After Chicago gobbled up outlying villages north, west, and south of the city in a grand annexation of 125 square miles and 225,000 people in 1889, it found itself with a mess of roadways with duplicate names, houses with the same numbers, and no systematic pattern with which to organize its streets, according to the Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago.
After two decades of confusion, itinerant Urban Planner Edward P. Brennan stepped in with the proposal for a uniform numbering and naming plan that, in sensible Midwestern fashion, registered both road direction and distance. Part of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, the initiative is variously known as “the Burnham and Brennan Plan” or just “the Burnham Plan” for Edward P. Burnham’s contributions to it. The idea was to simplify the hodgepodge of identical and conflicting street names and house numbers, as well as to set up a process for giving names to new roads. What made the plan unique was its alphabetical road naming scheme for north/south streets starting with “A” at Lake Michigan and traveling west with successive letters.
Because most of the area around Gladstone Park developed after the Plan of Chicago was put into effect, the neighborhood was profoundly affected by the new road organizational guidelines.
First, since the neighborhood is in the far northwest section of the city, all streets in the area were given either a “north” or “west” designation. In the beginning this took some getting used to. But now the prefaces are so routinely accepted by city dwellers that it has become Chicago tradition to drop them where you live, as in “Oh, I like the pizzeria at Milwaukee and Ardmore” not “the pizzeria at N(orth) Milwaukee and W(est) Ardmore.” The assumption is that everyone who lives near you knows what you mean.
(A caveat: Although the author would have loved to drop all the “N” and “W” directional prefixes from Gladstone Park road names throughout this website, annoying as they are, she retained them in consideration for readers unfamiliar with Chicago who might confuse its streets with roads of the same name in the southern and eastern parts of the city.)
Second, the new unifying grid system issued house/lot numbers according to how far they were from the center city. Each regular long block was given 100 numbers starting at ground zero in the Loop. Odd numbers were always issued for the east sides of the streets, evens on the west. Eight blocks (800 numbers) constituted a mile. This scheme did more than give a house a numbered address; it also helped residents to locate any one address fairly precisely and know approximately how far away it was without having to consult a map.
In Gladstone Park the house numbering starts in the 5200 block on the southern border at W. Foster. It ends at the northern boundary at W. Devon in the 6300s. This means that houses ranging from 5600-5699 (in the 5600 block) are reliably found one block further from the center city than the 5500 block.
Third, the city’s alphabetical road naming scheme on the north side put to rest any possibility of confusing its streets with the numbered ones that already existed on Chicago’s south side. Thus, there are no numbered roadways in the north to match those in the south, such as W. 35th Street that travels west from the Loop to White Sox Park, or W. 55th Street that brings drivers into Hyde Park.
By the time Chicago urban planners platted the streets west from the Lake to the far northwest, it had already gone through the A’s through N’s. Gladstone Park was issued “M’s” for all its new streets. Today a full 21 of the neighborhood’s 30 north-south streets have names starting with M. Using the conventional city pattern of honoring famous people and recognizing nature in fruits/trees/flowers, there are streets named after railroad tycoon Charles Henry Markham (N. Markham), Mayor Roswell B. Mason (N. Mason), and theater owner James Hubert McVicker (N. McVicker) along with one named for a fruit tree (N. Mango).
Meanwhile, all north-south roads in Chicago had by the 1830s been designated “Avenues” by surveyor James Thompson, according to the 1997 The Chicago Tribune article The Long and Winding Road by Mary Breslin. Thus, the great majority of roadways Gladstonians live and shop on are Avenues, not Streets, Lanes, or Drives. The only two exceptions to the north-south Avenue rule in Gladstone Park are N. Indian Road and N. Northwest Highway.
Even more so than its directional prefixes, Chicagoans tend to leave suffixes off when referring to their roadways. With “avenue” the default for so many of their streets, even some major corporations downtown will leave the suffix entirely off their letterheads, even if it’s not the fully-accepted (legal) USPS address. Fortunately, local postal workers have learned to handle it. Because there is no confusion here, the author also felt comfortable leaving suffixes off all “avenue” designations on this website.
Knowing how the Chicago naming/numbering system works makes it easy not only to find the approximate location of a house or business in the immediate neighborhood, but also gives clues to where an address further away is. Invited out of the community to see your niece in a play at Smyser Elementary School at 4310 N. Melvina? Combining the alphabetical street name scheme with the numbering pattern, you automatically know it’s the equivalent of 9 long blocks or so south of Gladstone Park, probably across the border from Jefferson Park in the Portage Park neighborhood. Alphabetically, N. Melvina is somewhere between N. Meade and N. Merrimac, so you know about how far west it is, too.