Aldine Square, Chicago, Illnois, c. 1920
545 Aldine Square, Chicago (just off the photograph on the left-hand side) is the dwelling that Jelly Roll Morton gave as his permanent home address on his WWI Draft Registration Card. Jelly Roll was smart enough to add 37th & Vincennes as a clue, as Aldine Square was an obscure street then. It was built as one of several park-like streets in that area. It ran for a half block west of Vincennes just south of 36th Street. You could only go one way on it as it didn’t go anywhere. You could drive in and drive around a little park-like area and then out — sort of like many driveways.
The buildings would have been fairly substantial; probably brick, as the area had been built as fairly upscale housing. When the area became African-American, about the time Morton lived there; the buildings were owned by absentee landlords who divided the buildings into small rental dwellings, collected as much rent as they could and did little or nothing to maintain the buildings. The area went into a sharp decline and it was leveled during the late 1930s when the WPA constructed a large public housing project on the site. The street (Aldine Square) ceased to exist at that time.
The area is undergoing revitalization these days — some of the worst of the public housing has been taken down and there is significant new construction going on — the first privately funded building in the area in almost a hundred years. The area was originally part of a 53-acre estate called “Oakenwald,” owned by Sen. Stephen Douglas (of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates), who is buried in the area and memorialized with a monument. During the Civil War the area housed Camp Douglas, a containment center for Confederate prisoners of war, and a number of them are buried in a small cemetery a few blocks north of the site. [PVV 2]
Note: A former U.S. government agency, the WPA was established in 1935 by executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the Works Progress Administration; it was renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939, when it was made part of the Federal Works Agency.
courtesy of Millie Gaddini and Paige van Vorst
© 2006 Monrovia Sound Studio