Growing up in Roseland, I spent more than a few moments in grade school gazing out the window at the rear of Bass Furniture, across the alley. It’s gratifying to know that the store is now owned and operated by the Davis family, true humanitarians.
Grant Pick’s excellent story [“Stayin’ Alive,” November 17] brought back lots of memories, but also begged some observations and clarifications.
1. James H. Gately (not John) was not only the owner of Gately’s Peoples Store but a longtime Chicago Park District commissioner, much admired in the community, who lent his name to Gately Park, 103rd and Cottage Grove. It is true that rampant thieving drove him from business in Roseland.
2. While I loved to watch cartoons on Saturdays at the Roseland Theatre, it was not the community’s first-run movie house. That distinction belonged to the now-razed State Theater, 110th and Michigan, but was not mentioned. The long-gone Parkway was also a second-run theater.
3. Given the Daley administration’s tough attitude toward the proliferation of bars and liquor stores, how does one explain the existence of “more than two dozen” on Roseland’s main shopping street?
4. The reason why “hundreds of people defaulted” on their federally insured mortgages, creating abandoned buildings throughout the community, is not explained. If they hadn’t been “redlined,” wouldn’t these same buyers have defaulted on conventional mortgages?
5. Steel mills and other employers did, in fact, begin closing in the 1970s, but why did Roseland in particular experience an epidemic of crime and other social ills? Nearby communities, such as Hegewisch, were even harder hit by the closings but did not undergo such a downward spiral.
6. As white businesses have left Roseland, no one has “redlined” black businesses from replacing them. The story mentioned that rents are dirt cheap. However, with the internal and external thefts and other problems cited, it’s little wonder any business would want to locate there. Former alderman Shaw’s remarks about businesses leaving ring a bit hollow, considering that he himself left the community and the city the day after he lost the aldermanic election.
God bless Eddie Davis and his family. I hope they can stick it out. Mr. Pick has related an inspirational story, but the full account of Roseland’s transformation from “the third best shopping area in the city” to its present condition remains to be told.
John F. Hogan
W. Stratford Pl.
Grant Pick replies:
I thank Mr. Hogan for his kind remarks. James Gately started out as a Carson Pirie Scott stockboy and founded Gately’s in Roseland in 1917. He was president of the Chicago Park District for 21 years, backing construction of McCormick Place and the development of Meigs Field. During his tenure, from 1946 to 1967, the number of city parks grew from 135 to more than 400. He died in 1972, at age 89. It was his son John who presided over the closing of the Roseland store nine years later.
The 1,000-seat Roseland Theatre was once a first-run house, according to Gilbert Levy, the son-in-law of Bass Furniture founder Morrie Bass. In my article I write that the community once sustained two other theaters, though I mention neither by name.
Mr. Hogan’s more general comments are interesting. Unfortunately, I couldn’t deal with all the nuances of a fading Roseland in an article that focused principally on Bass Furniture.