History: Motor Row

File:Motor Row Historic District K Chicago IL.jpgThe Motor Row District is a historic district in Chicago’s Near South Side community area. Motor Row includes buildings on Michigan Avenue between 2200 and 2500 south, directly west of McCormick Place convention center, and 1444, 1454, 1737, 1925, 2000 S. Michigan Ave., as well as 2246-3453 S. Indiana Ave., and 2211-47 S. Wabash Ave. The district was built between 1905 and 1936 by a number of notable architects.

Auto rows developed in numerous US cities shortly after 1900 as car companies sought to create districts where the sale and repair of cars could become an easy urban shopping experience. At its peak, as many as 116 different makes of automobiles were sold and repaired on Motor Row. Current-day marques that formerly had showrooms on Motor Row included Ford,Buick, Fiat, and Cadillac. Other marques with showrooms there that have since dissolved include Hudson, Locomobile, Marmon, and Pierce-Arrow. Currently, one car dealer (Ford) still stands in Motor Row while the remaining buildings have been or are being redeveloped into condominiums, nightclubs, and retail storefronts.

Architecture

The range of buildings in Motor Row illustrates the evolution of the automobile showroom and relatedFile:Motor Row Historic District B Chicago IL.jpgproduct and service buildings, from simple two-story structures used for display and offices to multi-story buildings housing a variety of departments for the repair, storage, painting, and finishing of automobiles. Many of the buildings were designed by significant architects, including Holabird & Roche,Alfred Alschuler, Philip Maher, Albert Kahn, and Christian Eckstorm. The overall design highlights elaborately carved stone work, ornate facades and intricately scrolled ironwork that decorates recessed automotive doorways.

Though characterized by its auto showrooms, Motor Row was also home to the newspaper Chicago Defender, a newspaper voice for Chicago’s large African American community.  By the early 1960s, a relocated Record Row had moved into auto showrooms on South Michigan Avenue.  An enclave of production, distribution, and marketing centers for a new style of gospelized R&B called soul.  Vee-Jay and Chess Records were just a few of the many studios located in Motor Row and acts such as Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, Willie Dixon and many, many other notable blues artists recorded there.

Motor Row was designated a Chicago Landmark on December 13, 2000. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 18, 2002

Today

Today, the neighborhood is on an upward swing poised to become one of Chicago’s cultural and entertainment centers once again.  Resturants, retail spaces, and residential units are slowely adding new life to these historic buildings, thereby producing a new neighborhood with character and quality.  Attempts continue to be made to redevelop Motor Row into a music and entertainment district for Chicago. The infamous E2 Nightclub, involved in a deadly stampede in 2003, was located there. The former Cadillac, Cowels and Saxon buildings, designed by Holabird and Roche, and a number of other automibile buildings have been converted to lofts.  The Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance and its partners are now playing a key role to assure this dynamic and extremely important Chicago neighborhood can be appreciated for years to come.

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