Anytime a city is named on “Svengoolie”, the hosted horror movie television program, they play a running gag audio clip with a crowd asking “BERWYN?” The show has been shot in Chicago since 1970, while hosts Jerry G. Bishop and Rich Koz are natives of the Chicago metro.
Berwyn is a suburban city in Cook County, Illinois, having the same border as Berwyn Township, which was formed in 1908 after breaking off from Cicero Township. The 2020 census shows a population of 57,250. The city is in NE Illinois, conveniently located within one mile of two major transportation arteries, the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) to the north and the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) to the south.
Berwyn’s northeast edge is less than a mile from Chicago’s western city limits and just minutes from the bustling Loop business and entertainment district. Berwyn has three convenient commuter rail stations, serviced by Metra along the BNSF Railway.
Both O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport are within easy driving distance. Berwyn’s official charter, from the state of Illinois, was granted on June 6, 1908. In 1846, the first land in “Berwyn” was deeded to Theodore Doty, who built the 8-foot-wide Plank Road from Chicago to Ottawa along the Ottawa Trail.
Berwyn’s development began in 1856 when Thomas Baldwin purchased 347 acres of land that he subdivided into large, 10-acre lots, hoping to market the idea that he named LaVergne as an all-exclusive community for affluent residents.
Baldwin invested heavily in this community; he built many roads and imported thousands of maple, ash, cedar, poplar, and pine trees, which were planted throughout the area that was bounded on the east by Ridgeland Avenue,
on the west by Harlem Avenue, on the north by 31st Street, and by Old Plank Road (now Ogden Avenue and formally U.S. Route 66), on the south.
At that time, the only mode of transportation between the LaVergne community and the City of Chicago was by horse and buggy along Old Plank Road. In 1890, two Chicago attorneys named Charles Piper and Wilbur Andrews purchased 106 acres of land in the area with the idea of developing a railroad station.
In 1901 the two named the railroad stop Berwyn after a well-known Philadelphia suburb known for its beauty. Berwyn’s construction boom continued into the Roaring ’20s, as farms and fields gave way overnight to new homes. Entire blocks were built at once, with contractors digging all basements simultaneously, and then bringing in crews to lay foundations, followed by carpenters, bricklayers, and plasterers.
Block after block of bungalows rose as Berwyn’s population swelled from 14,150 in 1920 to 47,027 in 1930: an increase of 222 percent in just ten years. Berwyn was home to a large Czech population. To celebrate their heritage the Houby Day Parade began in 1968 and continues today.
Berwyn also hosts an annual vintage car parade on part of historic Route 66 in September each year. Since 2000 Berwyn has held Oktoberfest celebrations.
Bob Odenkirk, better known for his role as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul was born in Berwyn. Segments of “A League of Their Own”, “The Color of Money”, and “Adventures in Babysitting” were filmed at Fitzgerald’s Nightclub in Berwyn.
The “Berwyn Spindle,” consisting of eight cars on a giant spike, sits in the middle of the Berwyn Cermak Plaza near Cermak Road and Harlem Avenue. The sculpture was erected in 1989. More recently, shows such as Chicago PD, Chicago Fire, and The Chi have been filmed in Berwyn. Families with Czech and Bohemian roots, together with many Italian Americans, Greeks, Lithuanians, Poles, Yugoslavians, and Ukrainians, have been joined in recent years by Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian Americans who now call Berwyn home.