Vintage photos found in furniture tell story of Chicago’s bygone days

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CHICAGO — Chris Murphy, the owner of a popular Ravenswood furniture boutique, spends most days scouring thrift shops and antique stores around the area. He’s looking for vintage pieces to restore and re-sell at his own shop, District, located at 4835 N. Damen Ave. 

“I love the hunt,” Murphy said. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”     

Over the last 11 years, he’s restored hundreds of pieces of furniture – tables, couches, chairs, desks and dressers – and before he starts the process of sanding, painting, and refurbishing, he always checks to see if anything has been left behind in the shelves and drawers of furniture.  

Chris Murphy

“You never really know what you find in these drawers, behind these drawers, under these drawers,” Murphy said. “So I kind of look and see what I can find.” 

Sure, he’s found knickknacks, and tchotchkes. He’s found stamp books, vintage catalogues, and a keychain once held by the “No. 1 Grandpa.” 

“Old coins to old nylons — women nylons, in the original packaging — to photographs, lots of photographs, that’s probably the No. 1 thing I find,” he said.  

Murphy has been collecting those photographs over the course of a decade, and now he’s sharing some of the best.   

They are more than simple snapshots, or perfunctory polaroids.  His collection is an album of art – a sort of distant mirror reflecting a bygone era in Chicago.  

There’s a stunning composition featuring the Marina City Towers with vintage vehicles seemingly hanging off the parking spots. There’s a portrait of Wabash Avenue with the light striking the streetscape through the L tracks and a behind-the-curtains peek at the Picasso statue before its unveiling.

“I love this because it’s obviously the unveiling, and this officer on guard watching over it, but this person was able to get close enough – I’d love to know the story,” Murphy said.  “These pieces tell a story of the way Chicago used to be, and it’s amazing, something to be proud of because it represents the city that we all love so much.” 

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