So long, Stony Island

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On the way home, I’ve got the Buick really moving — 75 mph easy — when a black blur with shiny rims nearly clips my front bumper, sweeps across three lanes and zooms into the distance.
It makes me smile. The Idiot 500 — my beloved Dan Ryan — is back.
Only it’s wider, smoother and without a single pothole. Twelve minutes. That’s how long it takes to get from downtown to 95th when you’re keeping up with traffic. As I hit the Bishop Ford, it dawns on me that this means farewell to Stony Island — my alternate route downtown during nearly two years of construction.

Growing up in the south suburbs, Stony Island was a street that a lot of folks avoided because it ran through a rough part of the city, where counter girls at the best places to grab a quick bite took your order from behind bulletproof glass.
Over the years, the wide thoroughfare from Hyde Park to 95th has cleaned up considerably — not that I would’ve known much about that until the Dan Ryan makeover forced me that way.
But after countless trips downtown, I can tell you Stony Island gives you a peek at neighborhoods — Calumet Heights, Pill Hill, Avalon Park, Grand Crossing, Park Manor, Woodlawn and South Shore — that are pure grit.
You’re rolling through parts of town where people don’t go unless they have to — where folks still hustle to get ahead. Sometimes right on the street.
Every day can be an adventure. Get caught at the light at 95th or 79th and you’ll see guys hawking all kinds of stuff — fruit bags, roasted peanuts, candy, bottled water, tube socks, face towels, bean pies, flashing fake teeth or Sponge Bob balloons.
And at Smart Thrift, a junk store in the Skyway ramp’s shadow, guys fill the parking lot with all kinds of loot at 9 o’clock every morning and pack it away at 9 o’clock every night.
The guy who runs the place (when I asked his name he said to call him “Mudd”) says having all that stuff outside grabs attention — like a “little Maxwell Street market everyday.”
Most of what’s for sale there comes from unclaimed storage spaces and foreclosed homes. The place is a treasure hunter’s dream. Or if you’re on tight budget, it’s the spot to get a VCR, exercise machine, spare tire, china hutch, 10-speed bike, fashion wig, high heels or a busted office chair for cheap.
There’s a fair share of boarded up business, seedy hotels and vacant lots littering Stony Island, but the avenue has it’s jewels, too.
A couple blocks away from Smart Thrift is an unofficial South Side landmark — the 1941 Buick sedan atop Ellison Auto Parts.
Owner Paul Fields opened the shop in 1962, back when Stony Island was still “automotive row” and Ernie Banks had a dealership down the street.
Why did he put the old car on the roof?
“So people would ask me why I put it there,” Fields says. “That, and it makes it easy to give directions.”
The bullet holes in the Buick’s doors tell you about the neighborhood struggles.
“I used to have trouble with people throwing snowballs at it,” Fields says. “As the neighborhood got rougher, people started shooting instead.
Fortunately, I was never in the car when it happened.” And just east of Stony on 79th is the New Regal Theater, a city landmark by architect John Eberson, who said the building design was inspired by a Persian incense burner he found at an antique market.
Head north a bit and there’s the Mosque Maryam, the Nation of Islam headquarters, which is so beautiful a reporter pal of mine says it’s worth getting frisked at the door to get a look inside.
Hungry? There’s plenty of grub on Stony Island, and most places don’t bother with bulletproof glass anymore. You can get a delicious piece of salmon at BJ’s Market, sample tasty soul food treats at the Soul Queen’s buffet. There’s enough fried chicken joints for you to visit a different one every night, and the not-so historic site of the South Side’s first Starbucks.
If you prefer to make dinner yourself, a stop at the Moo & Oink — Stony Island’s premier butcher shop — is a must. You can get juicy chicken breasts for 89 cents-a-pound, and some tasty baby back ribs that cook up nice on the grill.
And so many drivers stop to pick up a six-pack at Kenwood Liquors — which boasts on its billboard “No gimmicks. No advertising. Just the cheapest, lowest and least expensive prices in the world” — there’s almost always a beer-run traffic jam at 87th Street during the evening rush.
“Some people have told me they think the Stony Island route still isn’t a bad idea for getting to the museums or the lakefront or to avoid traffic when there’s a S
That makes me feel better about getting back on the Ryan.
I’m not saying goodbye to Stony Island.
Just, see you later.

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30 Comments

I grew up in the pill hill area in the 70's. There was a wonderful restaurant at 92nd and Stony Island named Tropical Hut.

We celebrated all our special occasions there and they had the best roasted duck in the city accompanied by the best duck sauce I ever tasted.

Hi, I lived at 7033 SI from 1947 till 1964 (bldg is long gone) did you know trolley cars ran down the center of SI from 79th to somewhere in Hyde Park. As kids we would watch the driver get out and re-attach the power pole with a big stick every time it would come off the wires, when he got off we would jump on and ride for free. Real exciting childhood. Also rumor has it Elvis spent one night at the Southmoor Hotel at 67th and SI.
Thanks, Gil Hede

As a person who grew up in the early 30s one block east of Stony Island,I have fond memories.There was a Walgreens drug store on the South East corner of 67th and Stony >My first job inl956 was as a dish washer their.67th and Stony was the entrance to Jackson Park. Thee best story for you should be that on the Northwest corner of 67th and Stony was Southmoor Hotel. In the early l960’s the black ball players for the Cubs and Sox were living there because non of the other hotels would have them. There was a theater about 5 doors South of 67th and the show was 10cents.A lot of old stories but you don’t have a lot of time to read them.

I really appreciated your article. It is extremely well written. Having grown up on Stony Island, it is good to see that others can appreciate the history it has to offer!!

Thanks!!


Desirae Burks

Ask any Mt. Carmel kid who comes from the South Suburbs, East Side or Hegewisch, and he'll have a story to tell you about Stony Island. I was from Dolton and my friend's older brother (and then my friend) used to drive us to school every morning. We used to love buying the fruit bags under the Skyway. They were only $1 and were huge! Buying 2 bags provided a great snack for 3-4 guys. The other thing I remember vividly is the Nation of Islam guys wearing their fancy suits with bowties and selling "The Final Call" newspapers and bean pies under the Skyway (which they still do). My black friends from Carmel used to tell us that the NOI guys certainly would sell a white person the newspaper, but it was the cover only and inside were just blank pages. We never did test that myth, but during the summer months when our car windows were down the NOI guys seemed to like messing with us good naturedly and vice-versa.

Another story is the Carmel frosh-soph football teams practice across Stony Island at Jackson Park. When I played (early 90s), there were no stop signs at 64th & Stony and traffic was constant. So, we the football players would form "herds" to make cars stop so we could cross Stony Island and not be late for practice. We'd often joke around with the young kids playing on the jungle gym right across Stony, and they'd ask us what positions we play and sometimes hurl jokes/insults at us. Of course, we'd throw them right back.

And it was always a challenge navigating through the bottlenecks and around the Kenwood Liqours area. There were many times where my carpool nearly ended up in accidents/death heading south just past 79th Street where the viaduct cuts lanes down to 2 and you basically have to drive like a maniac to get through. Driving Stony certainly teaches you crucial City/South Side driving techniques!

I enjoyed your article about Stony Island. I would like to call your attention to one venerable institution. The Hyde Park High School 6220 S. S. Stony Island which producted such noteables as: Amelia Mary Earhart, Mele Torme', Steve Allen and Herbie Hancock just to name a few. Also the Vernon Park Church of God on 92nd and Stony which is the home of Rev. Addie Wyatt, the 1st female local union president and one of Time magazine's Women of the Year 1976.
Donald L. Sharp
Class of 1956

I just wanted you to know that your article today made me chuckle at least 4-5 times.

I grew up near 91st & Stony Island, and now reside in South Shore. I am so familiar with all that you described. Glad you enjoyed your journey on the South east side of Chicago! Enjoy the Ryan again!

Jeri


I just wanted you to know that your article today made me chuckle at least 4-5 times.

I grew up near 91st & Stony Island, and now reside in South Shore. I am so familiar with all that you described. Glad you enjoyed your journey on the South east side of Chicago! Enjoy the Ryan again!

Jeri

Another story about a Stony experience. A few years back, maybe around 1996 or 1997, I was stopped southbound on Stony at 76th St.(I think), and I saw a person laying motionless in the street right between the KFC and Jackson Park Hospital. It looked as if the person was dead, but I never stopped to find out what happened or how it happened. But then again, nobody seemed to be doing anything about it, so maybe it was just a crazy homeless person trying to get attention. Hopefully, the person wasn't dead, but either way the image of the body laying there has stuck with me.

First, thanks for the article as I grew up in St. Felicitas.
Second, a big "hi" to all who also grew up there whether I knew you or not.
Third, I enjoy "Neighborhoods" and this article brought back memories too numerous to mention. A Few ---
- Stevens Bakery
- The summer parish Carnival
- The Avalon Theater
- the easy way to get to the MSI
- Tastee Freeze
- Jackson Park Hospital
- Hopping on the "eL" at 63rd (no longer can do)
Just to name a few
Thanks again for the memories.

John Stopka

First, thanks for the article as I grew up in St. Felicitas.
Second, a big "hi" to all who also grew up there whether I knew you or not.
Third, I enjoy "Neighborhoods" and this article brought back memories too numerous to mention. A Few ---
- Stevens Bakery
- The summer parish Carnival
- The Avalon Theater
- the easy way to get to the MSI
- Tastee Freeze
- Jackson Park Hospital
- Hopping on the "eL" at 63rd (no longer can do)
Just to name a few
Thanks again for the memories.

John Stopka

How can you forget the Amusement Park "Funtown" that was located on the northeast corner lot at 95th and Stony Island!! Everybody sing:

"Funtown, funtown for the kids and you
95th and Stony Island Avenue...FUNTOWN!!!

I grew up in South Shore and I remember Carls Hot Dogs right near 79th and Stoney. Then as we visited family in Hyde Park(Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap) we would travel through Jackson Park and the statue was always referred to by my parents as Dirty Mary.

I grew up in South Shore and I remember Carls Hot Dogs right near 79th and Stoney. Then as we visited family in Hyde Park(Jimmy's Woodlawn Tap) we would travel through Jackson Park and the statue was always referred to by my parents as Dirty Mary.

A whole article about Stony Island and its history and landmarks--and nothing about the "Stony Island" movie?? Obviously, someone remembers the film, because a screening of it held back in May of this year sold out days ahead of the event. I wrote what I know of the film in my Vox.com blog back in May (click the link in my name below). But I'd love to hear from someone who's actually seen it!

As for my memories, I remember the High Chaparral nightclub that used to be located underneath the Skyway ramp on Stony Island. OK, I remember it as the place where my Dad and his band, the Southside Movement, practiced during the day one summer, while my brother Aaron and I sat around reading. I never got to see it at night, I was too young--too young to even understand what a nightclub was! Later, the club closed, and the building was torn down years ago--where the building stood is now pretty much a vacant lot. But its previous performers remember playing there, both my father--and singer Michael Jackson, who mentioned the High Chaparral in his autobiography, "Moonwalk." Yeah, really!

You failed to mention “Fun Town” back in the days at 95th Stony. "Fun town, fun town for the kid in you - 95th Stony Island Avenue….FUN TOWN!"

Where Popeye's chicken is now on 87th & Stony Island, there was a Rossi's pizza which was so good. Where there is a CVS on 87th & Stony Island, there was a Shell gas station. The area has changed over the years. Now there is an Al's beef on the corner of *7th & Stony Island where Queen of the Sea used to be.

Funtown!
I am a child of the 70's and Funtown was the place to go. It was our Riveview. I grew up on Jeffrey Bld and as a toddler I went to pre-school on Stony Island. The building is still there but is owned by another person and renamed.

Last, I remember during the Blizzard of '79 my mother and I had to walk to the White Hen Pantry to buy milk for the family. As a child I thought everything was so pretty. I still do as an adult but, now I have to shovel it. Good memories!

living in cal heights, i've been hanging around stony island all my life. i was surprise that stony's notorious gang history was never brought up. almost all of stony is or use to be black stone territory (which i guess makes sense). but don't get me wrong i love my stony. i miss the checkers off of 87th and when jewels use to be round 85th before the moved to 95th. i remember when i was five my mother got her purse snatched in the parking lot. she chased the guy down for 3blocks before pushing him to the concrete and breaking his nose....only on stony.
p.s. when will there be an article on jeffery???

Mark,

Back in the day (1980's), I remember one of the most popular and "happening" clubs along this strip - Sweet Georgia Brown's (just off 94th & Stony Island headed just north of the viaduct, which has since been torn down and replaced by a vacant lot set for future development). This club was formerly owned by the late Flukey Stokes -- a big-time businessman and wheeler-n-dealer in the community (as well as other adjacent areas, such as Chatham, South Shore, etc.)

I tell you, this place was the home…I mean the crème de la crème of good music (Old School, R&B, Jazz & Blues), where patrons (mostly 40+) enjoyed, not only wonderful nights of the best in live and recorded (Stepping) music, this joint featured an ambience of succulent food dishes, generous drinks and entertainment, including the fact that you were in the company of every day, laid-back folks out to have a good time.

I recall, especially on those Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, this place would really be popping. Upon driving up, you'd always see a line of cars and streams of folks trying to get up in there, with often times, lines forming outside. Back then, of course, there was less stress amongst folks and less hotheadedness. Everyone was out to have a good time. Never had to work about drive-by's or young hoppers accessing the club and stirring up trouble.

And, even to this date, in my opinion, no other South Side club or establishment has ever reached the potential as a genuine legacy as good ole "Sweet Georgia Brown."

DELLA REESE

"I can tell you Stony Island gives you a peek at neighborhoods — Calumet Heights, Pill Hill, Avalon Park, Grand Crossing, Park Manor, Woodlawn and South Shore — that are pure grit.
You’re rolling through parts of town where people don’t go unless they have to — where folks still hustle to get ahead."

Seldom have I read such errant racist nonsense in a newspaper! First of all, Stony Island is a highway, not a neighborhood. But the neighborhoods listed above can not be described as "pure grit" by any stretch of the imagination.

If you ever got out of your car, you would discover that there are palatial homes in Pill Hill, and South Shore, including the Jackson Park Highlands, which didn't make your list. I'm sure that the median income of homeowners in these areas is higher than the city as a whole.

The only thing that makes them "gritty" is the fact that BLACK PEOPLE own these homes. Face it Mark, you're scared to death of black people, and like a lot of whites, when you see neighborhoods full of black people, they are "gritty" to you, even if they're full of millionaires. And a number of the residents of these neighborhoods are.

It's telling that the only people you featured in your article are two old white guys in baseball caps who add very little to wellbeing of people in the area. Believe it or not, we're not that fond of liquor store owners.

Your article was the "drive-by" version of journalism; there was very little truth in it, regarding the people who actually live in those homes that are one block east or west of Stony, but not on the highway itself. What's next, a down and dirty story about State Street?


What a trip down Memory Lane! I lived in Chatam and went to Kenwood HS during the early-'70s. My true landmark would be the White Castle on 79th. I think I ate four sliders every afternoon of my high school years as I waited for the 79th street bus.
I remember Ernie Banks/Bob Nelson Ford at 75th. And I definitely remember the High Chaparal lounge at 78th, a place known for it's lax ID policy. Across the viaduct toward the 8000 block there was a well-known Karate school, the Shindo Kan and somewhere up there was the very famous Rossi's Pizza and a place that had outstanding tacos.
Thanks for the trip down Memory Lane!

Having grown up in the Pill Hill/Calumet Heights areas to the east of Stony Island for over 30 years, this article brought back many great memories from Funtown on 95th street, to the unofficial bike trail next to the 95th and Stony Island viaduct, the closing of Rossi's Pizza then Checkers, the day Popeyes opened ( I thought it was the best chicken next to Harolds Chicken :) ), the opening of PeeWees and getting hot bag of fries from the now closed Harolds at 86th Stony to the long lines of cars at Abbeys Car wash next to the Zanziber hotel in the later 1980s.

And I can't forget the " short nights" at the Rivera and Seville hotels during high school and college. Man, what memories!!!!! The area has recently gone through a number of changes some good some bad.

Recently as I traveled North on Stony Island this past summer I noticed for the first time in 30 years that you can see the Sears Tower from 92nd in Stony.

The reporter's use of the word "grit" to describe the neighborhoods surrounding Stony Island is bias. I'm sure the writer never ventured to the east or west of Stony Island to view the wonderful mixture of ranch, split-level, and bungalow homes the neighborhood has to offer. Little does he know many of the homes in the area are valued at $ 400,000 and up and I'm not considering the homes in the Highlands that go for $1 million plus. And in these homes live many white and blue collar families that care for their community.

Nevertheless, I will thank the reporter for writing an article that invoked such wonderful memories.

Konkol comments:

KG - Glad you had fond memories, but you would be wrong about me, and the places I have ventured.

All the letters brought back wonderful memories here are a few more: 1. The Chicken Unlimited at 85th and stony with their famous whamburger. 2. the a & p grocery store that used to be on 86thplace and stony. 3. Stineways drug store that was on the ne corner of 87th and stony 4. the little dells candy shop at 83rd and stony. 5.the now defunct raven lounge at 89th. and how about Saxons hardware store where i labored several summers 79-81. Beautiful memories that will last a lifetime. FG

I was born in Jackson Park Hospital in 1951 and lived at 7012 S. Cornell, one block east of Stony Island in South Shore, the first 8 years of my life. It was a great place with the Jeffrey, Hamilton, and Stony Island movie theaters, the Old Dutch Ice cream store, Walgreen's and the Fannie May candy shop on 71st street and Jeffrey, Steinway's further down 71st, the YMCA on 71st where I took my first swimming lessons, then ate a hamburger next door at The Toddle House Restaurant, Jackson Park, Paul's Kosher Deli on 71st and Stony and the Peter Pan Restaurant on 71st and Jeffrey, Parkside Elementary School, where I attended my first 3 years, etc. I miss it still.

Rough part of the city?? Come on!! Go to Englewood, Roseland...
SI area is not half as bad!! I grew up off 87th(early 70's) and family still lives there. It is still a nice place to live. Nice blocks and neighboorhoods. Obviously there are a few blocks here and there that arent the best (but the burbs are like that now too...i lived in Matteson all thru late grammer and highschool. I moved back "over east" when i had the choice and love it. Its the better part of the city to live in (besides dwnttwn, longwood and hydepark)

Your narrative of all the wonderful things on SI brought back memories..Im glad you were detoured by Dan Ryan...now you can appreciate SI..and change your perception...

Blessings..

Good story I grew up in 4 blocks east of Stoney island. I remember Funtown as a kid, when it was torn down working at Coutesy Hardware that took it's place. I remember Kenwwod Liqour (1st to cash my summer job check), The Raven, Family Den, Docks Fish Market, Soul of the Sea, 87th Stoney Island, Soul Queen, White Hen Pantry, Viennas on 79, Leons BBQ, Taurus-Hoagy Shop, my parents going to High Chapparel, parties at St. Albi's, Jewels on 87 Stony Island, Stineways, hanging out at White Castle, going to Joseph Warren Elementary, CVS High School, Harold's Barber Shop (1st cut as a kid), attempting to learn Karate at Shindo Kan (lasted 3 weeks). I could give you pages; but thanks for the article
Sure the neighborhoods have changed but they are still beautiful homes and families who have been their since the early 60's. I'm writing from California where I have been since 1989. But my heart, family, friends and soul belong to Chicgo's Stoney Island.

I was forced out of Hyde Park a few years ago by the U of C. I moved into a building owned by my bosses frat brother at 86th and Bennet. I have lived all over the city and this is the most quiet area I have ever lived in and the safest. Don't have a car and regularly walk, at night, from Jeffrey, Stony and 87th Street when I get off the bus. Have never had any issue at all. The guy that posted certainly hasn't been through Avalon Park, it's not gritty. It is solidly middle-class, houses are rarely for sale and if you look around you will realize that there aren't burglar bars on many of the windows. Burglar bars signify a "gritty" area in Chicago, not the skin color of the majority of a neighborhoods residents. The comments offend this white guy who has eyes to see where he is at and to know that it's a gem of an area - where he hardly ever hears a siren at night.

wow i have read all of this and as a youngen i fell in love with the storys that people have writen on here. ive came to know stony island just as it is now with a lot of things changed. its nice reading wat was and knowing wat is. i cant wait to read later what is to come.

Love It!!

iwent to fun town every summer i lived at 9744 torrence ave attended susan b anthony from 1971 to 1976 then to luella school then to bowen high i left chicago 1982 and have never returned back to my beloved city i miss it all so much.so could anyone send me anypictures of my house and old schools i attened. what ever happened to skyway bowling alley on torrence ave . e-mail me at dariojohnson@msn.com

Can anyone direct me to a photo of the Mall Tool Company which was located at 79th and Stony Island Avenue? My father used to work there in the 1940's and 1950s and I would appreciate having a photo. Thanks

Irishking23@gmail.com

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on November 9, 2007 3:00 AM.

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