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Go On A 1940s Street Tour Of Chicago, ‘The Queen City Of The Great Lakes,’ With This Vintage Film

"Chicago, The Beautiful," is a 10-minute 1948 travelogue starring narrator James A. FitzPatrick.

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DOWNTOWN — This 1940s tourism film takes you on a street tour of postwar Chicago, then the second-largest city in the nation. 

“Chicago, The Beautiful,” a 10-minute 1948 travelogue starring narrator James A. FitzPatrick, shows off “the queen city of the Great Lakes,” where “American enterprise and progressive people have combined to build in less than a century the second-largest metropolis in North America.”

The film has been viewed more than 1.7 million times thanks to the Forgotten Chicago Facebook page.

The tour takes you for a ride along Michigan Avenue, where FitzPatrick lauds Chicago’s skyline for its “eye for practical stability as well as beauty of design.”

It notes the Chicago Cultural Center, at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street, which was then the city’s main library.

The drive goes past the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., back when it was called the Stevens Hotel, which at the time was the largest hotel in the world with more than 3,000 rooms. 

Other early sights include Tribune Tower, the Civic Opera Building and the Wrigley Building “in all its white majesty.” 

FitzPatrick, “The Voice of the Globe,” then takes viewers for a cruise on the Chicago River, where Native Americans and other traders “first planted the seeds of commerce that started a growth so fast and stupendous it has never been equaled in the building of a great metropolis.”

With more than 40 railroads, Chicago is called “the largest transportation center in the world.”

FitzPatrick then goes to Randolph Street, which he calls “the Rialto of Chicago” with its “colorful array of fine theaters, dance pavilions, shops and restaurants of every kind and description.” Sights here include The Bismarck (now Cadillac Palace) Theatre and the Old Heidelberg Restaurant that is now an Argo Tea. 

Then the film shows State Street, “the world’s most concentrated retail center” with $450 million in merchandise sold annually, FitzPatrick says. The film shows off the Morrison Hotel, which was the tallest hotel in the world at the time and was demolished in the 1960s to make way for what is now known as Chase Tower. 

The tour then heads to the Gold Coast, where Potter Palmer’s now long gone mansion “takes a page from the past, when a man’s home was really his castle.” The Old Water Tower on the Mag Mile, which survived the Great Chicago Fire, serves as “a silent reminder of the indomitable spirit that built Chicago today.” 

Before concluding with shots of Jackson Park and Buckingham Fountain, the film takes us to Oak Street Beach, where “the towering Palmolive Building and the impressive Drake Hotel form a fitting background for an exclusive bathing beach.” 

“Let those of us who once thought of Chicago as a landlocked metropolis on the parched prairies of the middle west, far from the cooling breezes of the seven seas, find this evidence to the contrary,” FitzPatrick says. “And realize that Lake Michigan provides Chicago with all the aquatic diversions of the oceanside, and at the same time acts as the air conditioner of the city itself.” 

Of course, the film is accompanied by a whimsical symphonic score typical of such movies.

This story first ran on DNAinfo in 2017.