Castle Car Wash
The automobile age was just beginning in 1925 when the Castle Car Wash was built at 3801 W. Ogden Avenue on Chicago’s West Side.
Already a major highway into and out of Chicago, Ogden carried the designation of State Bond Issue routes 4 and 18. One year later, Ogden became US 66 and 32 as well, and by 1927, over 20 filling stations and countless other automobile-oriented businesses called Ogden home—a retail engine that pumped vitality into the surrounding North Lawndale community area.
The 1920s also saw the movement of Eastern European Jewish families from the tenements of the Maxwell Street ghetto to the spacious Victorian gray stone apartment buildings that dominate the North Lawndale landscape. The area grew from 46,000 people in 1910 to 112,000 in 1930, and over half were of Jewish decent. The population diversified in the 1940s and 1950s, as more affluent families moved to Rogers Park, Albany Park, and suburban communities. The "Great Migration" brought in African-Americans from southern states, attracted to North Lawndale by the availability of housing and jobs at nearby major industrial plants: Sears, International Harvester, Western Electric, Zenith, and Sunbeam. The period was remarkable for peaceful co-existence amongst the varied ethnic groups.
Economic decline in North Lawndale in the early 1960s came from many factors. Huge among them was the opening of the Eisenhower and Stevenson Expressways, which moved a significant portion of transient traffic off Ogden and forced the closing of most of the automobile service businesses in the corridor. The passage of time has removed almost all trace of this history—but the Castle Car Wash is one of a few survivors of this bygone era. The importance of this building to the understanding and interpretation of the history of US highway 66 through Chicago and the community of North Lawndale cannot be overstated.
Enhancing this value is the building’s unique architecture, utilizing rusticated concrete blocks to evoke a memorable experience with customers. Amongst all the competitors for car business along Ogden in its early years, the Castle surely stood out as one-of-a-kind. It is now nearly all that is left. Based on its intrinsic historic and architectural value, the building deserves acceptance onto the National Register of Historic Places.
Recently, the first steps towards the goal of preserving the Castle Car Wash began. In October 2004, representatives of groups with a common interest in the revitalization of the North Lawndale community area held a meeting at the offices of the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago; the usefulness of the Castle to overall planning was recognized. Many community leaders were present at the meeting, as well as Michael Taylor and Kaisa Barthuli of the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program, and Lynn Bagdon and I, of the Route 66 Association of Illinois.
In April 2005, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program conducted fieldwork in preparation for a nomination of the Castle Car Wash to the National Register of Historic Places. The current owners of the Castle were contacted to determine their plans for the property and their willingness to participate in the nomination. Future research is needed to document the timeline of former ownership of the property, to learn the names of prior business operators, and to assess the potential for contacting surviving family members of the people who owned or operated the Castle.
Any 66 News readers who may have any knowledge of the history of the Castle Car Wash, or who would be interested in participating in the research and planning of the preservation and historical documentation should contact:
843 W. Adams Street #312
Chicago, IL 60607
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