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Before The Megamall, Milwaukee Avenue Was A Thriving Auto District

By Mina Bloom | January 3, 2017 7:39am
 (from left) The northern buildings on the Megamall site were once home to auto shops. Inside the Charles Lange Brothers Buick Dealership, formerly located at about 2627 N. Milwaukee Ave., which was considered the
(from left) The northern buildings on the Megamall site were once home to auto shops. Inside the Charles Lange Brothers Buick Dealership, formerly located at about 2627 N. Milwaukee Ave., which was considered the "jewel of the Logan Square auto market." Inside the southern buildings on the Megamall site in the mid-1950s.
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Courtesy/Logan Square Preservation

LOGAN SQUARE —  The Megamall, one of Logan Square's defining structures, will soon be gone, which means the site (and arguably, the neighborhood) will soon look drastically different.

Crews started tearing down the mall, 2500 N. Milwaukee Ave., last week to make way for a massive mixed-use development with 240 apartments, a Jewel-Osco, an XSport Fitness and more.

To understand how different Milwaukee Avenue will be with the loss of a fixture that's anchored the street for 20 years, preservationists are reflecting back on the block's past life cycles and the onetime Logan landmarks that came before it.

According to local historians, the stretch of Milwaukee Avenue that includes the Megamall used to be home to one of the city's largest auto districts from the 1920s until the 1960s, when the city tore up the street to extend the Blue Line.

During that time, Milwaukee was lined with a variety of auto repair shops, dealerships and ornate showrooms like Willy's Knight, which occupied the Megamall's southernmost building. Grand movie theaters like The Harding, The Logan Square and The Paramount (now The Logan Theater) were interspersed throughout the stretch.

"These businesses all went hand in hand," said Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago. "You came out to these fantastic old movie palaces, then you went to the beautiful car show rooms with the car of the moment in the window in beautifully crafted buildings."

One reason the district was booming was because the Blue Line ended at the Logan Square stop, which meant every five to 10 minutes people would empty out of the station in droves to either see a movie, shop or dine in the area.

"Logan Square proper was really an amazing destination at that time," Miller said.

That changed dramatically when the city decided to extend the Blue Line to Jefferson Park in the 1960s. The auto businesses suffered tremendously when crews tore up Milwaukee Avenue to build an underground tunnel. Once the extension was complete, Logan Square was no longer a destination for travelers.

"That was the final death knell," Miller said.

In the years that followed, the owner of a building materials company bought many of the separate auto business buildings along the 2500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue and combined them all to open Logan Square Hardware, according to Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation. It's unclear when the hardware store closed.

In 1995, the Megamall took over the massive structure. Inside the indoor flea market, more than 100 small vendors sold everything from cell phones and gym shoes to all manner of tchotchkes.

The Megamall lasted more than 20 years, despite being slapped with more than 100 building code violations, a yearlong shutdown, a move by the city to seize it via eminent domain and a 2007 fire that reduced the showroom space to less than a third of its original size.

Major players at the 166,000-square-foot retail hub called it a vital “small-business incubator” and a “modern eyesore” in the same breath.

“There was a time when it was ... a big bazaar. A lot of people hated it, and a lot of people swore by it," said Ald. Rey Colon (35th), who used to represent the area around the Megamall before his ward boundaries changed.

By the time the Megamall moved in, the structure had already lost much of its historical charm. Though some of the terra cotta and other architectural details remained, most of the structure's original features had slowly changed in appearance over time as the auto businesses closed, according to the preservationists.

Now, the only piece of terra cotta up for reuse is one of the 16-foot archways with eagles perched on top. The rest is headed to a salvage yard.

"The Megamall had been significantly altered," Miller said. "But once upon a time, the car showrooms had big windows that were lit up at night and they glowed. It was a spectacular section of Milwaukee." 

Check out historic photos below:


The northern buildings on the Megamall site used to be an auto show room. [Logan Square Preservation/Frank Sean


The Megamall site when it was occupied by a building materials company. [All photos unless otherwise noted Courtesy/Logan Square Preservation]


The Megamall site used to be home to Nash Used Cars. Photo taken in 1933.


The Charles Lange Brothers Buick Dealership, formerly located at 2627 N. Milwaukee Ave., was torn down to make way for the new L station in 1969. Logan Square Preservation described it as the "jewel of the Logan Square auto market."


The Packard dealership, 2511 N. Milwaukee Ave., in 1920.


Inside the southern building on the Megamall site in the mid-1950s.

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