Saturday, August 16, 2008

McMahons Hall: A visit to the old family Homestead

Today was a day I'll remember with mixed emotions for the rest of my life.

I received an email a
couple of weeks ago via my website inquiring about the drawing below. I had done this ink and coffee wash drawing as a gift to my nephew David McMahon on the occasion of his wedding, because he is so into his Irish heritage. The drawing was done from the old photo shown below it here. This is McMahons Hall, the grocery store my Irish-born great grandfather built about the year 1900 on south Archer Avenue in Chicago.

The inquiry came from a woman who now owns one of the condos. An historian, she wondered what I knew about the history of the building. I got goosebumps hearing from her, because I'd always wanted to visit the building, and find out more about the history myself. My father
passed away several years ago, and we only have sketchy details about his grandfather, a few facts handed down over the years and a couple of old census reports I found online.

Michael McMahon met his bride here in Chicago, an Irish-born young woman named Catherine McMahon (Kate). So this is a very strong family name for us. Michael must have done a good job, because the building still stands, looking much as it did 100 years before. Besides the grocery store, there was a dance hall on the second floor, and their living quarters were on the third floor, with a separate street level entrance. Michael and Catherine had 6 children. They came to the US around 1870, he was born in 1853, she in 1857. Their kids were born between 1882 to 1894. They lived and worked in the building until at least 1930. My father was a meat-cutter as was his father before him, taught by Michael.

Now the building is converted to high end loft condos, joined with the building next door. At one time the buildings were a coffee and tea manufacturing business, and the sign for that business can still be read clearly on the brick exterior of the building next to McMahon Hall.

Below is a series of photos of how the building looks today. I took the pictures when the gracious new residents opened their doors and hearts to me today and gave me a glimpse into the life of my ancestors. I'm afraid they were able to provide me with more background information about the building than I was able to give them.
So, this was a joyful homecoming for me, although I had never stepped foot inside "The Hall" until today. It was also a sad day, because my mother so wanted to see the place her husband visited as a child. Unfortunately a flare-up of her arthritis ended in a trip to the emergency room and she wasn't able to come along. I took lots of pictures and listened to the stories about the building the new residents were able to share. Tomorrow, I'll visit mom and share the pictures and stories while she's recuperating.

I know mom will be delighted to know that the new occupants of McMahons Hall love and take great pride in the building as my great grandparents did. The spaces are each unique and carefully but comfortably decorated to reflect the style of each resident. They are teachers, artists, photographers, musicians, interior designers, cat and wounded pigeon lovers, and music aficionados. They allowed me to snoop in all the nooks and crannies of their homes, opened up the for-sale ground floor condo that was once the M. McMahon's grocery store, current asking price$500,000. They offered me coffee and homemade blueberry muffins, invited me to a barbecue and told me stories of the not so good days of the building. Back in the 80's there were unauthorized raves held on the premises, mirrors and graffiti on the walls.

It's only been about 3 years since the building underwent it's latest incarnation, and the neighborhood is thriving once more, partly because of artists who moved into the area, such as the Zhou Brothers from China who opened their art center not far from "The Hall".

So, if you are reading this, McMahon Hall current residents, I thank you from the bottom of my heart once more for the two hours you shared with me this morning. I entered a stranger, and left a friend. I wish you many years of happiness in that special home. I'll be sharing your kindness with my very large Irish extended family.