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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, June 23

Gapers Block

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I cannot always answer the questions people send me for the column, but I like to try to answer as many as possible. Here are three more great questions I have received recently for which I only have short answers.

Q: What was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive called before?

Before being renamed for the slain civil rights leader on July 31, 1968, King Drive was known as South Parkway. However, in the early part of the 20th Century, South Parkway was broken up into several differently named streets, including Grand Boulevard and South Park Boulevard.

Q: When you're riding the Brown or Purple Line downtown, you can see this big mural of people's names just south of the Chicago stop. The names include Martin Luther King, Elie Weisel and Frank Zappa. What is this mural, why were these names picked, and is there any significance in the mysterious gap in the middle of the list.

The 72-foot-high mural on the east side of the building at 325 W. Huron Street is called "Freedom Wall." Local artist Adam Brooks created the work after being affected by the way the concept of freedom was tossed around and abused during the 1992 presidential campaign. As a result, he sent solicitations to more than 600 people asking them who they thought most represented the idea of freedom. The names listed on the mural reflect the top 70 responses Brooks received. Martin Luther King, Jr. earned the top spot, followed by Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela to round out the top five. The blank spot in position 51 was not a name that had been blacked out, as it might appear. Instead, the blank space represents the respondents who believed no single person could embody the idea of freedom.

Q: Why does Chicago have so many streets named after places in California?

In answer to this question, I will concentrate on California Avenue, Sacramento Avenue and Hollywood Avenue.

My sources rather unhelpfully explain that California Avenue was named after the state, and Sacramento Avenue was named for the capital of California. No kidding.

Hollywood Avenue was also, of course, named for California's famous film capital. But, here sources credit real estate developer John Lewis Cochran with naming the street.

Readers of this column first met John Cochran one year ago in "Roscoe Street, or Why So Many Chicago Streets Are Named for Towns in Pennsylvania." He was a tobacco salesman who came to Chicago in the late 19th century was responsible for the planning and construction of the Edgewater and Avondale communities.

As described in the earlier column, Cochran was very fond of naming streets after towns he knew, especially the Philadelphia suburbs where he grew up. But in addition to Hollywood and towns in Pennsylvania, Cochran is also credited with naming Glenlake and Granville Avenues after cities in New York and Lakewood Avenue after a town in New Jersey.

So what about California and Sacramento Avenues? The truth is I just don't know who named them or why. In an interesting coincidence, John Lewis Cochran was born in Sacramento, California. One might be tempted to make something of this and concluded that he might be responsible for the naming of the two avenues. Unfortunately, both streets were already named years before Cochran became active in Chicago development. So, the precise reasons for Chicago's apparent love affair with the Golden State remains a mystery for now.


Join the Gapers Block Book Club! Just sign up for the email list for news, announcements and more. This month we are reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. We will be meeting to discuss the book on Monday, September 12, at The Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln Ave. The meeting will begin at 7:30pm.

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About the Author(s)

Alice Maggio is a Chicago librarian. She welcomes questions and topic suggestions for her column at . Due to the volume of email received, she may not reply to every query, but you may be contacted if your question is selected for the column.

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