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The 4-Lane 47th Street That No One Wanted

In the late 1950’s, Western Springs was becoming accustomed to the just-completed Tri-State Tollway. But, many residents weren’t sure they wanted a wider 47th Street.

Forty-Seventh Street first appeared in Cook County records in 1875, when it was located on a subdivision plat between Wolf Road and Central Avenue. At that time, Wolf Road was known as East Avenue (since it was then the village’s eastern boundary) and 47th Street was called South Boulevard, the southern-most road in town. See second photo.

Subsequent plats between 1888 and 1891 showed further extensions to 47th Street. And, records from the late 1890’s indicate that 47th Street was the only “paved” road in town, the surface being gravel. Note that many street names and locations were revised after this early map was drawn.

Eventually, the two-lane 47th Street roadway was paved with a hard surface. However, in 1939, the County decided that it should also be widened to four lanes. Although there would have been no direct cost to our residents, the Village Board turned down the proposed improvement based on its belief that it “… would attract unwanted traffic from outside”.  Many residents also wrote letters of protest to the County, one of which stated that “… a wide street would split the suburb like a Chinese Wall”.  See third photo.

In 1946, a new County proposal was made to widen the roadway to 42 feet. In response, the Village conducted a survey of residents, which ended up with a vote of two-to-one against.

Despite this, the subsequent post-war boom in car ownership and traffic convinced the Village Board to reverse its position and petition the County for the roadway improvement. The County concurred and funded the project.

While there were considerable design problems due to elevation differences, sidewalks, and the slope of private driveways, the County provided landscaping improvements along with the new roadway. This was done for the considerable sum of $360,258, or roughly $2.7 million in today’s dollars. See fourth photo.

And so, despite fears of a “Chinese Wall” and “unwanted traffic from outside”, the new 47th Street opened to rave reviews in late October, 1962, exactly 50 years ago.

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