Editor’s note: Doors keyboardist and founding member Ray Manzarek was born on February 12, 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. To mark the occasion we’re posting some classic Doors Examiner articles about Ray’s life and times, before The Doors, during, and after. Thanks for the music, Ray!
Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors, was born February 12th, 1939 on the south side of Chicago. Since I’m from Chicago and still live in the western suburbs I thought I’d go and find Ray’s childhood neighborhood, explore it a little and take some pictures.
Ray made it easy to find. In his autobiography “Light My Fire”, he says “I went to a little grammar school called Everett School. I did eight years there. We lived right across the street 3358 S. Bell Avenue.” I drove out there and found 34th and Bell to still be a working class neighborhood with those uniquely Chicago old fashioned type houses that are separated from the sidewalk with a walkway or stairs to the house.
The Everett school was more than across the street. The Manzarek’s house was kitty-corner from the school. Ray, or his brothers, could have run out of the school, tripped over the curb and they would have been home.
The school didn’t have a playground, but Hoyne Playground (now renamed the Jaime Alaniz Memorial Field) was only three blocks away and it had a baseball field, basketball court, and swings. This was not much different from what Ray described in “Light My Fire”: “It had a baseball diamond-complete with lights for night games for the big guys – an outdoor basketball court and swings and teeter totters and a sand pit for the little kids.” I could imagine Ray jumping out of school across the street for lunch and bursting out the door to catch up with his friends at the playground, and run back to school at the end of the hour.
As Ray grew up he recounts his father taking him to Maxwell Street. Maxwell Street doesn’t exist any more as it did then, like an open air Arab Bazaar or the open air markets of the old country. Blues musicians would sit on a stool on the sidewalk plugged into a small amp and played the blues. The Maxwell Street neighborhood can be seen briefly in “The Blues Brothers” movie when they go to buy equipment at Ray’s (Charles) Music Exchange.
The neighborhood hasn’t changed all that much since Ray and his friends ran the streets, kids still burst out the Everett School heading for home or the playground. It’s still a working class neighborhood, Latino now rather than Polish, at the end of the block a building that was undoubtedly the neighborhood tavern of Ray’s time. Somewhere in time, within memory Ray still runs these streets and perhaps Ray is remembering that child today, on his 72nd birthday.
Originally published February 12, 2011.