“May the roof above us never fall it
And may we good companions never fall out.” — Irish blessing
First, a little history: the neighborhood where my family home sat was once the site of the Ashburn Flying Field, established in 1916, Chicago’s first air field. When the Chicago Municipal Airport (renamed Midway in 1949 to honor the Battle of Midway) was established in 1927, the Ashburn Field was abandoned. This area, miles from the city, lay empty. Then in the early 40’s, one of the world’s largest defense plants was built between Cicero and Pulaski, just north of 77th Street, where Dodge assembled airplanes for the war effort. After the war, Ford bought the property and continued to make airplane engines used in military planes during the Korean War. These plants employed thousands of people who needed to live near their jobs, and the Southwest Side of Chicago grew.
After World War II, the returning vets got married, started families, and needed places to live. In 1952, Raymond Lutgert turned the old Ashburn Flying Field into our neighborhood, Scottsdale, named after his son Scott.
Today’s first-time homebuyers are looking for it all – a master suite with his-and-hers walk-in closets, hardwood floors, kitchen islands swathed in granite, and kids’ bedrooms with jack-and-jill baths. Such was not the case when my parents moved from their cramped Andersonville apartment to their home on South Kolmar Avenue. (Here’s the house today. Looks about the same, but new owners installed the bay window, a bit too upscale for my parents.)
Mary and Ted visited the Lutgert model homes on 79th Place and were attracted to all of the modern features as well as to the affordable price. Lutgert had two models, both with basically the same floor plans but one set horizontally on the lot, the other vertically. A vertical could come with a basement, but my parents couldn’t afford that one. They chose their ranch-style home with a crawlspace at 8007 Kolmar, priced at $13,400. My mother recently mentioned, “I refused to pay more for a car than I did for our house, and I never did. My 2004 Hyundai Accent was $12,500.”
Because this was new construction, my parents had a few choices to make. Did they want white, black, or brown asphalt tile flooring?
It looked like this.
They chose white for the kitchen, black for the rest of the house. For the only bathroom, they settled on gray plastic wall tile and a pinkish toilet, tub and sink. Some of the homes had a built-in flagstone flower box in front, but my parents didn’t opt for that expensive frill.
The home was equipped with a state-of-the-art kitchen featuring white metal cabinets, a Formica countertop, and a built-in top-loading dishwasher, which broke about ten years later when one of us (I blame my brother Tim) used liquid dish soap when we’d run out of dishwasher detergent. Bubbles frothed out, and then it sat mortally wounded and useless for another couple of decades until new owners presumably ripped it out. A Lutgert kitchen also came with a washing machine and a dryer – no more clothes lines required, although my mother continued to hang clothes outside on warm sunny days.
The front door opened right into our living room—no foyer. We had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a utility room off the kitchen that was first a play room and then later, when a wall was removed, it became part of the kitchen. A dining room was just beyond the living room, and tucked into its closet was a gray vinyl accordion-style “wall’ that could be closed so that the dining room could be turned into a bedroom. As our family grew from four to seven, the wall came out. Then after my parents added on two more bedrooms and a bath in 1957, the “wall” returned to its hiding place and the dining room was reinstated.
July 4, 1952 was moving day for Mary and Ted, Ellen, almost three, and Tim, almost two. (Here we are in the alley, next to the truck. No idea who the woman is in the background.) A couple of friends helped Ted load a truck and the family transitioned from Northsiders to Southsiders. At first, they were surrounded by not-quite-finished homes, but one by one the other homes were completed and new neighbors joined them. Next door were the Steinbergs, Irving and Ida, who moved in soon after the Dineens. Mary’s first encounter with Irving and Ida was when she asked them for two dollars. Before move-in day, Mary was at the house awaiting delivery of a new stove and a refrigerator. The deliverers threatened to take back the appliances unless she paid the delivery fee, something she hadn’t expected. Mary had no money and no phone – quite a dilemma. Fortunately, the Steinbergs happened to be working in their new home, so Mary headed through the muddy yard, knocked on their door, and asked if they could float her a loan until Ted picked her up at the end of the day. They gave it to her, and Ted repaid them later that evening.
Throughout the summer, the Dineens were surrounded by the rumble of bulldozers and the pounding of hammers as homes sprung up around them. Their yard was a sea of dusty yellow clay that floated through the open windows and settled on every surface. When it rained, the clay became gooey muck that sucked the kids’ shoes off their feet. By the fall, black dirt had been spread, and they planted grass seed. Neighbors moved in – Harold and Lorraine next door, Gene and Ardel, Jack and Ruth, Dolores and Jim across the street. A neighborhood was born.
The homes didn’t come with driveways or garages, so the neighbor guys pitched in and set forms for everyone’s driveways. Harold, who worked for a cement company, got them a deal on leftover concrete, and before long, everyone was able to park off the street. Mary and Ted had the Danley Company build their garage in ’53 or ’54.
The young couples on the block, most of them in their twenties or early thirties, knew how to have a good time. On summer evenings, Ted, or Gene, or Jack, or Jim would sit outside on his front step. This was a signal for the other couples to come on over for a beer or two and some laughs. Once in a while they’d order a pizza, after all the kids were in bed. One evening, the kids were playing in the Andrews’ utility room and found a hedge clipper. While the parents yukked it up on the front stoop, the kids decided to play barber shop, giving a trim to the youngest girls, about two or three years old. Two new hairdos were created before any parents came in to check on the goings-on.
Every house on the block was loaded with kids. Ours eventually had five, a rather unremarkable quantity by Scottsdale standards. As kids got more plentiful and a little older, we entertained themselves, catching lightning bugs or playing hide-and-seek or Red Rover, and we learned never to tattle or cry about some injury. Once a parent was forced to become involved, it was bedtime for everyone, and we were rounded up and sent into our perspective houses. Fun over.
None of the women on the block had a car; my mother didn’t even get her driver’s license until 1955. So, they established a Tuesday morning coffee klatch, then a birthday lunch club, a canasta club, and a poker club and took turns hosting. On club day, every kid on the street knew not to open the bag of bridge mix or the can of cashews tucked away in the cabinets. These were for club, not kids!
No one had money for nights on the town, so the neighbors took turns hosting garage parties, New Year’s Eve bashes and Halloween parties. One Halloween party became legendary. Danny and Goldie came as cannibals, Ted and Mary were scarecrows, and one guy dressed up as a pregnant lady and gave birth to a doll right in the middle of the party. One jokester named Tom lay down in the bathtub, startling the women as they came in to use the toilet, just before they sat down. A good time was had by all!
Throughout the fifties, many of the homes expanded, with rooms tacked on to accommodate the additional kids. Gene, a millworker, installed wood paneling in every room in their house, and an air conditioner, a luxury no one else had. Dolores and Jim got rid of the folding wall in the living room and put up a real one, then covered it with a mural – a photograph of a tranquil beach. Their family’s four foot deep above-ground pool in their back yard made them the luckiest six kids on the block. Our addition went out the back – two bedrooms and a bath up, a basement underneath it. It was the talk of the neighborhood.
My mother lived on Kolmar until 1989, four years after my father died. It was hard to leave the place where she’d raised her kids, but taking care of it was getting tough as well. Besides, she’d found the perfect place – a brand new first floor condo in Palos Hills, with a functioning dishwasher, an AC system that actually cooled, and fresh carpet. Others were moving too, or already had. Friendships didn’t end though. Just this week, my mother played cards with two of her first neighbors, Ardel and Lorraine. In many ways, they haven’t changed much since they were young moms sitting on our front stoop on hot summer nights in the 50’s.