Date: 2/14/97
Contact: Professor Steve Balkin
Phone: 1-312-341-3696
Re: Maxwell Street Historic District Proposed

The ruins of old Maxwell Street remain . . . .

A proposal has been made for reusing the last remaining block and a half of Maxwell Street as a Historic and Entertainment District to commemorate an important piece of Chicago's history.

Without implementing such a plan, the area will be bulldozed by the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) within a short time. The legacy of Maxwell Street does not belong to the University of Illinois. It is a public good for all of Chicago and for all the world.

Maxwell Street is a landmark as the immigrant entry neighborhood for many of the ancestors of Americans and as Chicago's official public market. It has been called the Ellis Island of the Midwest and it functioned as the poor person's State Street. In one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., Maxwell Street was a neutral meeting ground where race and ethnicity were not barriers. What you wanted to buy and how much it was for sale were important. Out of this multicultural diversity great achievements took place in business, sports, politics, and music. It is its musical achievements, most of all, that the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition wants to build upon.

Maxwell Street was the home of Benny Goodman -- the King of Swing -- and Hal Fox a musician and the inventor of the Zoot Suit. In the postwar era both Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley played there as well as many other early interpreters of Blues. It was at Maxwell Street that electrified Blues got created when musicians, migrating to Chicago from Mississippi, turned to the use of the newly available electric guitar so they could be heard playing outside in the street. This was the precursor to rock and roll. Bo Diddley, as a kid, learned to play Blues on Maxwell Street and became one the our country's earliest rock stars. Others followed on this tradition. The British rock group Rolling Stones takes its name from a Muddy Waters record in 1950 called Rollin' Stone. Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, and Buddy Guy were also strongly influenced by Muddy Waters.

The Maxwell Street Historic District is to consist of three museums focusing on Jewish and European immigrant history, African-American History which includes the beginnings of Blues and Rock, and Mexican-American immigrant history. In addition, a music school, shops, entertainment places, and restaurants are also planned. All businesses are to be locally owned -- no franchises or conglomerates need apply. The model and inspiration for this reuse is Beale Street in Memphis. Beale Street was Memphis's Maxwell Street. W.C. Handy, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley had roots from Beale Street. The Beale Street Historic and Entertainment District is now Memphis's biggest tourist attraction being a greater draw than even Graceland and is responsible for revitalizing its downtown.

Help for designing such a district has been offered by the City of Memphis Historic Preservation Office, Perfoma Realty -- the developers for Beale Street, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, and the Chicago Workshop on Economic Development.

Nonetheless, UIC still intends to destroy this landmark. Support to stop this destruction pours in from all over the world and can be seen on the web page of the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition:

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