O'HARE — Sixty years ago, Chicago lawmakers tried to figure out how to connect the city to what would become O'Hare International Airport.
Others believe it's Higgins Road. Both groups are wrong, mostly.
The actual "corridor" between the city and O'Hare, dedicated in 1963, is a 185-foot-wide strip along Foster Avenue to the west of River Road.
Foster, which has a few businesses — including a Mexican restaurant — stops at the Tri-State Tollway and then starts again to the west toward O'Hare. Foster is flanked by suburban Schiller Park businesses and homes to the immediate south and by booming suburban Rosemont to the north.
The sliver of Chicago connecting O'Hare Airport to the rest of the city. [DNAinfo/Tanveer Ali]
"I bet it's a very small amount of people who are aware of that" Chicago connection, said Peter Alter, historian and director for the Chicago History Museum's Studs Terkel Center for Oral History.
The City Council in 1956 introduced an ordinance to make Higgins Road, which cut through suburban Park Ridge, the "corridor" to O'Hare, according to a 1959 Tribune article and WBEZ.
The Higgins connection lasted until 1959, when Mayor Richard J. Daley thought the annexation might be challenged in the Illinois Supreme Court. A year earlier, the court had ruled that a similar "corridor" annexation by the village of Streamwood was invalid.
So in 1959, Daley cut a deal with Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens to annex and extend Foster Avenue from the forest preserve property west to O'Hare.
"This was such an era when there was so much building and rebuilding of everything," Alter said. Foster Avenue "is a much smaller story in this huge urban redevelopment in Chicago — and in cities across the United States — after World War II."
In exchange for the land, Rosemont received a 45-inch water main that pumped water from Lake Michigan into the suburb, according to longtime Rosemont spokesman Gary Mack.
The deal enabled Rosemont to become one of the "very few" communities distant from Chicago to still have exclusive access to Lake Michigan water, Mack said, and allowed it to "become an economic powerhouse in the state of Illinois."
The same water main continues to O'Hare, according to Stephens' son, Bradley, the current Rosemont mayor.
"It's really one of the linchpin success stories to Rosemont," Mack said. "It's hard to believe a water pipe could be that critical and vital to creating a multibillion dollar economy in a town of only 4,000 people."
Rosemont paid "wholesale rates" for the water, Bradley Stephens said. He added "the rates are probably the lowest in the area because we have a direct feed from Lake Michigan."
Foster west of River Road has a few recognizable city street lights, a couple small businesses — including the 303 Taxi company — and Maria's Mexican restaurant. There are a few additional businesses technically in Chicago as Foster continues west past 294. The City of Chicago is in charge of snowplowing and other city services for those businesses, Bradley Stephens said.
"If they call for our police, we're going to respond, but it's technically all of Chicago's jurisdiction," Bradley Stephens said.
Maria's has been on Foster for 23 years, according to manager Carol Rodriguez. Perhaps not surprisingly, she said the restaurant's Chicago address and location has never been brought up in conversation.
"We've seen a lot of changes in this area," Rodriguez said, noting Rosemont's new theaters, hotels and entertainment district that are steps from Maria's. "Everything has been for the best."
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