I originally posted the top photo a couple of weeks ago, before I found the legal loophole allowing me to take my drone above 120 m AGL. (It turns out I can take it 120 m above the tallest structure within 120 m.) So early this morning, in calm winds, I took it up to 150 m, almost exactly matching the view. If only my drone had a slightly longer lens, I could duplicate it exactly. At least I got the parallax right, meaning I now know the original photo was taken only 150 m up. It would not be legal for a fixed-wing airplane to fly so low today; you'd need a helicopter and permission.
I also plan to re-shoot a bunch of these after the trees lose their leaves this fall.
I found this photo of the 800 West block of Montrose in April 1891 in a Chicago Public Library collection:
Here's the same place yesterday:
A few things have changed. In 1891, Montrose was paved for the half-block between Clarnedon and the Lake, and the apartment developer had built a proper curb from Dayton to Clarendon on the south side. I expect that the city paved the rest of Montrose shortly after this photo.
The park to the left became a hospital in 1957, which closed in 2009 and was demolished in 2016. The high-rise center frame marks the shoreline in the top photo. Lake Michigan is now over a kilometer farther west after the construction of Montrose Harbor in the 1930s.
The Apollo Chorus of Chicago annual benefit will take place at 7pm on Friday July 17th. We have to do it online, of course, but the original plan had us at Mayne Stage on April 4th. I had to go up there tonight to take some publicity photos, and I remembered I took this photo in April 1993:
Here's the same scene two hours ago:
Mayne Stage is on the left, in the space that apparently used to be the Cobbler's Mall behind the Poolgogi Steak House.
The neighborhood has changed quite a bit in the last 27 years, though the ethnic diversity still remains. Obviously there are a few new buildings, and the garish signs have come down from the liquor store and Morse Gyros take-out. (Both are still there.) And the Lunt Bus still stops at the Morse El, just as it did when my father was a kid.
I found this photo from 1964 at Chicago-L.org, looking north along what is now the Red Line from above Buena Park:
Here's almost the same view yesterday:
So, a few changes. Two the west, three city blocks of apartments became Truman College in 1974. Wilson Yards and the Wilson Avenue Shop (the El structure in the center) burned down in 1994, replaced now by a Target and an apartment building. And all the trees have grown up.
Another thing: I found out more about how high I can take the drone. Generally, it's limited to 120 m AGL. But I can also take it up 120 m above any "structure" as long as I'm within 120 m of the structure. The flagpole on top of the Byline Bank is 58 m above the ground, meaning I could, with a quick adjustment to the drone settings, try taking it up to 178 m... Hmm...
Update, 40 minutes later: Yep. It'll go up to 130 m no problem in calm winds:
Now that I have a drone, I've been looking for historical aerial photos of Chicago. I found this 1933 photo of Uptown through the Chicago Public Library collection:
Here's approximately the same view about an hour ago:
Some things immediately jump out. First, the trees. My how they've grown! Second, in the distance you can see the construction of Montrose Harbor in 1933 and the completed harbor (by 1937) in 2020. Third, we have a lot more parking lots and a lot less grime on our buildings these days. And what the hell is that huge industrial building billowing smoke at the corner of Montrose and Clarendon (upper-right corner of 1933)?
Since drones can only legally fly 120 m above the ground in the US, I couldn't get exactly the same angle as in the original photo. My best guess from a number of clues is that the top photo was taken from an airplane flying about 250 m (maybe not even that high) AGL shortly after 1pm on a sunny but hazy early-April afternoon. The air quality in Chicago in 2020 is so much better than at any point in the 20th century that almost no aerial photos from that era will have light as sharp and clear as we get today.
I have a couple more of these up my sleeve. Stay tuned.
I love historian J.R. Schmidt's "Then and Now" series on his Chicago History Today blog. Mostly he posts photos he took as a kid (late 1940s through early 1960s) and contrasts them with contemporary photos.
Then, recently, I came across this photo from a location just a couple of blocks from me that photographer Bob Rehak took during an arson epidemic on 22 April 1976:
Here's the same location today:
Rehak's other photos from the era are incredible. Uptown was in a different universe 45 years ago.
I came across this photo of the Aragon Ballroom from 1956:
Here's the same location about half an hour ago:
I may have to re-shoot this with a longer lens and from farther back. It's interesting how little has changed though.
Chicago historian John R. Schmidt frequently has "Then and Now" features where he shows a part of the city as it appeared when he was a kid against how it appears now. I just found a trove of historical photos produced by the Illinois Dept. of Transportation, including a few dozen from my neighborhood, so I can play the same game.
Here's the intersection of Sheridan, Broadway, and Montrose, looking west down Montrose, from March 1936, more than 80 years ago:
Here's this past Tuesday:
Though some of the details have changed, both buildings flanking the north side of Broadway still exist. But the Wilson Yard development, from 2006, has taken over most of the area between Broadway and the El tracks. And past the El, the mature trees have changed the character of Montrose.
Another thing I notice about photos of Chicago and other U.S. cities before about 1990: the haze. Starting in the 1970s in California and the 1980s elsewhere, governments cracked down on air pollution. Chicago in 1936 would have been intolerably polluted to Millennials. The top photo gives a hint of why.
I've meant to post this for a while. Here's a photo looking south-west from a point just southwest of the intersection of Wacker and Michigan, here in Chicago, in April 1986:
And here's a similar view today. Note that you can no longer see the Thompson Center, City Hall, or anything else beyond the row of skyscrapers erected on Wacker between Wabash and Clark since then:
The photos aren't from the same vantage point, because this afternoon I only had my phone and not my SLR. I will try to get a photo from approximately the same location and using the same focal length (probably 210mm) soon.