BAPA History: The “Wet/Dry” Issue 

By: Carol Flynn 

 A major issue that has been on the Beverly Area Planning Association’s (BAPA) radar since BAPA was founded 75 years ago is the selling of alcoholic beverages east of Western Avenue.  

BAPA has supported the establishment of restaurants east of Western Avenue that would be licensed to sell and serve alcohol. The local communities that would be affected by this, however, have consistently voted “no” to the idea for almost 90 years. 

The “wet/dry” issue, as it is commonly referred to, goes back to the very earliest days of settlement of the Ridge communities.  

There were no restrictions for the taverns and waystations that opened along the Vincennes Trail in the 1800s. The growing community of Blue Island at the south tip of the Ridge included many German immigrants who came to work on the Cal-Sag channel. They brought their love for beer with them, and breweries and taprooms flourished in that growing city.  

By the late 1800s, the temperance movement was in full swing, strongly supported by ministers and churchgoers. In the 1870s, the village of Morgan Park was intentionally planned as a temperance, education, and religious community. The sale of alcohol was forbidden from the beginning. 

Taverns serving food and alcohol opened along 111th Street in Mount Greenwood to serve the people who came to the area’s cemeteries. Although opposed by the ministers and many of the farming families in the community, these establishments thrived. Many of the Morgan Park residents disapproved of these places, but there were also plenty of rumors of Morgan Park residents slipping over there for refreshment.  

In the 1910s, according to an article in the Morgan Park Post newspaper from the time, there was a social event at which the officials from Morgan Park and Blue Island “roasted” each other in a friendly way. One Blue Island leader said that the major difference between the two communities was that in Blue Island, alcohol came in through the front door, and in Morgan Park, it snuck in through the back door.  

Then along came Prohibition. The Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which went into effect in 1920, prohibited the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The consumption of alcohol was never illegal. 

Prohibition was an interesting if unsuccessful social experiment. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed in December 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment  

When Prohibition began in 1920, every locale officially went “dry.” When Prohibition ended in 1933, every locale officially became “wet.” Saloons opened all over the country, including on the east side of Western Avenue and along 95th Street.  

While most of Chicago took the end of Prohibition in stride, it became a major issue on the Ridge. Decisions made by the community beginning in 1934 have kept Beverly/Morgan Park dry east of Western Avenue since that time.  

The Illinois Liquor Control Act of 1934 allowed communities to vote by referendum to stay dry. This was done individually by election precincts. Chicago had the ward system of government, with each ward divided into precincts, and the voters in each precinct could decide if alcohol could be sold within their boundaries.  

A campaign was undertaken in Beverly/Morgan Park to vote dry the precincts bounded by 89th Street, Western Avenue, 119th Street, and the Rock Island Railroad tracks. Members of the Ridge Civic Council, supported by other local improvement and civic groups, went door-to-door to collect petition signatures for referenda and to obtain promises of votes when the referenda were held. The campaign was successful, and additional precincts in the ward also voted to stay dry.  

This success led the head of the Ridge Civic Council to state in 1934, “We have our community protected.”  

The 19th Ward became the driest ward in the city. The newspapers referred to it as “bone-dry Beverly.” The saloons that had opened on the east side of Western Avenue and on 95th Street all had to close.  

The west side of Western Avenue was a different story. In 1946, a referendum was held to make the precincts between Western Avenue, 99th Street, California Avenue, and 119th Street dry. The proposal was defeated, paving the way for the bars, breweries, and restaurants that are found along that strip now.  

Since that time, there have been campaigns to allow the sale of alcohol east of Western Avenue, but they have been voted down consistently by the voters in the precincts that would be affected by the decisions. 

In 2008, a referendum was held in the western portion of the 36th precinct of the 19th ward, with the intention of allowing alcohol sales along a portion of 103rd Street. The proposal was strongly supported by BAPA and many in the community. However, strong opposition came from the pastor of Bethany Union Church, and the alderman voiced reservations, citing historic precedence.  

The eastern portion of this precinct was, and still is, already wet, the area having been added to the 19th Ward after the original referenda in the 1930s. The day of the election, there was confusion in giving referendum ballots to the qualified voters. The referendum was defeated, leading to charges of “hanky panky.” 

A second, special election on the issue was held in April 2009, again strongly supported by BAPA. The referendum was defeated by the people who lived in that section of the precinct by a vote of 35 to 21.  

In 2015, residents in the area approved the sale and service of alcohol at the Barraco’s on 95th Street east of Western Avenue. BAPA was not involved in that transaction that was handled through the 19th ward office.  

The wet-dry issue comes up regularly in community discussions. For those interested in investigating the issue, a good place to start is with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Guidelines for Local Option Referenda, which can be found on the City of Chicago website.  

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