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John Vachon: Upscale Pre-World War II Chicago, IL Parking Lot

This photo is the first in a series of three parking lots images taken by photographer John Vachon in July of 1941 while he worked for the U.S. Farm Security Administration. The location is unknown, and the only possible hint as to where in the City it was located is the white fence and the billboard framework with lattice work seen in the upper-right-hand of the photo.

A quick perusal of the image shows a number of late model Cadillac, Packard, Buick, Oldsmobile, and Plymouth automobiles in this scene. Little in the way of low-priced cars indicates that this lot may have been in the high rent downtown office district.

Tell us what you find of interest in this Library of Congress photo. You can view over seventy-five other facilities in The Old Motor Parking Lot Series.

31 responses to “John Vachon: Upscale Pre-World War II Chicago, IL Parking Lot

      • Good eyes. That indeed is a 40 Nash. My dad had one and couldn’t keep a front-end under it. I never did know why.

    • On the far right is the tail-end of a light colored 1940 PLYMOUTH. There is dark colored ’41 DeSOTO parked center left in the foreground and the lower left corner has a 1940 CHRYSLER.

  1. Pointy hoods were the norm, apparently. I recognize a few from the front ( the Packard and the Olds) but from the back, they all look the same.

  2. Not only is the selection here nice, but every car appears washed! Heck–unusual by this date to see so many cars with whitewalls too.. I’d take the `40 Cadillac Sixty Special in the front row facing away from us next to the open spot. What a beauty!

  3. Obviously a parking lot serving a well-heeled neighborhood — lots of Cadillacs and Packards. No old flivvers!

  4. This is not your normal parking lot – most of the cars are pretty close to new and most are higher end makes and models.

  5. What is the white convertible with the dark top? That one stands out. I’m afraid I don’t know ’40s cars very well. I didn’t come along until 1953.

  6. Just a guess as to the photo location: A Chicago horse racing track, possibly opening day or a big race? Not many better places to see and be seen that at the race. Vachon also took a number of pictures of the Chicago PD mounted unit and many farming with horses pictures over the years where the focus seems to be the horses as much as the people.

    In 1941 in the Chicago area if it was taken at a horse racing track this could have been Lincoln Fields, Arlington, or Washington Park.

  7. My guess for the white convertible is early forties Buick. Very similar to one my Dad had. Light assembly on trunk helped me. STAN SMITH

  8. This is all valet parking, no slaving at the wheel here and a bit less manic as well. Wonder how many of these cars lasted through the war years.

  9. Interesting to find same light over dark color combination/manufacturer but different years on 4th car from right in front row facing away and in 2nd row behind that 3 more cars to the left. Same light color slanted roof & window style leads me to believe same maker but fenders are different so subsequent years.

  10. What in the world is the US Farm “Security“ Administration (FSA)? Why would this guy be taking these types of photos?

    Just curious, you brought it to our attention.

    I agree with Mad Dog, this is definitely valet parking area. General public would never be able to park their cars this well (chauffers maybe yes), especially bumper to bumper 3 or more deep in a row.

    In the meantime, our Allies were screaming for military arms and help to fight off the Axis. So I have to assume this was well before 12/7/41.

  11. There were select groups of well-informed folks who knew overseas conditions better than the average joe and that a war was imminent. Based on their knowledge and past experience, it was a wise choice to acquire a current automobile because they would become scarce. The type of car was secondary to that it should be current – compelling the purchase of what was on the ground at the dealer whether or not it fit your budget or proclivities. This lot could represent such a group of folks.

    • BTW, I think the Farm Security Administration’s function had to do with (obviously) seeing that there was no shortage of food. So they were working with looming doomsday scenarios and how to allocate resources to keep food production unhindered in a wartime economy. As a result, farmers did not experience the shortages that cityfolk did. For instance, tractor and implement production remained a top priority. I grew up on my grandparent’s farm in the ’60’s, and their equipment was mostly of wartime manufacture.

    • The Farm Security Administration knew that taking young men off the farm to fight a war would inhibit food production. So the solution was to make sure the supply of automated machinery required to maintain food production was ample. With that purpose in mind, it’s no surprise that these employees acquired their car with the suspicion that it would be the last one they will be able to get for a long time.

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