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Book offers glimpse into Evanstonís past
By Bob Seidenberg   - 04/10/2008

Pioneer Press Online

More Info on This Book: Evanston

Make no mistake about it: Evanston was in the midst of a building boom.

It was the 1920s, and buildings like the North Shore Hotel, The Homestead, The Georgian, Hotel Orrington and others were going up, replacing smaller structures and promising a new kind of glamorous living on Chicago's North Shore.

"We had our first skyscraper back then," said Mimi Peterson, author of Evanston, a new book in Arcadia Publishing's postcard series, in which she documents the boom period and more.

The Library Plaza Hotel, at 1637 Orrington Ave., designed by Victor C. Carlson, was intended to be Evanston's first high-rise: seven stories tall, with 71 three-room apartments. (The building looks regal in the circa 1926 postcard collected in the book.)

Studied their history

Peterson, 43, and a lifelong Evanston resident, collected some 200 postcards for her book, which spans a period from the 1880s through the 1940s. She devoted extensive hours researching the background of the photographs at the Evanston History Center.

In an era of frenzied e-mails and the rush to post blogs on the Internet, the postcards, accompanied by text from Peterson, takes a more measured look at Evanston's past, with its high-quality black- and-white images and occasional messages from correspondents.

The old city hall, past libraries, Fountain Square in all its changes and Woman's Christian Temperance Union leader Frances Willard -- all tell on their own about Evanston's public and sometimes complex image.

'The place to be'

"A friend of mine, not from Evanston, was looking through the book," Peterson recalled in an interview. "She said, "You know, Mimi, I really got the sense Evanston was really the place to be.'

"In other words," added Peterson, "she could really see by looking at the old buildings and looking through the book that Evanston was really the place to be."

Peterson collected almost 200 postcards in her book, published as part of the Arcadia's postcard history series.

As a collection, the images and Peterson's accompanying text remind one of what is lost. But it also offers inklings of where Evanston, now at the end of a second boom, may be going.

"I have to say one of the things I love about history is by looking at the past you are able to move forward," said Peterson, a community activist who led the movement several years ago, and again recently, to save Evanston's elm trees from Dutch elm disease.

Peterson grew up in one of the city's oldest houses built by William Foster in 1843, originally on "the Ridge," and later moved to 1016 Colfax St.
Childhood memories

She remembers as a child the "squawking" buses -- tour buses carrying people talking about the history of her house.

As an avid collector of postcards, she got the idea for her book while on vacation and coming across another book in the Arcadia series, Chicago Skyscrapers in Vintage Postcards.

Indeed her book shows the early scenes of the lakefront, Northwestern University buildings, churches, schools, the old Valencia movie house (demolished when the Rotary International Building was erected), The Georgian. The latter's address was listed as Hinman Avenue and Davis Street, denoting its luxury status.

On one card, simply titled, a "Ridge Avenue scene," Peterson notes "the utter absence of traffic and the noticeable peace and tranquility."

Evanston ($19.99) is available at local retailers, online bookstores, or through Arcadia Publishing's Web site, arcadiapublishing.com. Peterson is also scheduled to sign copies of the book from 7-9 p.m. April 16 at Antique Maps & Prints, 1937 Central St., Evanston, and 7-9 p.m. April 24 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1630 Sherman Ave., Evanston.

Buy It Now: Evanston $21.99

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