Remembering Chicago: The ’70s and ’80s on WTTW
Two of the city’s most formative decades get the spotlight.
The Chicago that lives in the collective conscience was forged in the 1970s and ’80s. The period’s icons have become inseparable from the city’s popular identity: John Hancock Center (’70), Willis (né Sears) Tower (’73), The Blues Brothers (’80), Michael Jordan (’84), Da Bears (’85), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (’86), Richard M. Daley (’89). WTTW spotlights these formative years in the fifth installment of Remembering Chicago, which premieres Monday 26, picking up where The Boomer Years left off.
As in the series’s other entries, The ’70s and ’80s weaves in newly unearthed amateur film footage and snapshots with the program’s signature reminiscences from everyday Chicagoans. These anecdotes and artifacts add value to history, the show’s producers say, shading in the city’s time line.
“A woman who was a celebrity fan—she would go to the hotels in the ’70s and take pictures of Springsteen and Warren Beatty—brought in her whole collection. I love hoarders!” says producer Alexandra Silets, who grew up on the Near North Side.
“Someone we interviewed, his family knew the guy who headed the construction of the Sears Tower,” Silets continues. “As a little kid, this guy took them up in the Sears Tower when it was still a skeleton, tied a rope around this kid’s waist, and he got to inch out on the steel girder. That’s a great way to tell the story of the changing face of the skyline.”
The show also tells the changing face of Chicago politics: Richard J. Daley’s 21-year mayoral reign ending with his death in ’76; the election of the city’s lone female mayor, Jane Byrne, in the wake of the Blizzard of ’79; and the ’83 rise of its first black mayor, Harold Washington.
“Rather than just saying Daley died and this was the cause…this guy describes walking out and seeing an ambulance zoom past him—and lo and behold, it’s the mayor of Chicago inside,” says producer Ed Griffin, who was raised in Beverly. “It’s a really dark moment, but it becomes a beautiful story.”
Remembering Chicago’s stroll down memory lane has some unsightly potholes, too. The producers say their mostly feel-good nostalgia trip isn’t the best forum to fully deal with moments like the racially motivated animus of the Council Wars that plagued Washington’s administration. Of Disco Demolition Night, a ’79 Comiskey Park promotion, Griffin recalls one fan of the music saying, “I was on the verge of tears because I knew there were some really hot records being blown up.” The racism and homophobia that helped fuel the anti-disco movement go unmentioned.
Instead of finishing with Daley’s election in ’89 (which likely will kick off the next Remembering Chicago), the show ends with a unifying event in the middle of the decade: the January ’86 Bears Super Bowl victory. “We’ve got these people from all over the city—different races, classes, education levels,” Griffin says, “and they all remember the ’85 Bears.”
Football still bonds people in this town, Silets adds. “Ed’s a Sox fan, I’m a Cubs fan. But we both love the Bears, so we’re cool.”
Remembering Chicago: The ’70s and ’80s premieres Monday 26 at 7:30pm on WTTW.