Did cooler air bring less neighborhood interaction?
In 1937, Hinsdale Theatre manager George Kruger installed an air-conditioning system. Kruger’s wife, Olga, stands in front of the the marquee. | Doings file photo
- Burr Ridge residents recall life before air-conditioning
- Oak Brook residents recall life before air-conditioning
- Hinsdale residents recall heat waves before air conditioning
- Western Springs residents recall long, hot summers
- Clarendon Hills residents recall life before air conditioning
- LaGrange Park seniors got creative in keeping cool before air conditioning
- POLL: Where would you miss air conditioning the most?
Updated: August 13, 2012 1:12PM
Many aspects of life have changed over the past 50 years. And while it would be difficult to find many people who aren’t happy about the advancement of air conditioning, being able to keep cool indoors has had a sociological impact.
The once common picture of people sitting on their front porches in an effort to stay relatively cool on a hot summer day or night has all but vanished in many areas. While it’s still not uncommon in some areas of Chicago to see many people outside when temperatures get into the 90s and higher, many suburban areas look more like ghosts towns during such conditions.
“It’s changed so much,” said Carolyn Lukes, an 85-year-old Oak Brook resident who grew up in Cicero. “It was nice. We talked to our neighbors; people knew their neighbors a lot more back then. It’s sad now because in so many cases people really don’t know their neighbors at all.”
Ron Reiner, 77, of Clarendon Hills, also recalls the days when people spent considerably more time outside, interacting with neighbors.
“Neighboring is so much different now,” he said. “We don’t even have porches. I sit outside sometimes in my back yard. I’ve seen a few people sit out in front in chairs, but people aren’t outside like they used to be.”
Before air conditioning became commonplace in homes, many headed to movie theaters not only to watch a film, but also to cool off. Theaters were one of the few public places offering the comfort of air conditioning before the cooling units began to appear more regularly in the late 1960s/early ’70s.
“Oh, yeah, we would go to the movies when it was really hot outside,” said 89-year-old Oak Brook resident Tom Sewick, who grew up in French Lick, Ind. “The air conditioners in the theater were very noisy at that time, but we didn’t really care about that. To us, it was a pleasure to just be inside where it was cool.”
While the increased use of air conditioners in homes certainly was a major factor in the decreased use of front porches, the growing use of cars after World War II was the first big factor in porches losing popularity, according to an article, “The Decline of the American Front Porch” at http://xroads.virginia.edu/~class/am483_97/projects/cook/decline.htm.
The article states the increase in fumes and noise from autos made front porches no longer an idyllic setting. The article also states that the development of air conditioning further aided in the decline =because porches no longer were needed as a cool shaded area.