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The Turtle Wax Turtle

Somewhere in Chicago (Pete Albrecht and I are still trying to figure out precisely where) there was once a very Gothic-looking building with a giant turtle on top of it. It was the Turtle Wax turtle, of course, and it existed when I was quite young. Any time we'd be in the car passing by it, my folks would very carefully point it out. That would have been 1958-1962 or so. Pete thinks the building is the Wendell Bank Building at the intersection of Madison, Ashland, and Ogden, and it certainly looks right, though Pete remembers the sign being somewhere on Cicero and not Ashland. I confess that I have no idea, but that intersection would have been on the way to visit my grandfather and Uncle Louie, so it's a plausble hypothesis.

The search for the abode of the Really Big Turtle did turn up an interesting little video on the main Turtle Wax history page about Ben Hirsch and the genesis of Turtle Wax. Hirsch invented Plastone Car Polish, which became Turtle Wax after Hirsch stopped by Turtle Creek near Beloit and had the brainstorm that his car polish created a “hard shell finish.” Hirsch also invented the chocolate-covered banana on a stick and a few other things, though I suspect he made most of his money on Turtle Wax. The video shows some stills of the Big Turtle being erected and is worth a look, especially since it shows the monumental size of the statue. The video also includes an animated ad from the 1950s that's worth the cost of admission. The turtle sounds like Jimmy Durante.

I'm a little surprised that something that big and that iconically Chicago has been so little recorded online. It may be that it existed for only a few years, and it may have been moved to another location at some pont. We're looking for better information and I'll post any updates here as they happen.

35 Comments

  1. Steve B. says:

    I have the same memory of the Turtle Wax turtle rotating on top of a tall building back in the 50’s. Somehow, I had thought it was the Palmolive Building at Michigan and Walton, but I guess I would not have seen it clearly from the car if it were that high up.

    The picture sure looks like what I saw as a kid. Thanks for the memories. I was beginning to think I had imagined it!

    1. I don’t think it rotated…but then again, it was so long ago that I have no crisp recollection. But like you, there was a 40-odd year period when I thought I had made it all up, or dreamed it.

  2. barbara korbel says:

    It did rotate! I, too, remember this as a fond memory from childhood. I saw the rotating turtle from the L. Either the blue line or green coming from the west side.

  3. Sue says:

    I also remember this turtle on the building and i was standing across the street watching as they lowered it off the building, At that time i was a little girl, It felt so sad to see it removed

    1. Could you calculate (roughly) from how old you were about when the turtle was taken down? I know it was there until 1959 or 1960, but no one’s been able to give me any clear idea when it was removed. Thanks!

      1. Sue says:

        I’m not sure maybe about 1963 i would have been in the 4th or 5th grade, I went to the Skinner school, Sorry i didn’t see your post till now, Hope this helps

  4. Gary Gay says:

    In 1961 I graduated from high school in Port Washington, Ohio and in June arrived in Chicago to attend the “Allied Institute of Technology” (which is no longer there) and I lived at the YMCA at 1515 West Monroe (which I believe is now the Salvation Army Building) and I saw the turtle daily which was about a block or 2 away. I moved to 1226 South Michigan Avenue (The Townhouse Hotel – which is no longer there) in 1963 and I swear the turtle was still standing when I left for the Air Force in June of 1964. I read somewhere on the net that it was taken down sometime around 1967-68. Those were good memories…and I wish they would stop taking away my past…

  5. Sally says:

    I also remember that giant turtle on the top of the building. It did rotate and I remember also seeing search lights. I would stick my head out of the car window when I was going to a movie theater that showed Spanish movies. It was I believe late 50’s early 60’s. I wish there were more pictures of this giant turtle. Turtle Wax must have some pictures in it’s archives.

  6. That is so funny my husband and I talk about the turtle wax turtle every time we drive to that area of the city. I remember seeing the turtle when I was about eight until I was about twelve years old. That would have been 1958 through 1962. We lived on Ogden Ave and my Dad would always point out the turtle when we were driving and we knew we were almost home. My husband remembers the turtle being on Ogden, Ashland and Grand. I really wish my Dad was still here he could tell me exactly where the turtle was. I hope someone knows I would sure like to find out some day.

    1. More recent research shows that the turtle was atop a very gothic sort of building at the intersection of Madison, Ashland and Ogden. It’s the building shown in the post, absent the turtle. See the photo that Steve Lesser linked to in an earlier comment, the same building with the turtle in place. Dates are still a little uncertain, but that’s definitely the place!

  7. David curd says:

    The turtle wax turtle was manufactured by multiplastics in Addison, il.the shell of the turtle was translucent and was illuminated to reflect changes in the weather. Will provide further information later. minated

    1. Very cool. I don’t remember ever going past it at night, but being illuminated from inside is an obvious thing to do. Reminds me of the Weather Bell at Monroe and Clark downtown, right by the entrance to Bell Savings, where Carol and I got our first mortgage. Bell Savings is long gone, engulfed and devoured by Lasalle Bank 20-odd years ago, but the bell is still there. I think the first-floor retail space is now a Walgreens. Now that Chicago is the crime capital of the Midwest, we don’t go down there very much.

  8. Michael Curd says:

    Yes, it rotated, which allowed the colored shell to be seen. Colors representing different weather. The building was triangular in plan, the intersection being an acute angle. One of the streets was Ogden Avenue. When the property changed hands, the turtle was purchased by an amusement park.

  9. Paul Jannusch says:

    It was many years ago I was told it was hit by lighting in a bad storm. The wireing was burned. It was badly damaged and the cost was too much to repair. the frame was also badly rusted and was a safety hazard. I miss seeing it too.

  10. Rita Blanco says:

    I have a couple of old Kodak instamatic photos of the day it was taken down. I loved that turtle and my dad took us to watch. It was loaded on to a long flatbed truck. I have always wondered what they did with it because the workmen seemed to be very careful to not damage it though it looked pretty worn.

    1. By any chance is the date on the photos? (Many old snapshots had a month and a year printed on the margin by the print machine.) I and others here would be interested to know when it was taken down.

  11. Rita Blanco says:

    I’m away from home right now but I’ll check when I return.

  12. Rita Blanco says:

    I found the pictures! I have only three but since they were kept in an acid free envelope they are in good shape. According to the margins on the pictures the turtle was taken down sometime in October of 1963. That would be correct because I remember it was fall and you can see that the men are wearing sort of light weight jackets. You can see the truck in which it was hauled away. I mistakenly thought it was a flatbed but with the turtle hovering above the truck the scale is amazing.

    1. Erica says:

      Rita, on the off-chance that you see this post, would you please contact me? I have a question about your photos. Many thanks!

      1. Feliz Palacios says:

        Post them if you please the photos Rita, loved to see its final days in our city of chicago.

      2. Rita Blanco says:

        Sorry for this long long delay. So many things in life got in the way.
        I hope some of the folks here finally get to see the pictures. To some of you, no you were not imagining a giant turtle. Follow my link to Facebook down below.

  13. Edward Maldonado says:

    Hello everyone,
    I thought this was a surreal childhood dream I kept having because no one I knew ever heard or remembered seeing a “giant turtle atop a tall building”. I would love to see more photos of the turtle and to share with my daughter who thought her dad was on drugs when I told her of my memory. Please post! Ed

  14. Hafford Mitchell says:

    The Turtle Wax building with the rotating turtle was at the corner of Fifth avenue and W Madison. That was in 1956 when we lived on W Polk at Independence Blvd. I have also been looking for a photo.

  15. Virginia says:

    This is so ironic.I almost thought I was maybe dreaming .
    This turtle hunted me for a long time.Now I see their was
    others that remember that turtle.my parents would point
    that big turtle to my sister’s and brother’s and myself.
    none of them could remember it,do it made me want to investigate.
    Even the intanet couldn’t help.I also remember the clock near by that
    chime on the hour.bong bong .Do anybody remember a clock somewhere near it..or is it just me.please help.

  16. Virginia says:

    I remember turtle on top of an old building back in 1958 or1962.
    I believe I was about 6yrs.to 10 yrs.I can’t tell.I identified it as a clock
    stomach on a big turtle.But I was wrong .It was turtle
    wax.the clock chime every hour.I thought.

    1. The period I saw the Turtle was from about 1957 (when I was 5) until 1960 or 1961, when we started taking the Kennedy Expressway (which was not called that yet) and another route to see my grandfather on 31st Place. There may have been a clock in the building itself, but the turtle had no clock as part of its structure.

  17. Bill says:

    I remember my father walking me and my sisters to the unveiling of the turtle. There was a big parade possibly down Ashland Avenue. I remember seeing Jimmy Durante and Lassie in the parade. Very exciting for us to see actual t.v. Stars in the flesh. At the time it was a short walk from our home which was on the site of today’s Whitney Young High school. As others have stated this must have been around 1956.

  18. Nancy says:

    I remember seeing the Turtle Wax turtle on the way to Wrigley Field – I was 5 yo, around 1956. We were driving in to Chicago from Lemont, so we most likely were on Ogden. For some reason, I remember seeing it from the stadium, but I must’ve been mistaken. I do remember it rotating. I thought that I could always find my way back to Wrigley and the Cubs by following the turtle…

  19. Russ says:

    I remember it rotating. We lived in the near north side of Chicago so my mom drove by it quite a bit. This had to be his 1960s. I was born in 1957. Miss that turtle when they took it down.

    1. Rita, for some reason Facebook won’t let us see the photos. You may have to set permissions so that everyone can see them. Many thanks for posting them! I’m very much looking forward to seeing them.

  20. Rita Blanco says:

    Thanks for letting me know. I’ll check it out because I would love for you and others who still may be looking to see them.

  21. Rita Blanco says:

    I think you’ll be able to see the photos now.

  22. Albert Buzzelli says:

    I lived on Marshfield St. just across from St. Luke hospital (across the expressway)and remember the Turtle very well (and fondly). I remember one night we waited for the motorcade taking JFK to give an address at the Coliseum on Madison Ave. during his campaign. I was probably 10 as I believe it was around 1960. I saw that turtle change colors many times.. Yes, the triangle building was at the corner of Ashland, Madison and Ogden streets.

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