Friday, June 20, 2008

Don't Know Much About History -- Burbank History, That Is

The wisdom teeth extractions -- I had all of mine pulled last week -- didn't go as smoothly as planned. Thank God for Vicodin! One thing I learned: It's damned near impossible to knock me out. The doctor gave me a sleeping pill to put me under. An hour and a half later, I was still reading the book I'd brought along. "Do you want us to top that off with a little gas?" he asked. "Sure!" I said (I'm never one to turn down legal drugs), and so I sat there for the next half hour with the mask over my mouth and nose, looking like a pilot on one of the Apollo missions. Nothing. They probably should have begun shooting at me with a tranquilizer gun or blowing poison darts at my neck, but they finally just gave up and pulled the teeth.

Enough about my teeth. Here are few fun facts about Burbank from The Encyclopedia of Chicago.

Did you know...

One of the earliest roads to run through the area was the diagonal State Road...By 1871, State Road attracted the attention of a Pittsburgh investor who laid out a subdivision along this route that apparently never materialized. Instead, German and Dutch truck farmers settled in the area.

1871 was the year of the Chicago fire, by the way.

Anyway, Burbank's history is apparently full of such false starts. A dude named A.B. Stickney -- name ring a bell? -- made plans for Burbank (before it was Burbank) to become a transfer station for the freight railroad, but the depression of 1893 nixed those plans.

In the 1920s, developers bought up a lot of the land with the hope of capitalizing on the subdivision boom, but "the ongoing drainage problems, poor roads, and inadequate water and sewer systems, as well as the Great Depression, dampened enthusiasm of many would-be buyers."

So, what changed Burbank's luck? The creation of the South Stickney Sanitary District in 1952, back when Burbank was known as South Stickney or Burbank Manor. Population tripled, "reaching an estimated 20,720 in 1960."

To avoid annexation by Chicago, Burbank became incorporated in 1970, taking the name from the already-existing Luther Burbank Elementary School. (Luther Burbank was a famous horticulturist, and, yes, he's responsible for the Russet Burbank potato that we all know and love, but...what's his connection to Chicago's southwest side again? Hmmm... Must investigate this futher.)

Oh yeah, one last tidbit: Burbank's population peaked in 1976 at 29,448.

Class dismissed.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

John McNally's Burbank Book Club

I'm cheating with today's post because I'm going to the dentist in a few hours to have all my wisdom teeth pulled. And I know you're all jealous! Why does HE get to have all his wisdom teeth pulled today? What about ME?

Okay, the first book recommendation -- Who Can Save Us Now? -- is a plug for a new book I coedited with the writer Owen King. It's an anthology of twenty-two short stories featuring brand-new supeheroes. But...WHOA...WAIT A MINUTE. Check it out. My story in the book is about a superhero who lives in Burbank. Duke's even makes an appearance in the story. Stevenson Park is in there, too. How can you pass up reading about a Burbank superhero? I mean, really.

The book should be hitting the bookstores by the end of the month, but you can pre-order one now by clicking on the title below.

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories

This next book -- The Golden Age of Chicago's Television -- is one of my favorite books on Chicago pop culture of my era. Inside, you'll get the skinny on Bozo, Ray Rayner, Frazier Thomas, and any other Chicago child's icon from the '50s, '60s, and '70s. It's a fun, fun book with great photos.

The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television.

This next one -- Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows -- is a good companion book to the one above, but its appeal may be more limited. What I appreciated were the lists of horror movies that were sold as "packages" to WGN and other stations, along with the histories of individual shows, like Creature Features. Still, it's hard to beat The Golden Age of Chicago Children's Television with Bozo, Garfield Goose, and Dirty Dragon as subjects for a book. This one, on the other hand, is definitely more for the hardcore collector of Chicago childhood nostalgia.

Chicago TV Horror Movie Shows

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Where We Shopped: Scottsdale

Scottsdale: 79th and Cicero (southeast corner)

If you do a GOOGLE photo search of "scottsdale shopping chicago," you'll see all kinds of beautiful stucco shopping centers with tall, majestic palm trees out front; and if you're like me -- often sleepy; frequently confused -- you'll start wondering, "Did I really live in such a place? Was Burbank even more beautiful than I remember? Was the southwest side actually Xanadu, and I just didn't realize it?" And then you see the word "Arizona" attached to one of the photos, and you realize that, no, where you grew up was full of mostly ugly strip malls, and the sky was often overcast.

Let's face it: the glory days of Scottsdale are over. In fact, I'm not sure I was ever alive during its glory days, but it was certainly more of a staple for shopping when I was a kid, and it certainly had more character than today's strip malls, what with its big-ass sign (not the one pictured above) and its asymetrical design. I realize I'm pushing my case a little too hard here, but I'll go so far as to say that Scottsdale Plaza was ahead of its time. If you go to L.A. today, all you hear about is the trend of the "open air" shopping center, which is usually a couple of blocks of stores, where walking outside, usually amongst some professional landscaping, is a huge plus. Now, Scottsdale didn't have the greenery, per se, but it did have the potential for it. And, as I said, it was structured interestingly.

The anchor store was GOLDBLATT'S.

Here's what I remember best about Goldblatt's: the pet store. If I remember correctly, it was just inside the entrance and off to the left. Just before my fourth birthday, I talked my mother into buying me a baby turtle.

A few days later, our trailer (we lived in Guidish Park) burned completely down in the middle of the night. (We made it out safely.) My father threw a few things out the front door before the fire engulfed the entire trailer: our finch (in its cage, of course -- it was probably brain-damaged afterward); a Code-a-Phone answering machine (a high-dollar item back then), and a few other strangely disparate odds and ends. It wasn't until a few days later that I remembered the turtle. When I asked my mother where it was, she had to break the news: the turtle, whose name I no longer recall, didn't make it out alive. So there you go: my indelible Goldblatt's memory for you. (Hold on a second: I need to blow my nose and dab my eyes.)

But hey: Do you remember the photo store? I believe that, too, was a Goldblatt's enterprise, but it was in a building by itself. I loved going in there and looking at the Super-8 projectors and seeing what movies they had for sale. (For the younger readers, here's a "I-walked-fifty-miles-in-my-bare-feet-to-school-every-morning" story for you. Probably about a year after Star Wars came out, a Super 8 movie of Star Wars was released. This was a BIG DEAL for anyone withe a Super 8 projector. I'm assuming Star Wars ran about two hours, give or take several minutes, at the theater. Well, a Super 8 movie ran, on average, 8 minutes. With sound (that is, if you wanted sound), it would cost probably twenty-five bucks. If you were wealthy, you might be able to spring for the twenty minute version, which cost probably in the neighborhood of forty or fifty bucks. To own even the eight-minute version of the movie back then would be the equivalent today of, I don't know, owning a Hummer and a Rolex.)

For the life of me, I can't remember any other store in Scottsdale. Help me. There was a furniture store down the way, right? But what else was actually in Scottsdale?

All right, folks: time to chime in with your own Scottdale memories. And if anyone has any old photos of Scottsdale, please (please) send them to me at for posting.

Ah, but to imagine what Scottsdale could have been with a little imagination...

(Photo of Scottsdale sign, courtesy of Renee Greco)