Annals of Rush Street: The Viagra Triangle Used to Be a Lot Different

After Cyrus McCormick and other prominent Chicagoans moved out, Rush Street became Deadfall Lane. Now the home of the Viagra Triangle is a blend of the old and the new.

Via @swanksalot, a video of Chicago’s old red-light district. It’s B-roll from a 1966 news report, filmed at “Rush St. looking north from Chestnut and surroundings.” It takes us up and down Chicago’s party street, including what’s now famous as the Viagra Triangle—the area between Rush, State, and whatever east-west street to the south you think defines its third leg. It’s always been thus, or at least it has for a long time, according the racy 1950 Chicago Confidential: “Deadfall lane, with the plushiest cocktail lounges, the most expensive broads. Once an avenue of fine an aristocratic homes, now sports a pizzeria, tavern, restaurant, or intime cabaret ever ten feet.”

Way back in the day it was the home of reaper king Cyrus McCormick and other extremely wealthy people, but it still had the seeds of today’s Rush Street: “Opposite, on the east side of Rush street, were two early apartment buildings, the Marquette and the Charlevoix, which housed many socially prominent residents, including some of the town’s most eligible bachelors,” wrote Herma Clark in the 1950 Trib feature “Let’s Take a Walk Along Rush Street.” When Rick Telander visited in 1989 they weren’t quite as eligible, but they were getting there. Now with a Bentley dealership and the Viagra Triangle, it’s a blend of the old and the new.

I’m currently reading Great American City: Chicago and the Enduring Neighborhood Effect, by Harvard (and former University of Chicago) sociologist Robert J. Sampson. That it has a lot to do with the persistence of poverty in neighborhoods over decades will come as little surprise. But neighborhood effects take many forms—one of the more curious of which is the persistence of sex, even more so than money, along Rush.*

*OK, I’ll take an uninformed guess. According to Clark, “with the building of Michigan Avenue bridge in 1920, traffic was diverted and Rush street became like a quiet eddy near a rushing river.” (The Michigan Avenue bridge replaced the Rush Street Bridge bottleneck.) That was also around the time the Near North Side was a boarding-house district. A young, fluid population + the wealth of downtown + a “quiet eddy near a rushing river” = shenanigans.

Bonus: Sampson talks about Great American City:

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