Bygone Chicago – My Story

In early 2000, I began a jogging habit. I had just quit a three pack-a-day smoking habit and needed something to do with myself. In that same year I ran a marathon and after doing a number of marathons, I became weary of the competitive aspect of races and desired to run, just for the sake of running. So, I became interested in longer distance races and ran a bunch of fifty milers and many 50k distances. Training for these things takes hours of time. My training runs are routinely 2-5 hours and are taken at a relaxed pace. I began carrying a compact camera in 2008 because I wanted to document what I saw. Many runs took me from one end of the city to the other, and often all the way to Indiana.
I love these shoes!

In the first half of 2009 I bought a domain, to wrap my flickr images. I thought long and hard about what to name the site. The title “Bygone Chicago” seemed to be a good fit for me as I always tend to point my camera at old things. Architecture, signage, rusty things and storefronts that have remained unchanged for decades. This fan page began as the means to promote my blog at, but I believe that it has evolved into much more. With our historic date posts and the JK video features, we hope to become the page you return to again and again to discuss your memories of Chicago with other Chicagoans.

Thanks for your interest!
Jay Hagstrom
Photograph copyright 2012 Sean Gallagher

The Wisdom of Margie

JK from Bygone Chicago talks to Peter Poulos of Margie’s Candies during the high production days before Valentine’s Day in 2012. In this segment Peter speaks about the things that his mother Margie taught him about the candy business, and about life in general.

“Appreciate your help, they’re the best, they’re helping you make your business. Never give up on anything. If you fail, you have the experience of failure so you know how to get up, the ball bounces back up. So you never give up, you try and try again.”

With that, it should be mentioned that a fairly long interview was conducted at a previous time, and due to cameraman error there was absolutely no audio (I forgot to replace the battery in the microphone). Mr. Poulos was very gracious and spent even more time with us the next time we came in.
Margie's Display Case

Celebrities & Margie’s

Peter Poulos tells JK about some of the celebrities that have been in the store, and what they had. Add to that list both the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, who have visited requesting to sit in the “Beatles’ Booth”.
The Beatles' Booth at Margie's
On August 20, 1965 the Beatles visited Margie’s and sat in this very booth. It was here, on this very spot that the Fab Four and their dates, (5 girls) consumed some Atomic Busters Sundaes. It has been said that of all the Beatles, Margie had the highest opinion of John. “He was the only one who talked to me”… Such a polite lad!

Pillar of Fire

Join JK as he takes a closer look at Egon Weiner‘s “Pillar of Fire”, a tall bronze sculpture that stands in front of the Chicago Fire Academy. This is also the site of O’Leary’s barn. If you know your Chicago history, you’ll also know that this is ground zero for The Great Chicago Fire of 1871… and of course the question on everyone’s mind, did the cow do it?

The Chicago Fire Academy

Getty Mausoleum

This highly significant work of Louis Sullivan stands in Graceland Cemetery in the Uptown neighborhood. It is said to be an the early example of the Chicago School of architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright described it as “a piece of sculpture, a statue, a great poem.” Perfectly illustrates the architectural concept of “cubic massing”.

The Chess Pavilion

Join JK as he takes a closer look at Chicago architect Maurice Webster’s chess pavilion. The stone sculpture work of Boris Gilbertson is also on display in this short video about Laurens Hammond’s gift to Chicago.
Maurice Webster's Chess Pavilion

Frank’s Fast Food

This is a fast food restaurant that has been closed for a long time.


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This location doesn’t get much traffic since the closure of the steel mills.


Featured Walks

I am still hard at work compiling material for this section. I promise I’ll have some interesting walking (and possibly jogging) tours for you shortly!


I realize that hotdogs and blogging go hand-in-hand, but I don’t mind being cliche. One of my favorite spots to get food is at and Portillo’s. I grew up in Elmhurst, near the original location. I think I can vaguely recall the house-shaped trailer. You can take the boy out of the west suburbs, but you can’t the west suburbs out of the boy.

Among the facts that I didn’t know until I read the Portillo’s Widipedia entry was this: until the early 90’s, there was a franchise in Tokyo that licensed the Portillo’s name. Can you imagine eating a Portillo’s hotdog in Tokyo? There are also locations in Moreno Valley and Buena Park, California. The folks in Merrillville, Indiana also have a location of their own. Good to know when you’re on the road.

The Footprint of US Steel


This vacant lot on the 8600 block of South Burley Avenue is the former location of the US Steel Chicago Works. This area of town has historically been referred to as “The Bush“, and as this land reverts back to prarie it’s easy to imagine how it got such name. Below you see the Google satellite view of the southwest corner of the property, currently home to the park district bike velodrome:

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Deceased Trees

Not sure why I began photographing dead trees, but thought I would share them nonetheless. Something rather Pythonesque and human about them, like the Knights who say Ni!








Jays Factory

I’ve always been loyal to Jays chips, not just because my name is Jay, but also for the same reason most Chicagoans are loyal to anything (including sports teams)… Jays is an example of an honest, unpretentious, great regional brand. Following an acquisition by Snyders of Hanover, Jays Foods closed the doors on its Chicago manufacturing plant in December of 2007. I know, this was awhile ago… I decided to include this feature after seeing this:
Auction – processing equipment – Jays Foods

Many people were caught unaware of the plant closing, partially because of Jay’s steadily shrinking market share since the early 1990’s. It just couldn’t compete with prevalence of the Lay’s products, and that company’s efforts to gain product placement dominance in big store chains. Also, many chain stores have begun selling other private label brands under their own name. Panera Bread recently pulled all Jays products from it’s store chain to begin selling chips in their own packaging, another devastating blow. Someone needs to give Jays some props, so I decided to do some investigation, to see what I could learn about Jays Potato Chips, it’s founder and this brand’s history in Chicago:

Leonard Japp was the son of a Minnesota railroad worker. In 1921, after graduating from high school, Japp jumped on a moving milk train to Chicago. Once in town, he worked as a lifeguard at the ever-popular Oak Street beach. One of his lifeguard colleagues was a young Johnny Weismuller, who would gain fame as an Olympic gold medalist swimmer, and also as film actor, portraying Tarzan on the big screen. But that wasn’t Japp’s only brush with show business fame. As a boxer, he would occasionally spar with another aspiring boxer named Leslie Townes Hope… Hope went on to stardom after changing his first name to Bob.

In 1927, Leonard partnered with a friend to start a concession business called Japp & Gavora. The basis for the entire business was one truck, from which sandwiches, pretzels and cigarettes were sold. Japp had observed the speakeasy culture in Chicago, and determined that there was an opportunity to sell snacks, since many of the bars didn’t carry any food products. As the business grew, so did the manufacturing operations. A fleet of trucks was purchased, as were frying vats, but the success was short-lived. With the Great Depression came great loss, and the assets of Japps & Gavora were forever lost when their bank went into liquidation.

In 1940, Japp went on to found a newer company called Special Foods, which was launched with the help of some winnings from a lucky bet at a racetrack. The company opened a plant on 40th Street to manufacture it’s own potato chips. Up until this point, the company had packaged and redistributed chips from another chip company, Mrs. Fletchers. Things were in full swing by 1941, when another factor began to adversely affect sales.

Anger over the attack on Pearl Harbor had created a new pejorative meaning for the Japp name, and people were avoiding the purchase of the Japp’s brand. Leonard contemplated changing the company name to “Jax”, but could not when it was discovered that there was already a beer manufacturer by that name. Finally the name “Jays” was settled upon. You may have noticed that the company name has no apostrophe, that is because there has never been a person at the company named Jay. The product dress we know and love today became complete when Jays added the “can’t stop eating ’em!” slogan, in response to Frito-Lay’s “bet you can’t eat just one”.
Jays Original
Borden Foods bought Jays in 1986, but kept most of the operations the same. It was not a successful acquisition however, and within four years Borden decided to divest. It was at Leonard’s 90th birthday party (in 1994) that someone in the Japp family (it’s unsure who) masterminded the idea to repurchase the Jays name and go back into independent production. Jays was still the most successful chip in the Chicago area, but there were indications that concerns about trans fats and health were adversely affecting the sales of all potato chips brands. Corporate restructuring and newer marketing approaches helped sales for the ailing brand, as did development of the popular Krunchers name, but the national dominance of the Frito-Lay brands made this sales increase short-lived.

Sadly, in 1999 there were the untimely deaths of Leonard’s son, Leonard Jr., and his grandson, Leonard III. Shortly thereafter, Leonard himself died, changing the dynamic of the company forever. His son Steven took over management of the company, but declines in sales and ultimately bankruptcy led to it’s sale to a private equity firm in 2004. Ubiquity Foods was founded, which saw Jays Foods paired up with another snack food company, Lincoln Foods, the makers of Fiddle-Faddle. Despite the launch of “Sweet Baby Jays”, the first new product offering from Jays in years, the steady decline in sales continued, leading to the acquisition by Snyder’s. At least the Jays product will carry on, but this is just another in a string of depressing evacuations from Chicago’s snack food and candy corridor.

Apparently, we can stop eating them.

Buried in a Scrapyard

Andreas Von Zirngibl was a German fisherman, and veteran of the Battle of Waterloo. He purchased a 44-acre plot of land, beside the mouth of the Calumet River for $160. It was here that he lived the final years of his life
Fishing for sturgeon, herring, perch and Northern pike, he was reported to have caught some fish weighing in at over 100-pounds. Although it was a great pleasure for this fisherman, it was no easy task, for the Battle of Waterloo had left him with only one arm.
In 1855 he caught a fever, and died shortly thereafter. One of his final requests to his four sons, was to be buried upon this land. Years later, it is now a functioning scrapyard. In the past there was a legal battle between Von Zirngibl’s family and the scrapyard, over the grave site’s need to remain. After a protracted 41-year legal battle, the family finally won, and the grave remains to this day. It was restored in recent years, and it now looks quite nice. But I think it would be nicer if there were some flowers.

Still a scrapyard, and still the final resting place of Von Zirngibl:
Veteran of the Battle of Waterloo:
now behind a high steel fence, in middle a metal scrapyard:
where CTA buses and Jay’s Potato Chip trucks go to die:

Images 2, 3 and 4:
Courtesy of Southeast Chicago Historical Society
do not use without permission
Images 1,5 and 6:
by Jay Hagstrom

Special thanks to Rod Sellers!

Water Towers

Once part of a local ordinance, water towers are a vanishing species. To disassemble and remove them is quite expensive, but so is having them frequently repainted after they’re tagged with graffiti. Most of the steel frames have been repurposed as microwave towers:











Kinzie Street

Oh Kinzie, street of never-ending construction;
You Charles Scheeler fantasy, come to life!
You are my favorite secret passageway into Chicago’s downtown…