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Rewind Chicago: A Travel Film Of The City In 1948

The theatre scene on Randolph Street in 1948. (Credit: Google Docs)

The theatre scene on Randolph Street in 1948. (Credit: Google Docs)

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By John Dodge

CHICAGO (CBS) — In 1948, Chicago, the Second City, in many respects was second to none.

Nearly 70 years ago, it could boast that it was home to the largest hotel, busiest transportation hub and most-concentrated retail center in the world.

In the 1930s and 1940s, James FitzPatrick, filmed hundreds of travel videos, which were distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer under the title “Travel Talks.”

FitzPatrick, known as “The Voice Of The Globe,” paid a visit to Chicago in the summer of 1948.

The film, “Chicago, The Beautiful,” opens with a panoramic view of Michigan Avenue near Randolph Street.

In 1948, what is now Millennium Park was a stretch of railroad tracks.

A large billboard sat at what is now the entrance to Prudential Center.

In fact, there were no buildings on the east side of that section of Michigan.

In another scene, a tour boat is leaving Chicago on the way across Lake Michigan to Benton Harbor. The only buildings visible are the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, home to what FitzPatrick called “one of the world’s leading newspapers.”

FitzPatrick takes us on a ride north on Lake Shore Drive (aka “The Outer Drive”) and shows off beaches filled with sunbathers and fisherman.

To the south in Jackson Park, one gets a glimpse of a replica of Christopher Columbus’ boat, the Santa Maria–left over from the World’s Fair 55 years earlier.

The Stevens Hotel, which is now the Hilton and Towers, on South Michigan is touted by FitzPatrick as the largest hotel in the world, with 3000 rooms.

In post-World War II America, Chicago was the world’s largest rail transportation hub. A total of 40 railroads served the city in 1948, and 1,500 passenger trains arrived every 24 hours.

Back then, State Street, anchored by the Marshall Field’s department store, was the most-concentrated retail center on Earth, doing $450 million worth of business every year.

There are other fascinating views of the city, including a bustling Randolph Street theatre district, the entrance to The Stockyards, Potter Palmer’s mansion, the Water Tower and more.

Rewind Chicago is an occasional series on Chicago’s past in pictures. John Dodge is Executive Producer of cbschicago.com. Click here for previous Rewind Chicago features.