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On the near West Side of Chicago, a run-down old street that gave its name to a famous outdoor market that survives (in modified form) to this day. Less than a mile away from the place where the Chicago Fire began, it was the immigrant gateway neighborhood to Chicago for 150 years, the first settling place for thousands of Irish, Greek, Jewish, African-American and Mexican newcomers (yes, an overcrowded slum).

Also notable for its role in the history of Chicago blues, since it was the neighborhood where African-Americans first settled during the Great Migration in the first half of the twentieth century. Great guitar and harmonica players from the deep South played on streetcorners in the district, and their delta blues mixed with other urban musics to become the distinctive Chicago electric sound.

The neighborhood, still called Jewtown in the street vernacular, inspired the creation of Jane Addams's Hull House, birthplace of modern American social work). Still famous for the round-the-clock availability of Chicago Style Hot Dogs and Polish sausage. It was used as the site for the "Twistin" scene in the Blues Brothers movie. The street was gradually truncated by public works projects until in the 1990s the University of Illinois at Chicago won permission to take over the entire remaining area for athletic fields, parking lots and a residential complex that would net millions for developers. There are grass-roots groups fighting for landmark status or some other way to argue for the area's historical preservation. Many blues musicians, affordable housing advocates and historians have joined in the fight. See http://www.openair.org/maxwell/preserve.html and http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/page24.html to find out more about this incredible patch of ground.

In the Blues Brothers John Lee Hooker led the Maxwell Street Blues Band, but in reality while the bluesman aren't quite as famous they are just as talented on Maxwell Street. From legends like Big Joe Williams and Sonny Boy Williamson all the way up to (IMHO) the greatest electric bluesman of all-time, Muddy Waters, played on Maxwell Street.

Alas it's no longer so. As Zack has mentioned Maxwell Street is under siege by developers hired by the University of Illinois, Chicago. For a blues fan, tearing down the rest of Maxwell Street would be like putting Graceland to the wrecking ball to build a McDonald's. The only difference would be Maxwell Street has more historical significance than Graceland. It's barely hyperbole to say that without Maxwell Street there would not be a Graceland. When the Delta Blues met Uptown Swing, rock and roll was born.

And it happened on Maxwell Street.

Going back to the early 1920's Maxwell Street has bred bluesmen and women. Thousands and thousands of musicians have practiced their chops on Maxwell Street. Even if the broad coalition of people trying to save the place are successful, I get the feeling it won't be the same when I get back there. It's enough to give you the blues.

Maxwell Street was also notorious as the place to go for stolen goods in Chicago. Most stolen items that you could get away with selling right on the street usually moved through Maxwell Street at some point. This includes both items that were directly stolen from somebody and items that "fell off the back of the truck."

It was a common saying around Chicago that if your hubcaps get stolen, just go down to Maxwell Street to replace them. You won't get new ones, but you can get your old ones back for a pretty good price.

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