Current-day Clark Street was once part of an Indian trail, one piece of an expansive Native American trade network that existed well before European arrival on the continent. The trail functioned as a significant travel route until the 1833 Treaty of Chicago evicted many Native Americans from the area. In the following decades, a network of railroad connections to the rapidly-growing City of Chicago would spur development of Clark Street into a center of commerce and community. In 1893, Rogers Park was annexed into the City of Chicago, and Clark Street continued to play an essential role in the community’s history. The neighborhood was comfortably affluent into the 1950s, but declined economically as growing suburbs pulled long-time residents away. In the 1960s and beyond, Rogers Park drew waves of immigrant populations who opened new enterprises that developed the community further. Select an era below to learn more.
Long before Illinois statehood, the glacial ridge that is now Clark Street was only seasonably navigable north of now Peterson Avenue. The Illinois and Miami tribes were both members of the Illini Confederacy, and they used the higher glacial ridge, now Ridge Blvd, for travel to and from their villages south of Chicago to hunting grounds in upper Minnesota and Wisconsin.
By 1816, the Treaty of St. Louis signed between the United States and area tribes (Potawatomi, Ottawa, the Ojibwa) involved the United States obtaining a 20-mile strip of land known as “The Indian Boundary” connecting Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. Indian Boundary Park in West Ridge is named after this event. The 1833 Treaty of Chicago following the 1832 Black Hawk War, evicted the Native American tribes from the area.
While many Native Americans were forced to migrate, some remained in the Chicago area. Relocation efforts by the federal government in the 1950s contributed to a growing Native American population in the city, and the American Indian Center was established to serve this community. To this day Rogers Park has one of the highest concentrations of American Indian presence in Chicago (Delgado 2005).
Phillip Rogers began buying land from the government in the 1830s, and by the time of his death in 1856, Roger’s “owned 1,600 acres of government land, part of which formed the basis of Rogers Park” (Mooney-Melvin, 2005). In the beginning, Clark Street, known then as Chicago Avenue, was merely, “a path connecting the growing settlement of Chicago to the cluster of Ridgeville farms and homes” (Samors 2000, 3). The growth of the railroad and canals contributed to the development of Chicago and the surrounding communities (Davis 1998, 221, 225, 370, 371).
Photo: R044-0183, Chicago Northwestern, 1905
In the mid-1850s, “landowners sold right of way to the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad and shortly thereafter a commercial rail line was built, roughly paralleling what is now Clark Street. For its first 15 years of operation, there were no stations on this line in Rogers Park; but there are oral histories that state farmers on the Ridge had worked out a signal with the train engineers to create an informal stop for pickup and delivery of produce and supplies to the Water Street Market (now Wacker Drive) (Eaves 2018).” Temperance would also define Rogers Park, as the 1853 charter for Northwestern University established a four-mile alcohol free zone within the radius of the school.
In 1869 a tollgate was installed at Rogers and Clark to profit from people traveling to Calvary Cemetery. With the railroad firmly in Rogers Park, around 1873 the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad opened its Rogers Park station. An economic center emerged between Lunt and Greenleaf, extending to Clark Street, “centered around the new stop on the Chicago and Northwest Rail Line near the location of the modern Metra station (Samors 2000, 3).” By 1910 the tracks were elevated and a new station was built. Read more detail about the current Rogers Park Metra Station here.
Photo: C002-0107, Clark Calvary Cemetery Toll, 1884
The early structures were “wood frame with wooden sidewalks elevated above unpaved and often muddy streets” (Eaves 2018). These were mostly two-story buildings with the storefronts on the bottom, with tenants or the store owners living above. The early “businesses on Clark were catering to the new homeowners that were mainly white collar workers commuting to downtown Chicago offices or railway workers” (Eaves 2018).
Photo: N008-0101 Clark & Greenleaf, 1875
The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 created a housing boom in Rogers Park, leading to denser settlement as well as an increase in economic activity (Samors 2000, 8). With a broader tax base and settlement, the Village of Rogers Park was formed in 1878 (Mooney-Melvin 2005). During this time the western portion of Rogers Park was still dominated by farmland while the eastern side was still undeveloped marsh. In 1881, a three-story “brick building was erected on the southeast corner of Clark Street and Estes Avenue to serve as the Village Hall.” It also functioned as the police department, jail, and fire department (Eaves 2018, 6). The first Rogers Park library was on Clark Street.
Photo: E002-4313, John Ure Dairy, 1914
The oldest dairy that served Rogers Park existed at 7527 N Clark and was founded by John Ure in 1887 (Coughlin 2004). Ure obtained his milk supply from nearby Wilmette and eventually sold his business to Bowman Dairy in the early 1920s (Coughlin 2004). The Ure family will have a hand in developing the Howard Street district, which is named after Howard Ure.
Photo: W003-30798, Weimeschkirch Funeral Home
In 1888, the Weimeschkirch family opened a funeral home at 7066 N Clark. They would be open for about 100 years serving the community with caskets and embalming,as well as hearse and ambulance needs.
1891, Clark Street was finally paved between Devon and Chase (Eaves 2018, 6), The 1893 World Columbia Exposition excited Rogers Park residents and some reported “growing support in favor of annexation,” thinking it would improve economic prospects (Samors 2018, 24). In 1893 Rogers Park and the neighboring community of West Ridge were officially annexed to Chicago. The annexation improved infrastructure: “streets were paved, gas and electric service was provided, and better sewers were installed, allowing the area east of the original Rogers Park subdivision to be drained and subdivided” into parcels for development (Eaves 2018, 10).
A year after annexation into Chicago, Rogers Park had a major fire that “destroyed many businesses along Clark Street near the Ravenswood train station” (Samors 2000, 24). As a product of the fire, stricter building codes were enforced and brick construction was mandated. The fire also illustrated a need to have a dependable water supply and better water infrastructure. The rest of the decade was marked by a national economic depression (Samors 2000, 29). In 1896, street light posts and fire hydrants were installed. A 1901 business directory reflected “the addition of service providers to make goods needed by the new families, as well as support for the growing new housing market” (Eaves 2018, 10).
Residential housing begins to shift during this time from single family to multi unit dwellings as “the neighborhood’s suburban qualities faded” (Mooney-Melvin, 2005). Today you can still spot evidence of these important neighborhood buildings along Clark; they are still evolving to suit the community needs.
Photo: C002-ML001. Called the Phoenix building because it was built right after the fire
that destroyed nearby businesses and has phoenix adornment.
It was originally occupied by Burbank Grocery.
Doland Block Building was built in 1900 at 7000 N Clark Street.
It was used as a Masonic Hall and was the original location of the Rogers Park Women’s Club.
It became the first Rogers Park Library in 1905, when the Chicago Public Library took over
and created a circulating library and deposit station.
By 1900 the population and commercial district were centered around the train station at Greenleaf and Clark (Samors 2000, 36). By 1910 the railroad was elevated.
Photo: C002-0103, railroad station Greenleaf and Lunt, 1910
Part of the population boom discussed during this period also had to do with the (now-CTA Red Line) Northwestern Elevated Railroad opening up a Howard Station in 1908 (Mooney-Melvin, 2005). Development allowed for more people to easily commute downtown and helped make the far North Side a desirable place to live. The commercial areas near the station stops remain vital to the business community through present day.
Commercial Building Architecture
Between the 1870s and 1930s local commercial district buildings were between two and three floors (Shure 2015, “6952-6964 N Clark”). Retail businesses would occupy commercial space on the ground floor while offices or apartments would be above. Larry Shure notes, “these buildings should be tightly spaced to maximize square footage… quality materials and ornamentation were reserved for street elevations” (Shure 2015, “6952-6964 N Clark”). The storefronts themselves were “basically large panes of fixed glass supported by wood or metal mullions with a center of side entrance” (Shure 2015, “6952-6964 N Clark”). Read more about the early commercial architecture along Clark Street, here.
By 1920, the neighborhood had a population of 27,000 and was upper-middle class. Historians credit the 1920’s period in Rogers Park for creating a building boom “not matched for the next 80 years” (Samors 2000, 59). The entertainment district developed on Howard Street around this time which became a hub of nightlife for the entire North Shore (Eaves 2018, 17). Meanwhile, shops on Clark Street catered to residents, while also complimenting the high-end entertainment and social needs of the area. Clark “continued to be the main shopping district of Rogers Park. Moreover, it contained important institutions as the police station, post office and library” (Pacyga 1986, 132).The Clark Devon Hardware (6401 N Clark) opened in 1924 and remains a local iconic store.
Photo: R044-PC102, Clark at Morse, 1930
The Rogers Park Chicago Library branch location was opened in 1917 at 6957 N Clark, and lasted until 1922 when a more suitable location was built at 1731 W Greenleaf. The Greenleaf location would eventually be destroyed in a fire in 1951.
Photo: R037-93682, Rogers Park library 6957 N Clark
The number of people using public transportation through Clark Street remained a stabilizing force for local businesses. In 1910 the “Chicago and North Western rail bed was elevated and a new station was built above street level. This embankment cut off the retail activity on Market Street and divided Ravenswood into a light industrial area on the East and residential on the West” (Eaves 2018, 15). Another change to local transportation occurred in 1913 when the electric street cars that ran along Clark were consolidated into the Chicago Surface Lanes.
The Devon Avenue car barn located at 6454 N Clark, was built in 1901 and housed the “streetcars that cruised through Rogers Park” (Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society 2010, 4). These streetcars housed the Clark #22, Broadway #36, and Western #49B lines. In 1922, a major fire devastated the building destroying a large part of the fleet. The facility was closed in 1957, and the site is now occupied by the 24th District Police Department. The Clark #22 bus is still an active line that connects Rogers Park to downtown Chicago.
Photo: C043-25985, Car barn, 1930
As Rogers Park was growing into a wealthy community, residents had disposable income to spend on entertainment. While Howard Street was the official entertainment district, Clark Street had two movie houses. These were the Casino Theater (7053 N Clark) and the Adelphi Theater (7074 Clark at Estes).
The Casino Theater (open from 1915-1918), was the oldest motion picture theater in Rogers Park. Local historian Larry Shure mentions “for a small admission you could enter and stay as long as you liked. A typical nickelodeon might show short features 16 hours a day, from 8 a.m. until midnight” (Shure 2012, “Movie Theaters in Rogers Park”).
By 1918 the nickelodeon-type “Photo Play” was going out of style as real “Movie Palaces” started to appear. The death of the Casino Theater “was the construction of the luxurious Adelphi Theater in 1917″ (Eaves 2018, 16).
The Adelphi Theater was built at Estes and Clark in 1917, 14 years after the Iroquois Theater fire. The original owners were the Ascher Brothers who operated the theater between 1917-1927. The architect responsible was J.E.O Pridmore. A bowling alley would occupy the second floor from 1922-1927. The Adelphi would be torn down in 2006.
Photo: G001-PC7074, Adelphi Theater, 1917
Photo: M075-0101, Adelphi interior, 1917
Resident Edward Mogul reflected on the Adelphi Theater in the 1940’s and 1950’s:
“I went to the Adelphi with my neighbors on a regular basis, usually arriving early on Saturday morning. We would spend hours there watching thirty cartoons in a row and then Flash Gordon and Superman and we would come out of the theater with our eyes crossed” (Samors 2002, 136).
1930 brought a “sharp drop in construction” in Rogers Park (Samors 2000, 61). During this time not much happened in terms of development, and Clark Street stagnated. Two of the banks along Clark failed during the depression: The Rogers Park National Bank (Clark and Lunt) and the Phillip State Bank (7001 N Clark). The year 1933 brought the end to prohibition and saloons opened in Chicago while Evanston chose to remain dry. During World War II, “a housing shortage resulted in overcrowding and subdivided apartments” across the city of Chicago (Mahoney 2006, 101).
After the Second World War, a housing shortage created a residential building boom that “wouldn’t taper off until the 1960’s” (Samors 2000, 126). This housing shortage was not only local — it was a part of a national trend that led to the rapid rise of suburbs. White flight also resulted in many urban whites moving into the new suburban areas.
1967 Weimeskirch Funeral Home advertisement, Rogers Park Uptown Telephone Directory, P67.
Rogers Park saw an influx of Russian and Eastern European immigrants which added to the local mix of stores and restaurants (Mooney-Melvin, 2005). By the 1960’s Jews were the largest ethnic group in Rogers Park (Chicago Factbook 1984, 3). Clark Street incorporated these new immigrants and remained an essential economic stretch of land. At the same time, redlining started to creep into the neighborhood, making bank financing inaccessible particularly for African Americans.
Romanian Kosher Sausage Co., 7200 N Clark, 1957- Current
The Romanian Kosher Sausage Co opened in 1957 at 7200 N Clark. Prior to its existence as a butcher shop, the location was an A&P grocery store. The A&P started closing locations in the 1950’s because they were failing to compete with the larger more modern supermarkets.
Romanian Kosher Sausage opened when the Jewish population of Rogers Park was at its height. It remains a neighborhood icon today, serving the large Jewish population that resides in neighboring West Ridge, Skokie and surrounding suburbs. Read more about the Romanian Kosher Sausage Co. here.
Development Along Clark
While Chicago was undergoing extensive commercial and residential growth from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s, Clark Street was shaped by Brutalist architecture and strip malls. According to one description of Clark Street, “one may find anything from taffy apple manufacturing company to the local American Legion Post, as well as the local branch of the Chicago Public Library, warehousing and storage areas, and two financial institutions” (Chicago Factbook 1984, 3). Entertainment remained an important part of economic activity along Clark until the 1980s (Mooney-Melvin, 2005). Read an excerpt about one of the Clark Street strip malls, here.
Photo: G001-PC4008, Rogers Park Hospital
At the site of what is now a strip mall, Dr. Machler opened Rogers Park Hospital at 6968 North Clark in 1921. Dr. Machler was a drummer boy in The Spanish American War and a Medical Corp Captain in WWI. Larger and more modern hospitals would open nearby, and in 1975 the Rogers Park hospital closed after it tried to operate as a rehab center by Charity Hospital Corp.
Photo: L009-0447, Capt Nemo Sub, 1989
Nearby, the Capt. Nemo sub shop started in Rogers Park in 1971. The layout of Capt’n Nemo’s on Clark was to mimic a Naval submarine with the steel blue exterior and portal looking windows. Read and view more detailed history, here.
New Immigration Trends
The Jewish population in Rogers Park that became dominant after World War Two continued to grow with Russian Jewish immigration through the 1970’s (Chicago Factbook 1984, 3). However, by the early 1980’s, the Jewish population in the neighborhood shifted. The Chicago Factbook stated that “72% are more than 45 and 42% are more than 65 years old” (1984, 3). The neighborhood would open several retirement communities and senior living homes mostly on Sheridan Road as a response to this need. Meanwhile, Rogers Park saw increases in “immigrants from Asia and the Americas as well as growth in the African American population” (Mooney-Melvin, 2005).
1990 Ameritech phone book, P.138 “Hong Kong Restaurant” 6858 N Clark
The new wave of cultures created a need for specialized stores which began to appear along Clark during the 1990’s. Once a staple in the community, the Weimeschirch funeral home would close in 1987, ending a near 100 year history in Rogers Park.
Photo: W003-0105, Weimeschirch funeral home closed, 1988
During this period, Rogers Park settled into itself as a diverse community. The neighborhood continued having affordable rents, and by the 2000’s Rogers Park started to become known as an arts community. Creative endeavors became staples, including the creation of public murals (2008 – present), the Glenwood Ave Arts Festival (2002 – present) and local theater groups (Lifeline Theater, Bohemian Theater Ensemble, and The Side Project). While local theater groups flourished, the iconic Adephi Theater was demolished in 2006.
Photo: K014-0201, Adephi 1970s
New infrastructure was put in place in the Rogers Park neighborhood on Clark Street. 7212 N Clark was the site of a bowling alley, and then in the 1980s turned into Clark Street Mall (Davis 1992). In 2009, the Chicago Math and Science Academy purchased the vacant Clark Street Mall for $5.5 million and expanded into the location.
Other public infrastructure added at this time was the new library and fire house. The current Rogers Park library opened in 1999 at 6907 N Clark and incorporates a modern design, while highlighting local art. The new firehouse opened in 2009 at 7340 N Clark, replacing the 1915 firehouse at 1723 W Greenleaf.
The businesses on Clark were still mentioned in a Chicago guide as “one of the longest continuous strips of business and commercial activity in Rogers Park” (Chicago Factbook 1995, 40). During this time, in 2000 Affy Tapple relocated from 7117 N Clark to Niles, Illinois.
Photo: L009-0203, Affy Tapple – at this location from 1952-2000
The offerings of Latin restaurants and shops started in the 1990’s grew in this period and contributed to a thriving business sector on Clark Street. A 2004 publication describes Clark as offering “arrays of Mexicana and Belizean restaurants, taverns, and western wear shops” (Woodhouse 2004, 329).
Rogers Park adopted participatory budgeting in 2009 allowing local residents a chance to vote on and approve discretionary ward spending, roughly $1 million dollars annually. The Rogers Park community was the first of its kind in the United States to adopt this kind of community involved budgeting model. All of the projects proposed during the participatory budget process were created with community input. This involvement with the community has generated development across Rogers Park, including Clark Street.
The Rogers Park Business Alliance formed in the early 1990s to advance and lobby on behalf of local business. 2017 the Rogers Park Business Alliance created the “Vision Clark Street” plan in an effort to revitalize Clark. You can read a Sun-Times article about the plan, here. In a statement the Rogers Park Business Alliance, “in recent years, vacant buildings and a lack of investment have resulted in the corridor looking “worn” and in need of a plan that engages the community in its revitalization while preserving and enhancing the elements that make it so unique.” The project will have several completed goals when its finished (download the Vision Clark Street plan, here):
- Strengthen the activity and economic vitality of Clark Street in Rogers Park.
- Engage business owner, residences and other stakeholders throughout the process to ensure the plan reflects a strong consensus of the community.
- Enhance physical conditions and curb appeal.
- Assess traffic, circulation, parking, access and recommend strategies to improve these conditions.
- Improve pedestrian and bike access.
- Develop a branding strategy to promote Clark Street and Rogers Park.
- Identify opportunities for new development.
- Attract and retain businesses along the corridor.
- Improve the safety along Clark Street and enhance the perception of safety in the area.
- Create a clear, documented vision with specific recommendations and strategies to implement the vision.
The local business climate has experienced a steady and growing Latin influence along Clark. Many of the historical buildings still remain. In 2018, it was announced that the vacant land where the Delphi once stood at Clark/Estes would be turned into a large mixed low income housing development.
Photo: Adelphi Theater location, Clark/Estes 2018
Looking back on Clark
Select the links below and compare the differences between the Clark in 1958 to the 2015, written by local historian Larry Shure with archival imagery.
Coughlin, Norm. “The Milk Business in Rogers Park-Before the Supermarkets.” Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, 4 Aug. 2004, rpwrhs.org/2014/08/04/the-milk-business-in-rogers-park-before-the-supermarkets/.
Davis, Breiter. The Historian. “The Way It Was Clark Street in the 1920s.” 1992.
Davis, James Edward. Frontier Illinois. Indiana University Press, 1998.
Delgado, Louis. “Native Americans”. Encyclopedia of Chicago, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/874.html
Eaves, Glenna. “Clark Street: Then and Now.” Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society. 2018, Chicago, 6907 N Clark Street.
Mahoney, Olivia. Chicago, Crossroads of America. Chicago History Museum, 2006.
Mooney-Melvin, Patricia. “Rogers Park.” Back of the Yards, 2005, www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1086.html.
Pacyga, Dominic, and Ellen Skerrett. Chicago, City of Neighborhoods: Histories & Tours. Loyola University Press, 1986.
Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society. The Trains That Ran Through Rogers Park. The Trains That Ran Through Rogers Park, Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society, 2010.
Samors, Neal, et al. Chicago’s Far North Side: an Illustrated History of Rogers Park and West Ridge. Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, 2000.
Samors, Neal, et al. Neighborhoods within Neighborhoods: Twentieth Century Life on Chicago’s Far North Side. Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, 2002.
Shure, Larry. “6952-6964 N. Clark (C.1905 – C.1925).” Ultra Local Geography, 2015, ultralocal.blogspot.com/2015/10/6952-6964-n-clark-c1905-c1925.html.
Shure, Larry. “Movie Theaters in Rogers Park and West Ridge, Part 1.” Ultra Local Geography, 2012, ultralocal.blogspot.com/2012/11/movie-theaters-in-rogers-park-and-west.html.
The Chicago Factbook Consortium, editor. Local Community Factbook: Chicago Metropolitian Area 1990. The Chicago Factbook Consortium, 1995.
The Chicago Factbook Consortium, editor. Local Community Factbook: Chicago Metropolitian Area Based on 1970 and 1980 Census. 1984.
Woodhouse, Sharon. A Native’s Guide to Chicago. Lake Claremont Press, 2004.
Published digitally 2019.
Curator: Andrew Border