For many new Chicagoans, the Six Corners is an intersection in Wicker Park where young transplants go out on the weekends. But for the more established residents of the Windy City, the Six Corners is in Portage Park (above). Both of these are intersections with Milwaukee Avenue along with a north-south street and an east-west street. At that point though, couldn't one could argue that with so many diagonal streets, like Elston, Archer Avenue, and Milwaukee Avenue, that Chicago has lots of "six corners"?
Apparently the term "Six Corners" does initially come from Portage Park on Chicago's northwest side. This would be the intersection of Irving Park, Cicero and Milwaukee, the heart of a neighborhood that began in 1841 with an inn and tavern, soon after called Dickinson's Inn. Chester Dickinson was the owner, and he later became the town's first supervisor. The Dickinson Inn had some legendary history that range from rumors of Abraham Lincoln staying there to stories of drunken town planning. Sadly in 1929 the Dickinson Inn, then Chicago's oldest brick building, was torn down to make way for a commercial block.
After annexation to the city of Chicago in 1889, the area continued in its long history of retail development, especially with the Irving Park and Milwaukee Avenue street railway lines. Businesses included Brenner's grocery, Bauer's bakery, Fabish's restaurant and D.D. Mee's general store.
By 1914, the increase in transportation to the area had helped to create a booming retail center. The Portage Theater (above), still around today, was built in the 1920s as the first commercial movie palace in Chicago built specifically for movies, and not for vaudeville. The Art Deco Sears, Roebuck & Co. was built in 1938 and became an anchor for the area. Taking a cue from retail giants like Marshall Field, whose history we share on the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour with Chicago Detours, the store claimed the largest store windows in the Midwest. Opening day brought than 99,500 customers. The Six Corners by that point were thoroughly built up.
Recently, however Wicker Park has eclipsed Portage Park as the most visited commercial district in Chicago outside of downtown. Meanwhile, commercial activity in the Portage Park Six Corners had gone downhill over the decades, but is rebounding, perhaps with the historic Portage Park Theater recent reopening.
You will find two historic similarities between these two areas, with each anchored by a grand historic bank building. Each neighborhood also has an old terracotta-faced People's Gas Light & Coke Co. building, too. But to many people, especially those who live in Portage Park, there is truly only one "Six Corners."
Photos by Adam Alexander