director of the Chicago plan commission, as claiming that “Block-wide strips of property will be condemned and cleared. The added costed for right of way will be justified by better construction and because the city will have valuable additions to its park system.” Not sure if that happened elsewhere, but it didn’t happen in Avondale.

As a paltry compensation, the city spent $15,000 in 1961 to “compensate for land lost to the Northwest Expressway,” to include outdoor volleyball and basketball courts and a swimming pool. The fieldhouse without a field remains in its original location.

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