7 On The Streets: Chicago's South Side

Roz Varon Image
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
7 on the Streets: Chicago's South Side
Have you ever wondered where all of those Chicago street names came from? Roz Varon investigates in "7 on the Streets."

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Have you ever wondered where all of those Chicago street names came from? Roz Varon investigates in "7 on the Streets."

We're looking at street names on the South Side, with a range of history, from politics to a World's Fair. How do you think Midway Plaisance got its name?

"That was the midway, the sort of entertainment venue for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition," said Peter Alter, archivist at the Chicago History Museum.

The one-mile stretch between Washington and Jackson Parks was surrounded by 200 buildings, with exhibits ranging from technology, art and culture representing some 50 countries. It's also the site of the world's first Ferris wheel, designed by George Ferris. When ground was broken in 2004 to build the ice skating rink on Midway Plaisance and Ellis, crews discovered foundations that were used to support that Ferris wheel.

The history behind Vincennes Avenue goes back hundreds of years. How do you think Vincennes Avenue got its name?

"By a famous person?" guessed Rasheed Barber.

Vincennes Avenue gets its name after Vincennes, Indiana. The site of Fort Vincennes is named after the French explorer who built it in the 1700s.

"The way to get from places like what would become southern Indiana to places that would become Chicago, there are overland trails that people would walk on and take wagons on. Vincennes Avenue was part of that street, it was part of the Vincennes Trail," Alter said.

How do you think Cermak got its name?

"He was mayor of Chicago," said Mark Johnson.

Anton Cermak was elected mayor in 1931. The Czech immigrant was credited with creating a multi-ethnic Democratic political coalition, working with Franklin D. Roosevelt.

"He and Cermak were friends. They were together in Florida and there was an assassin who was trying to kill Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cermak was shot instead and died a few days later," Alter said.

Political leaders changed 22nd Street to Cermak, because it passed through what were Czech-American neighborhoods at that time.

Finally, Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which started out with a different name.

"Martin Luther King Drive was known as South Park Avenue until spring of 1968 when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The following day, after Martin Luther King was killed, the first Mayor Daley put a proposal to Chicago city council to change the street name and it happened that fast," Alter said.

Chicago was the first city in the nation to name a street after the late civil rights leader. There are more than 700 streets named after Dr. King throughout the country, as well as Martin Luther King Blvd in France and Via Martin Luther King in Italy.


Chicago History Museum

IDOT/University of Illinois at Chicago library