House Survived Transformation of Graceland Avenue from Sleepy Street to Condo Country

Lee Street and Graceland Avenue became one-way thoroughfares in 1962, setting of a firestorm of controversy.

When this photograph was taken, looking south on Graceland Avenue from Marion Street, near First Congregational Church, more than 100 years ago, Graceland Avenue was a very different place. It was part of the Silk Stockings Lee and Parsons subdivision, on Graceland, Lee, and Center streets, all lined with large and elaborate houses, many owned by community leaders.

When Lee Street and Graceland Avenue were changed to one-way streets in 1962, it changed their character too.

In the decades since, virtually all the houses in the Silk Stocking neighborhood gave way to redevelopments. In the image of how it looks today, the rows of trees have disappeared, replaced by cars. The house in the foreground of the images is one of the few still standing.

Earlier: Des Plaines motels followed expressway development.

Series of changes led to Silk Stockings’ new character

By the 1950’s, increased development changed the area. Lee Street, a state highway joined with Mannheim Road, began to be developed for a host of new businesses including banks, supermarkets, and other retail stores.

After the Kennedy Expressway, known at the time as Northwest Expressway, opened in 1960, Lee Street's shift accelerated and Graceland began its transition soon after. While Lee Street was long busy, it would become much busier as a feeder to the Lee Street expressway interchange. The city decided to address the increasing congestion by splitting the traffic between Graceland and Lee, making both one-way streets.

In 1962, after years of controversy and heavy opposition from the business community, Lee Street and Graceland Avenue went one-way on a temporary basis, and have remained so since.

In a reminder that postcards were in many ways the text messages of their day, the message on the reverse of the postcard, dated Aug. 7, 1911, reads simply, "Hello Bert, How is farming. Who ever thought I would get away out Here. From your friend Wm I Shaffer."

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