Remembering the vanished elements of Chicago

I learned about Vanished Chicagoland after I posted a piece of nostalgia on Instagram in summer 2020.

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An old Magikist sign is part of Chicago history.

An old Magikist sign is part of Chicago history.

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When I was a little girl, one of my favorite places to go for a classmate’s birthday party was the Purple Cow on Western Avenue in the Beverly neighborhood.

It was one of those places that felt cool as a kid in the 1980s, with enough purple decor to make Prince green with envy. What I remember most about the parlor is slurping ice cream. Earlier this year, an Instagram account titled Vanished Chicagoland — dedicated to local buildings and businesses of yore — posted an old purple-and-white menu from the Purple Cow. I smiled as I scrolled through the various ice cream items.

I learned about Vanished Chicagoland after I posted a piece of nostalgia on IG in summer 2020. While cleaning out my late aunt’s home in the Washington Heights neighborhood, I found an old-school Jewel shopping bag and a Marshall Field’s box with pink pajamas that still had tags. The bag and the box were decades old.

I posted a photo of them on IG and someone tagged the Vanished account, run by a man named Pete Kastanes. He digs up relics such as Creature Features ads from WGN and logos from White Hen Pantry.

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Many places I’m not familiar with, but I still find endearing history lessons in images: Pickle Barrel Restaurant on North Wells Street, Scottsdale Bowling Lanes on Cicero Avenue, the Archer Express bus zipping past Sears downtown in 1969 or the Edens Theater in Northbrook. One that I’m very familiar with is the red lips of the Magikist sign — I lived by one off of the Dan Ryan Expressway.

Kastanes started Vanished Chicagoland 10 years ago as a Facebook post after seeing a tribute page called Dispensa’s Castle of Toys located in Oakbrook Terrace. “I asked myself, why don’t I do a Facebook page that showcases all businesses in Chicago that have disappeared?”

At first he named the page Chicago’s Extinct Businesses, and a few years later he changed the name to Vanished Chicagoland. “I want to share my memories with everyone on social media that in the past, we had beautiful places that meant a lot to us and made us feel good and smile,” said Kastanes who grew up in South Shore, Roseland and Ashburn. He lives in suburban Oak Lawn.

Every day, he said he posts a newspaper ad or a photo on his Facebook page that is different and obscure. His research handiwork goes on his Twitter, IG, Reddit and TikTok accounts. Last year, he started a podcast by the same name.

“I am having a blast doing these things,” Kastanes said.

Vanished Chicagoland forces me to ask what counts as vintage Chicago, beyond Bozo and Svengali. I’m getting to the age that places of the past are far enough that there isn’t a collective memory. And I’m referring to places I knew as an adult.

I still miss one of the best neighborhood restaurants in the city: Nightwood in Pilsen was the site of many family birthday dinners. The sign is still up at Cuatro on 20th and Wabash, even though it closed years ago as a Nuevo Latino restaurant with house music.

In graduate school, I frequented the O Bar on North Clark Street because the DJ played a clever range of soul and hip-hop music. Sonotheque’s Africa Hi-Fi night with Ron Trent was legendary.

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Strolling down memory lane prompted me to ask people on social media what elements of Chicago they miss. The number of lounges and clubs named in their responses are clearly a reflection on who my friends are.

Here’s a short sample: Medusa’s, Funky Buddha, Butterfly, Slick’s, Dragon Room, Sinabar (the original) Shark Bar, Shrine, Hot House, Lava Lounge and Blue Note. Paje’s and Ezuli’s came up numerous times. And yes, I have been to every single one of these venues.

Each could have a place on Vanished Chicagoland because the 1990s and 2000s are farther away than some of us in the hip-hop generation care to admit. Although not as far back as the Purple Cow.

Natalie Moore is a reporter for WBEZ.

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