The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Ask Chicagoist: Old Numbering System?

By Thales Exoo in Miscellaneous on Oct 11, 2007 2:00PM

2007_10_asknumbering.jpgThis is a picture of the building at 1701-1703 W. Division St. (at Division & Paulina, with a Starbucks on the 1st floor). On either side of the doorway are the numbers "245" and "247" etched into the
stone. What do those numbers mean? Are they remnants of an older street-numbering scheme?

(Also, the stretch of 800-1000 N. Damen Ave. has some buildings with 2 different numbers, but I was too lazy to walk that far to take pictures.)

I Love Numbers

Dear Number Lover,

You betcha.

People aren't just carving their favorite numbers into their buildings -- there really was a big (not to mention controversial!) numbering scheme change to sweep Chicago in 1908.

The change more or less brought into being the numbering system you know and love today. That is, State and Madison is the center of the city, 100 numbers are used per block, eight blocks make up a mile, even numbers are the jurisdiction of the north and west sides of the street, and odd numbers house the south and east. Edward P. Brennan proposed the plan and argued it to City Council for years before it was passed -- and then also went on to champion the changing of street names so no two streets had the same name. It all may seem pretty basic and obvious to us now, but at the time it was some pretty profound stuff.

Previously, numbering was done more or less willy-nilly. There was no guarantee the same number on two parallel streets were at the same cross-street. Whereas now you know 1700 West is going to be at Paulina, there wasn't any reason to think that prior to the change. You also had no reason to believe even and odd numbered addresses shouldn't be right next to each other. Confusing! Lucky for our slightly broken sense of direction, the City Council finally agreed with Brennan's assessment and voted in the changes in the name of consistency.

The Chicago Historical Society has a fascinating PDF available of a document published in 1909, entitled "Plan of Re-Numbering," which is
"a complete table showing new and old numbers affected by an ordinance passed by the City Council of the city of Chicago June 22, 1908." A quick glance through the booklet confirms what the building you photographed illustrates -- 245 and 247 W. Division were transformed into 1701 and 1703 W. Division. Same goes for the addresses on Damen you mentioned -- and literally all over the city as well.

Another bookletwas published in 1911, outlining the changes specific to buildings in the Loop. Those buildings weren't included in the initial switch, but a 1910 ordinance was passed requiring them to make the change as well. The ordinance stated they had until April 1, 1911 to make the change -- we wonder how many people thought it was all an elaborate April Fool's joke.

Looking for an address? Need some advice? Email ask(at)chicagoist(dot)com.