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John Vachon – Chicago Parking Lot and Pabst Beer Sign

John Vachon is well-known for the interesting photographs he took documenting America life, first for the US Government Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression and later on in the forties for the Office of War Information.

In this scene, he captured the Chicago skyline, a commuter parking lot, and a monumental neon-lit Pabst “Blue Ribbon” beer sign. The Brewery which produced its first keg of beer in 1844 and other beer producers in Wisconsin both before and after prohibition provided the bulk of fermented alcohol beverages to the large Wisconsin, Illinois, Chicago, and other midwestern markets.

This image gives a great view of the parking lot filled with cars produced between the period from the late-1920s to ’41; the expanded and sectional views below show many of them in detail. Tell us what you find of interest in the photo courtesy of the Library of Congress and exactly where in the City it was taken.

John Vachon Chicago parking lot 1941 3

John Vachon Chicago parking lot 1941 1

John Vachon Chicago parking lot 1941 2

19 responses to “John Vachon – Chicago Parking Lot and Pabst Beer Sign

  1. Two things caught my eye. First how the one roadster in the picture really looks out of place , and then the amount of two door vehicles. Certainly “cookie cutter” cars aren’t anything new!

  2. Not a PBR fan, what does blended 33 to 1 mean? One woodie, some whitewall tires, looks like most cars are no more than 5 years old. It must have been a short commute, downtown looks no more than a mile away.

  3. Very few Fords, I wonder why? There’s a 1939/40 two door sedan in the middle of the picture, three cars to the left of the 1946/48 Ford woodie and I can’t find any more, only some oval rear window that could also be Fords. I think the roadster is a 1929/30 Plymouth .

  4. The location of the Pabst sign- which was originally erected as a Chevrolet sign- is on Randolph St near the intersection with Michigan Avenue. This is a few blocks north of the Art Institute of Chicago.

    Jam Handy Studios made a promotional film for Chevrolet about this sign. Title of Jim Handy film- “Behind The Bright Lights”

  5. Certainly illustrates how the low-priced three dominated sales in that era. Identifying anything other than a Chevy, Ford or Plymouth is a challenge in this lot.

    “Pabst Blue Ribbon, finest beer served everywhere, proudly presents the Eddie Cantor – Pabst Blue Ribbon Show….”

  6. Correct on the Illinois Central tracks. This is just East of those. That is the Monroe St. parking lot run by the Chicago Park District. Furthest tall building to the right with the tall flag mast is the Tribune Tower on the east side of Michigan Ave. and across the street, the very white building is the Wrigley Building. Way back in the distance on the far right side with the pitched roof is the Allerton Hotel, featuring the Tip-Top-Tap. I believe the low building furthest to the left is the old Chicago Public Library.

    • You’re spot on about the Allerton Hotel, the Wrigley Building, and the old Chicago Library (now the Cultural Center). But the “furthest tall building to the right” is actually two separate buildings. On the left side, with the tall flag mast, is Tribune Tower as you said. To the right (with the big ball on top) is the Intercontinental Hotel, just north of Tribune Tower.

      The building to the right of the Pabst sign is located on the east side of Michigan Avenue at Wacker Drive, just south of the Chicago River. The building to the left of the Pabst sign is the Carbon and Carbide Building located at the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and South Water Street.

      All of the buildings mentioned are still standing. The buildings to the right of the library I’m not so sure about. The Illinois Central tracks are still there too but now they’re referred to as the Metra Electric commuter line. I take it to work every day.

  7. …and, according to a book I have, “Chicago Architecture and Design, 1923-1993”, a photograph shows the PBR sign was a Chevrolet sign in 1938, complete with clock. Wondering when the sign was converted?

    The bridge in the background, the light colored structure above the ICC black trestles, is Randolph St, which leads out to Lake Shore Drive.

  8. Looks like predominantly GM and MoPars – Chevies and Plymouths.

    The car in the second row, just left of the ‘Area 4″ sign sppears to be a ’41 (’42?) Chevy Special Deluxe coach, with WWW tires, deluxe bumper ends, and who knows what other goodies… 🙂

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