Evanston’s long-time love affair with its old-style Tallmadge street lights may be fading.

Evanston aldermen approved purchase of 23 more of the fixtures Monday night, but seemed interested in revisiting the decision made amid much public controversy nearly four decades ago to stick with the lights designed almost a century ago by Evanston architect Thomas Eddy Tallmadge.

Even a long-time critic of many sorts of change in town, Jeff Smith, of 2724 Harrison St., the founding president of the Central Street Neighbors Association, told aldermen “the Tallmadge lights are horrible.”

“They put light where it’s not needed, instead of where it is needed,” Smith said. “The light goes into the eyes of drivers and cyclists, making the streets less safe.”

Aldermen were somewhat more muted in their criticism of the fixtures.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked whether they could be adapted so they don’t shine upward and create light pollution in the sky.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said that attitudes may have changed since the city last did a study of street lighting in town, which Grover said was in 1979.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, the council’s longest-serving member, said that back then people were used to the Tallmadge lights — which in their original form she compare to “lighting a match.”

But then about 10 years later, Rainey said, people started wanting brighter lights. And in response many of the Tallmage fixtures were gradually retrofitted with brighter bulbs.

Holmes said people weren’t thinking about safety as much back then.

Assistant Public Works Director James Maiworm said the city several years ago identified one vendor of a fiberglass light fixture that closely resembles the current metal Tallmadge lights and costs significantly less. But he said staff is still looking for additional vendors for lights, seeking something he said would “be almost identical and longer lasting.”

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that staff also hopes to present some fresh ideas for pedestrian-oriented lighting when it brings plans for the Emerson-Ridge-Green Bay project to the City Council next month.

Related story

City hopes to shed new light on streets (7/24/2015)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Sacrilege

    I'm a member of a Facebook group with thousands of current and former Evanstonians who meet to discuss Evanston memories, and where many artful and nostalgic images of the city's Tallmadge lamps are posted (and adored) on a regular basis. I think I'll do Evanston Now a huge favor: Instead of sharing the link to an article that appears to dismiss the role these lamps play in our town's unique architectural aesthetic and landscape, I'll simply forget that I ever read such nonsense.

  2. Tallmadge Lamps, History and Perspective

    Some History. I was around when the current Tallmadge street lights were installed. I say current because what you see now are replicas of the original design.

    If I'm remembering correctly, the first lights were installed in the 1920s, were 12 feet high and used incandescent bulbs (yes, the lights were even dimmer back then).

    By the 1970s these first generation lamps were in horrible condition and had to be replaced. The City proposed installing something more modern and brighter, but there was quite a backlash against this idea.

    Instead the City paid to have the lamps replicated with some modifications. The "new" ones are taller and give off more light. We paid a lot for that redesign.

    Somewhere in the City's files should be the revised drawings, specifications, cost estimates and bids for manufacturing the replacements.

    These street lights are iconic. Before going down the path of replacing them, the City should dust off the drawings and have an engineer look at the design to see if it can be modified to meet current requirements.

    If the lamps could be modified once, they can be modified again. The Tallmadge lights are beautiful, historic, and are part of what makes Evanston, well, Evanston. They need to stay!

    1. Love our Lights

      I love our lights and agree with the poster that says let's explore modifications on what is a loved design.  Why can't we add something reflective to the top glass on their insides so that they don't blast the night sky?  That same reflective something will reflect the light down onto the sidewalks.  Just a thought as I'm sure there are many engineering fixes that exist to resolve the issues raised by the complainers.

  3. Kudos to Smith and Grover

    Yes, the Talmadge lights are pretty and historic, but Jeff Smith and Ald. Grover are spot on with their comments. The current streetlights do shine in eyes and, I'm sure, in many residents' front windows. A recent summer vacation in the country revealed how woefully light-polluted Evanston skies are.

    I must say that the new streetlights in the Civic Center parking lot do an excellent job of illuminating what needs to be illuminated without any collateral damage.

  4. Lights and safety; repair issues

    The brighter bulbs installed a while ago help giving more light to the streets (and the sky, surrounding area etc.), but many of the light are up in the tree canopy (or the canopy has grown down) and this blocks the light from illuminating the sidewalks, streets etc.  Not a safe thing.

    From conversations with the city, there is not a stock of light poles and they have to be ordered. There are many poles down from weather, traffic accidents etc. It would seem that we should stock the poles, especially since they appear to be special order items.

    However, it might be time to consider alternatives as has been suggested.

    1. Being a new resident of
      Being a new resident of Evanston, I am curious about the Forestry dept assuming there is one. Adding to the comment about the lights in tree canopy it seems like a lot of trees aren’t pruned around the streetlights at least in our area. Even if crime isn’t directed related to the amount of streetlights you have, providing an adequate amount of light to move around would be helpful.

  5. Tallmadge lights
    Have you seen the new Chicago dual-lamp streetlights with a lamp over the street and one over the sidewalk on each standard? Chicago was greatly over-lit before with reflected skylight I could read my watch by in south Evanston, but now there is even more glare at the sidewalk. There is no more night-time south of Howard. If I recall correctly there was testimony at the time of the faux Tallmadge decision that there is no relationship between intensity of light and crime, but there sure is an aesthetic effect. No prison yard could be better lit than Chicago neighborhoods.

    Has anyone talked with the folks in Wilmette? They maintain a design similar but shorter than the Evanston lights that give a warmer glow and do provide some light to the sidewalks, not being up in the trees. How have they been able to maintain their lights over a greater period than the life of the imitation Tallmadge lights?

    1. Wilmette is not a good example for your case

      Their lights are so dim you can't see two car lengths ahead even when under a light let alone on a sidewalk.  To see bikes, pedestrians or people getting out of cars, you depend on headlights of car coming and going near you.
      Go down Poplar sometime.  They might as well have no lights.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published.