Classic City

25 Surviving Treasures from Postwar Chicago—and Beyond

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Photo: Matthew Gilson
Union Station’s Great Hall, the last vestige of Chicago’s glory days as the nation’s railroad hub.

Halfway through Alfred Hitchcock’s stylish 1959 thriller North by Northwest, Cary Grant arrives in Chicago. On the run from the law and a gang of evil spies, he descends from the 20th Century Limited disguised as a porter. Accompanied by Eva Marie Saint, he proceeds into LaSalle Street Station, at which point Ms. Saint suggests that Grant ought to change back into his gray suit.

“Where do you propose I do that?” he asks archly. “In Marshall Field’s window?”

Grant’s cinematic sojourn in the Windy City is full of bittersweet moments like that one: it’s wonderful to catch these images of Chicago some 50 years ago, but sad to realize how much we’ve lost-or are about to lose. The 20th Century Limited, the elegant passenger train that once ran between New York and Chicago, ceased operations in 1967, and the vintage LaSalle Street Station, completed in 1925, fell to the wrecking ball in 1981. This month, many Chicagoans will celebrate that cherished Christmas ritual: enjoying the windows at Field’s. The windows will likely be there next year, but the familiar name will be gone. Yet rather than lament what’s lost, take a minute to survey the landscape.

If you know where to look, postwar Chicago-an era when Carl Sandburg’s hardworking City of the Big Shoulders took on Frank Sinatra’s rakish razzmatazz-survives to this day. You can find it in the Great Hall at Union Station (above) or the glass-walled hangars at Midway Airport. It exists in an accordion shop in Oak Lawn and in the memories of a hard-hurling pitcher from the ‘59 White Sox. The following pages reveal these hallowed spots and many more-including one lingering look at Field’s at Christmas.