Archive, Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Cartography and Geography, Chicago

Exploring Chicago’s Maxwell Street with Tim Cresswell

For decades, Maxwell Street was a place where people from all corners of the city mingled to buy and sell goods, play and listen to the blues, and encounter new foods and cultures. Now, redeveloped and renamed University Village, it could hardly be more different. To study this historic neighborhood’s disappearing past and acquaint himself with its present, Tim Cresswell explored the area on foot, photographing everything he saw. Here are a few of our favorite photos, from Cresswell’s newly released book, Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place.

“Look east and you’ll see a large concrete arch set in a red brick wall. Engraved in the concrete are the words ‘Maxwell Street’. This declaration seems too grand by far for these two blocks of nothing in particular. Above it are two further names—’University Village’ and ‘Marketplace’— as if the area no longer knew what it was called.”
“I too was open to the charm of mannequin heads on a visit to the market. The world of found objects, Sontag suggests, is a ‘surreal country’ where ‘our junk has become art’ This is a world in which photographers become collectors of the discarded.”
“The practices that went on in 717 West Maxwell Street and meanings associated with it over nearly a hundred years are more or less invisible to us. Its materiality, however, continues to matter.”
“While it failed to prevent the removal of the market from its original site, the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition was able to collect fragments of the site as it was progressively demolished. Its members scavenged and gleaned among the abandoned buildings of the area, and after demolitions among the rubble. They knew that the place was ill- fated and that they could not preserve the market. But something of the spirit of the place survives in its things. In an appropriate setting they might retain some of their site-specificity, and this is what the gleaners were counting on.”
“”Walking down Maxwell Street today is hardly the same thing as walking down Maxwell Street in 1882 or 1953. None of those are the same as walking through Washington Square in New York City or down an alleyway in a market in Morocco. Places gather materialities, meanings, and practices. Together, these produce unique assemblages.”

For more, check out Tim Cresswell’s Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Place—now available!

Tim Cresswell is dean of the faculty, vice president for academic affairs, and professor of America studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.