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Alderman Hopes To Turn Old 'Motor Row' Into 'Music Row'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- An area just south of downtown that was once thriving with auto showrooms, but was also once housed the storied Chess studios, could someday become an entertainment district celebrating blues and jazz.

As WBBM Newsradio's Dave Berner reports, the City Council Zoning Committee agreed on Thursday to transform the three-block stretch of South Michigan Avenue between Cermak Road and the Stevenson Expressway from what was once called Motor Row to Music Row.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Dave Berner reports


The Chicago Sun-Times says the full City Council is expected to approve the proposal next week.

The designation would mean no new residential projects could be built within the boundaries of the new entertainment district, the Sun-Times explained.

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said the designation is needed on the Near South Side as a bridge between the South Loop, Bronzeville, Chinatown and McCormick Place, the Sun-Times reported. He hopes that over the next decade, nightclubs, restaurants and hotels will be drawn to the area, the newspaper reported.

He also hopes three existing tax increment financing districts, in which all property tax hikes are devoted to neighborhood improvements and developments, could fund the widening of sidewalks and other improvements to encourage more pedestrians, the Sun-Times reported.

Motor Row is so named because of the stretch of auto showrooms constructed on the strip in the early 20th century. The showrooms were designed by famed architects, including Holabird and Roche, Albert Kahn, and Philip Maher, the City of Chicago points out.

At one time, more than 116 makes of cars were sold on Motor Row, from familiar brands such as Buick, Cadillac and Fiat to long-gone makes such as Hudson, Locomobile and Pierce-Arrow, the city says. The Chicago Defender, the storied African-American daily newspaper, was also once headquartered on Motor Row.

Today, only one showroom, Joyce Ford at 2401 S. Michigan Ave., remains on Motor Row. Most of the others have been converted into lofts or other uses.

In relatively recent years, one Motor Row establishment gained infamy as the site of a deadly incident that made headlines for years afterward. On Feb. 17, 2003, 21 people were killed during a stampede at the E2 nightclub, following a panic when pepper spray was used to break up a fight. The nightclub was located in the old Lesly Motors building at 2347 S. Michigan Ave.

But the city's musical heritage is also strongly associated with the area. The old Chess Studios building is located just to the north of what would be designated Music Row, at 2120 S. Michigan Ave.

Chess Records operated from the building from 1956 to 1965, and legendary Chicago blues artists Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Willie Dixon were among those who recorded there. Chuck Berry also helped create rock and roll music at Chess Studios, and the Rolling Stones immortalized the studio's address with their instrumental "2120 South Michigan Avenue," recorded at the studio.

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