Sunday, October 10, 2010

Chicago Marathon 10-10-10

 A hot October day greeted the 45,000+ runners (there are always a few unofficial runners in the mix) who dared run the Chicago Marathon today.

Monday, September 20, 2010

406 W. Wisconsin Street

You may have noticed I haven't posted here in a good while. I decided to take a break as I determined how I and if I wanted to continue this blog. I'll try to continue posting, but the type and frequency of posts may change. I hope you'll still enjoy!

This interesting modern on Wisconsin street is currently in construction. I had a chance to speak with the owner awhile back ( I apologize in advance for having not caught his name). He owned the previous existing building for many years but for a very long time had his eyes set on building something that was uniquely "him". He has created a 3 story entryway space with a 20+ wall of glass block, which, at least in Old Town terms, certainly qualifies as unique. He seemed to be exercising some real thought concerning his design decisions. For example, the west facade of the building could have been a monotonous  grey brick wall, but by using multiple shades of grey and varied brick textures, he has created a more palatable edifice.  Construction is still on going, so stop by sometime to take a look.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blair Kamin on Harry Weese

Continuing the discussion on architect Harry Weese is Chicago Tribune Architecture critic Blair Kamin.  Check out this recent piece from his cityscapes blog.
"A vivid, no-holds-barred look at the life and career of the late Chicago architect Harry Weese is creating a stir in Chicago's architecture community. The story, which appears in the current issue of Chicago magazine and was written by Robert Sharoff, deals not only with Weese's eclectic architectural creations and visionary urban plans, but also his notorious boozing and womanizing."
 Check out other posts at Renown Old Town on Harry Weese here and here.

Artist Colonies of Old Town on Chicago Sojourn

My hiatus of regular posting continues, but in the meantime, please check out this recent post By Robert Powers A Chicago Sojourn.
"Two remarkable enclaves of artistic thought, expression and craft thrived in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, starting in the 1920s and peaking in the 1950s. Both sprung from the artistic ambitions of prolific artist Edgar Miller, who spent decades carefully crafting his studio and the surrounding properties."
Powers manages to do for the entire city of Chicago what I struggle do for a single neighborhood, continue to provide interest content in a timely manner.  Give him a read and see for yourself.  He also provides a good collection of photographs.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lynn Becker on Harry Weese

A couple days ago, local Chicago architecture luminary Lynn Becker blogged about Harry Weese (June 30, 1915 - October 29, 1998), famous Chicago Architect, and former resident of Old Town, on his excellent blog, Architecture Chicago Plus
"Weese was a giant in Chicago history whose contributions went beyond his buildings, to an impassioned activism that kept Inland Architect alive for years,  and that was instrumental in saving and restoring the irreplaceable Auditorium Theater at a time when Skidmore, Owings and Merrill was recommending demolishing it and building a replacement in the shell."
 For further reading, a few months back, I wrote a piece on Weese, and specifically his project at 235 W Eugenie Street, in Old Town.  You can read it here.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Old Town Wildlife

How about celebrating our wonderful wildlife on this beautiful 4th of July! 

Monday, June 28, 2010

Digging through the Archives.

Here is a classic piece on the issue of preservation within Old Town, from July 27th, 1989, in the Chicago Reader.  Interesting that the article mentions Vince Micheal by name. It is clear Mr. Micheal's connection to Old Town runs deep.  You can read his excellent blog, Time Tells, here.

Sneak development: Old Town preservationist fight the attack of the incredible expanding buildings 

"Old Town is being ambushed by sneak development. In 1978 the city designated the Old Town Triangle a Chicago Landmark District. But home owners and developers are still lifting up one- or two-story homes and tucking a garage or basement underneath. Whole floors are being added to the tops of buildings, and newly constructed rooms bulge from the sides and backs of homes. Rooftop patios abound. Front yards are being converted to parking lots. Only the facades remain the same. Sometimes. "

Even though the article is over 20 years old, it is still quite fresh and relevant.  

In my experience, many Old Town residents take pride in the culture, history, architecture and character of Old Town.  They enjoy the opportunity to name drop moderately famous former residents such as Don Herbert (Tv's Mr. Wizard) and Architect Harry Weese.  They can  barely contain themselves from talking about the once thriving artist colony, or the numerous comedy legends that have sprung from the neighborhoods Second City.  It is easy to see why the residents of Old Town take such pride in their neighborhood but a closer inspection reveals some interesting quirks.

On several occasions I've encountered an almost bitter negative attitude towards some of the more modern buildings located within the hallowed streets of Old Town.  These buildings, many constructed post World War II, are seen as intruders on the quaint Old Town streets of yesteryear by a certain class of old town 'traditionalist' (as I chose to call them).  In some cases the complaints are justified, as some of the buildings are simply eye sores, but in many cases, the few modern buildings peppered throughout Old Town add a the spice of wonderful diversity to the neighborhood's flavor.  These modern buildings typically match the scale and density of the existing neighborhood quite well.  To give you an idea of the buildings I am discussing, some examples are here and here.

On the other extreme, I've rarely heard these same rigid traditionalists complain about the other intruders of Old Town, the over developers, the gut rehabbers, the people who take a building, once home to three separate two flat units, and gut and 'rehab' it into a monstrous single family home.  The only preservation taking place here is superficial, certainly the facade has been maintained, but it is nothing but a false, hollow shell.  The change is more substantive, it is a loss of culture, or at the least, the potential for culture.  The density has been cut down, easily by 1/2 or even as low 1/4 of its previous level.  Clearly this trends towards both increasing the rent rates and great reducing the number of residents in the neighborhood.  Historically, one can imagine and see the artist colony alive and buzzing throughout the many small to midsized flats of Old Town, teaming with life.  In its current state, this is inconceivable, for how can the proverbial starving artist ever afford to rent such massive units? (as if they were even being placed on the market for rent in the first place).

When viewed in this light, the lose of a few buildings in the 1940s seems to pale when compared with the loss of culture and character that has occurred in more recent times.  It is all fun and games to tell the stories of the historic Old Town, but are we wholly content to leave these as nothing more than stories?  I do certainly enjoy living in a historic neighborhood, but I have to wonder if you will agree, wouldn't it be even more exciting to be part of a neighborhood still creating history for others to celebrate in the future?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

Old Town Social

The Chicago Sun Times had a nice review of the recently opened Old Town Social, at the South East corner of North Ave. and Cleveland Ave.
"All is not cold cuts, cheeses and sandwiches at Old Town Social, though. We got into steak frites that couldn't have been better. The skirt steak had been given a gentle marination before hitting the grill, and it was so tender, so perfectly medium-rare, I almost didn't get the full effect of the light smear of "Illinois ramp butter" (deliciously creative) on the steak." - Pat Bruno
Unfortunately, I personally haven't had the chance to stop by for a visit yet, but I have seen the crowds Pat described quite a few times, it does seem to be the happening place in Old Town these days.  Check out the rest of the review from the link above, and check out Old Town Social.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Old Town Art Fair

This past weekend, the Old Town Art Fair took place in the triangle.  Rain or shine, the art fair has run continuously since 1949.  This year it featured 260 artists, representing a very impressive array or artistically styles and mediums.  The juried Old Town Art Fair is one of the oldest in the Americas and is popular amongst casual art fair goers and art aficionados alike.  This year rain fell heavily on Saturday, the 12th, but crowds still turned out in large numbers to enjoy the art, eat fair food, listen to music from local musicians and have pleasant conversation with their neighbors.

Rather than attempt to discuss the fair in depth, I would like to highlight a single artist who struck me as particularly inspired and will represent, I hope, the scope of the art presented at the fair. 

Cindy Wynn, a sculptural artist from Keywest, Florida, uses found objects, primarily metal "junk" to construct beautiful pieces of furniture.  I had a chance to speak with her for a few minutes and I was very impressed with the depth of her knowledge about welding and metal work.  To the uninitiated, suffice it say, not all metals are created equal and not all metals are weldable.  Quality welding is a skill that is both procedural and artist, and Cindy commands both with great expertise.  I've photographed several of her pieces to share some of the flavor, though it needs to be experienced in person to fully appreciate. 

You can find much more of her work here at her website, and here at her Flickr page.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Need for Bike Racks + Artists = Opportunity?

This piece in the Chicago Sun Times tells of Chicago's push to solve bike storage problems throughout the city.
"The $1.15 billion deal that privatized Chicago parking meters — and the subsequent switch to pay-and-display boxes — cost bicycle riders thousands of parking spaces. They used to hitch their wheels to meters. Now, they can’t.

The shortage of spaces is about to become a boon for local artists.

The City Council’s Transportation Committee on Monday authorized an innovative public art program that could someday rival the wildly-popular Cows on Parade.

Artists will be asked to design decorative bike racks that double as pieces of public art wherever chambers of commerce, neighborhood groups or a so-called “special services area” bankrolled by local businesses comes up with the money to pay for them."
The article goes on to state that 43rd Ward Alderman, Vi Daley, has been at the front of the push.
"In Chicago, Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) came up with the idea for decorative bike racks while working with the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce to install racks on Clark Street, between Armitage and Diversey.
“We wanted to do, not just the regular bike racks. We wanted to do something unique and something different,” Daley said.

“But, all of the sudden we ran into this obstacle along the way because the city would rather have their standard bike racks. They were concerned about having something bigger, whether it’s shaped like a fish [or something else]. How does it fit on the street? Is it too big? Is it too small? Is it too close to the curb?”

The new public art program will force the city to be more flexible. And bike riding will benefit.

“People come to the ward to see the sculptures. They might do the same thing with bike racks, if they’re that unique,” she said."
 This is another fine example of Vi's championing the arts in our urban community.  As a regular bike commuter and patron of the arts, I couldn't be more pleased with this effort.  The regular black metal bike racks certainly have their place, and function just fine, but their is something really great about seizing the opportunity to marry artist creativity and the public need into something really useful and unique.  I can't wait to see some of the designs.

While on the topic of Biking, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Village Cycle Center, at 1337 N Wells Street.  I couldn't be happier with the service I've received from them over the years.  Village Cycle Center is full of helpful sales employees, all of whom come across as real bike enthusiasts and are willing to take the time to really help you find the right bike, repair your current model or find just the right accessories.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Explore Chicago

Explore Chicago, the Chicago tourism website, has recently gone through a major renovation, and the information on specific neighborhoods has been updated and expanded.  Check out the section on Old Town here
"Old Town is -- and always has been -- one of Chicago's great destination-neighborhoods. It's that simple.

Yet locals -- and especially locals older than, say, 50 -- find it irresistible to regale visitors with tales of what it was, not because it was necessarily better back then but because Old Town for a time seemed to reinvent itself every 10 or 15 years, and that makes for individualized sets of memories.

There was the artist era when rents were cheap, then the folkies took over Wells Street and then the hippies and then the gentrifiers. For a time, Ripley's Believe It or Not provided a certain . . . presence. There were burger places and bars with peanut shells on the floor, and across the street an adult club next to a French restaurant and down the street a steak joint next to Second City, which was across from Earl Pionke's pub. (How sweet the sounds that flowed with the beer at The Earl of Old Town.)"
Not a bad start, the page seems useful and the restaurants and other items reviewed are a pretty good cross section of the greater old town neighborhood.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Old Town Art Fair

Just a quick note here, I've been swamped for the past few weeks and unable to update with anything meaningful.  In the meantime, I want to mention that the old town art fair is coming up in two weeks.  This is THE event of the Old Town year.  If you are looking for an excuse to visit old town, see the beautiful buildings, eat some great food, listen to music and view/purchase world class artwork, make sure to visit the Old Town art fair.  Please note that the Old Town art fair is held in combination with the Well's Street Art Festival and the Party at St. Mike's in Old Town 2010.  Together these three events are a really great event.

Proceeds from the events go right back to the neighborhood parks/playgrounds, schools etc.

Old Town Art Fair:

Wells Street Art Festival:

Party at St. Mike's in Old Town 2010:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Paddy Bauler - Alderman, Saloon Keeper, Pretend Irish, Big Fat Guy: Part 2

This is the second of a two part series on Paddy Bauler, check out the first post here.

Bauler is probably most known for uttering the now infamous line "Chicago ain't ready for reform yet!" (often misquoted without the "yet") after the 1955 election of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Bauler was also noted for altercations with Yippie party leader Abbie Hoffman during the tumultuous year of 1968.  Hoffman, every bit as an enigmatic figure as Paddy Bauler, had wreaked havoc amongst the Chicago democratic machine politics of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, allegedly threatening to dump LSD into the city water supply, as well as to pull down Hubert Humphrey's pants.  Bauler's enthusiastic cry of electoral triumph has come to symbolize Chicago's historic and on going struggles with political corruption.  Suffice it to say, recent champions of political rectitude and historic re enactments, such as Milorad R. "Rod" Blagojevich and George Ryan have kept the tradition alive and well.

In case anyone is counting, that makes six governors that have been charged with crimes during or after their terms in offense (oops... I mean office).

Not surprisingly, Bauler was very much entwined in the Chicago political machine throughout his reign as alderman supreme.  According to his article "FATHERS, SONS AND UNHOLY GHOSTS", James L. Merriner notes that "Two of his (Bauler's) brothers were aldermen, another brother was a cop, his son was a sanitation superintendent, and anyone else even distantly related seemed to get city jobs somehow."

Ultimately, Bauler's contributions to the political culture were minimal beyond his use of patronage as he pushed for few legislative changes and general disdained reformers, calling one particularly bothersome reformer "so dumb he probably thinks the forest preserve is some kind of jelly" (quote thanks to David K. Fremon's "Chicago Politics, ward by ward" )

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mother's Day In Old Town

In honor of Mother's day this Sunday, here are some lovely flowers courtesy of Old Town Garden's.  You can read me eariler piece about the Garden's here.  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, and don't forget to call your mothers! 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lakefront Sculpture Exhibit

A quick heads up here on the Lakefront Sculpture Exhibit.  I can't tell the story any better than Alderman herself, so the following is from the Alderman Vi Daley's website
Entering its ninth year, the Lakefront Sculpture Exhibit (LSE) was created by Alderman Vi Daley to bring large-scale art to the neighborhoods in the ward.  The LSE this year has grown and will install 20 new sculptures around the 43rd and 44th wards.  The support of local businesses, individuals, groups and organizations makes it possible to present these ever changing sculptures on our streets.

For the 2010 exhibit, a jury selected twenty local artists’ sculptures to be sited in areas ranging from contemplative park settings to manufacturing districts, and from quiet residential streets to bustling commercial avenues. The large and mid-size sculptures take on new dimension when viewed in these urban landscapes throughout the area. The eye-catching sculptures will remain on display for 12 months.  In May of 2010 the current sculptures will be taken down and the new exhibit will be installed.

Chosen artists for 2010 include: Terry Karpowicz, Nicole Beck, Eric Steele, Shencheng Xu, John Adduci, Andrew Arvanetes and Jennifer Dickson. Todd Willing’s sculpture “Mesais representative of the American Southwest; while John Bannon’s work “Composition in Aluminum” is a decidedly more contemporary sculpture.  Jason Verbeek creates a “Living Sculpture” bringing sedum and chicks and hens to a steel sculpture.

You will see that it takes “Two to Tango” and what it really means to be “In Deep Rough.” And you won’t want to miss Andrew Arvanetes futuristic “Twist and Shout” or Ron Gard’s “Ripe Fig Split.”
Just to give you an Idea of what we are talking about, below I've linked to a couple of sculptures from the 2009 series, which will be taken down shortly, and replaced with new works.  I only hope the new works are as impressive and beautiful as these sculptures, which have enhanced our community for the past year.  You can see these sculptures, the rest of the 2009 sculptures, as well as the previous years sculptures, dating back to 2002 here at the Chicago Lakefront Sculpture Exhibit website.

“Going Green” • 12’ x 5’ x 6’ • Aluminum

Artist: Michael Young

Sponsor: Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce

Location: Clark Street - North of Drummond





“Chamber Muse Synesthesia” • 9’ x 4’ x 3’ • Epoxy Clad Steel

Artist: Richard Kiebdaj

Sponsor: Central Lake View Merchants Association

Location: Clark and Roscoe




“Bridge” • 4’ x 7.25’ x 3.75’ • Fiberglass with Iron Armature

Artist: Jennifer Dickson

Sponsor: Old Town Triangle Association

Location: Clark and Lincoln




Friday, April 30, 2010

1726 N Hudson

Another great Italianate, One reason that I'm drawing attention to this home is to show how diverse the many Italianates within Old Town really are.  It is very interesting to see how the various Italianate homes Old Town each possess common features, and yet also all have their own unique qualities.

This home is located at 1726 north Hudson Avenue.  Thanks to a nicely placed marker on the building itself, we know it was constructed in 1880.  This brick home features attractive carved stone lintels over the windows and doors, paired corbels at the cornice, as well as dentils on the trim. The lintels are either of exceptional quality, have been very well maintained and/or have been replaced, as the carvings are especially sharp and clear, regardless, it is very nice to see.  The continuous horizontal stone band, approximately 3 brick courses tall, is a nice detail that gives the facade of this home additional interest by breaking up the main brick field, which can otherwise at times be tiring on the eye.

Given the home's age, it is fair to assume that the wooden stairs presently on the home are not original.  It is likely that at the time the home was first constructed, the stairs were built of concrete.

If you have ever walked the streets of Old Town, you might have noticed that there seems to be an on going debate about the merits of wooden vs. concrete stoops.   It seems many owners, trying to save money, decide to replace their old, deteriorated concrete stoops with new wooden ones.  This leads to an almost endless cycle of repainting and replacing of worn or damaged treads.  This of course leads to a future owner, tired of all the hassle of repainting their wooden stairs, deciding to have a concrete stoop installed...  and the cycle begins anew...

Monday, April 26, 2010

A New Blog to Keep an Eye On

Breaking news on the Old Town Blogger front (I bet you didn't even know there was an Old Town Blogger front, let alone breaking news items): Shirley Baugher, noted Old Town historian and author of such Old Town specific books as

"A Taste of our Old Town: The Art of Food"

"Our Old Town: The History of a Neighborhood"

"At Home in Our Old Town: Every House Has a Story"

has started an Old Town blog at Chicagonow. You can read Shirley's "My Kind of Old Town" here. Also, all the books mentioned above are available through the Old Town Triangle Association, here. In her first regular post, Shirley highlights the upcoming 'Sounds of Music' show at the Midwestern Buddhist Temple (located at the 435 W. Menomonee):

"...TV has Glee, Old Town has Sounds of Music, four amazing choral groups from the Lincoln Park High School (Timothy Cooper, Director); Abraham Lincoln Elementary School (Eric Brummit, Director); Franklin Fine Arts Academy (Anne Gray Director); and the Sounds of Sweetness from Walter Payton College Prep High School (Jeff Weaver, Director) performing live on Sunday, April 25, at 2:00 p.m. at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee Street."

Read the rest of the post here.

Welcome to the blogosphere (which has little to do with "Rod" Blagojevich, honestly)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Paddy Bauler - Alderman, Saloon Keeper, Pretend Irish, Big Fat Guy: Part 1

This is the first in a two part series on former Chicago alderman Mathias "Paddy" Bauler.

In his book "Chicago: The Second City" Abbott Joseph Liebling, of the New Yorker Fame, observed that That "...among politicians the rule is: when in doubt, be Irish".  Few, if any, in Chicago history exemplify this rule better than Mathias "Paddy" Bauler (1890-1977).  Paddy, whose father was a German immigrant and mother was a child of Germans living in America,  found it politically expedient and beneficial to his chosen profession, saloon keeper, to take on the persona of a jolly, drunken Irishman.  By all appearance, Bauler and all of his mash potato 300 pound body, succeeded grandly.  

Bauler owned a saloon, The De Luxe Gardens, at North Avenue and Sedgwick Street.  An excerpt from Liebling discusses the Garden as follows.
"A superb specimen of a Chicago alderman is Paddy Bauler, who represents the Forty-third Ward. Bauler's De Luxe Gardens, at north Avenue and Sedgwick, is as sedate a groggery as you will come upon in the city of Chicago. It occupies the former premises of the Immigrant State Bank, which went under in the crash, and the original lavatory solemnity of the interior's marble d├ęcor has never been altered. The high ceilings, the grilles barring the way to the vaults, and all the other accessories designed to nurture unfounded confidence remain to warn of the uncertainty of appearances, and the patrons conduct themselves as discreetly as men about to solicit a loan. It is here that the Alderman, who is also a member of the Cook County Democratic Committee, holds court, like Saint Louis of France under his tree of judgment, from nine to eleven each evening, when he is not traveling in Europe. Paddy travels often, and always in style; he says that trips to places like Rome and Palestine help him to understand the different kinds of people in his ward. The saloon's license is in his brother's name. Paddy has apparently done well at making his aldermanic salary of five thousand dollars a year stretch.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Old Town Gardens Inc.

A healthy relationship between residences and businesses plays a critical roll in sustaining the inviting culture of a functioning urban neighborhood.  In Old Town, no location better exemplifies this relationship than Old Town Gardens.  With its tiny city lots and many 3 and 4 story buildings, often built lot line to lot line, opportunities to enjoy the natural world are greatly appreciated within Old Town.

Old Town Gardens has been providing Old Town with beautiful flowers in the spring, fresh vegetables in the summer, and even a healthy selection of pumpkins come October.  Located at 1555 N Wells Street, immediately south of the busy North Ave. and Wells Street intersection, Old Town Gardens is a surprisingly calm and peaceful retreat.

The Old Town Gardens are happily placed between a 3 story brick building to the south, that provides adequate shade in the summer months, and the Galleria liqueurs to the north, which serves an excellent visual buffer between the Old Town Gardens and another 3 story brick building to the Galleria's immediate north.  This generous placement creates an intimate but not confining space for serious gardeners and "window" shoppers alike.

All of these photographs are from my recent visit to the gardens, as I prepared for early spring flower planting.  Currently the Old Town Gardens only has a small fraction of its future stock, but as you can see, a healthy selection of pansies are already in bloom.  I'll certainly be back for some young tomato plants in the upcoming weeks.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bauler Park Clean Up

A great opportunity to visit with locals in old town and help the community is coming up, a week from this Saturday. Bauler play lot is a small but very well loved park. The park is located at the corner of Wisconsin street and Hurlbut street (later changed to Cleveland Avenue). It is named after longtime 43rd ward alderman, bar owner, and Chicagoan through and through, Paddy Bauler.

In the future I'll give Paddy Bauler and the park a proper write up, but for the time being, I just want to bring attention to the park clean up. I am planning to be out there bright and early to lend a hand.

The following comes directly from Vi Daley, current Alderman of the 43rd ward. I hope to see you there!

"On Saturday, April 17th, 9AM - Noon: Join the Lincoln Central Association and your neighbors at Bauler Play lot (Wisconsin and Cleveland).

Plan to prune bushes, rake leaves and clean-up litter. Supplies will include some gloves, garbage bags, and T-shirts will be given out on a first-come, first served basis.

If you have any of the following, bring them along: work gloves, rakes, brooms, shovels, wheelbarrows, buckets, hoses, sunscreen, sunglasses, water bottle and rain poncho or jacket. Dress in layers with sturdy shoes."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

319 W Eugenie

Built in 1874, this lovely Italianate, like many of the homes in Old Town, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  It is located at 319 W. Eugenie, which is at the crux of the "T" intersection of Orleans and Eugenie.  "T" intersections of this type are common within Old Town.  Many of the streets simply do not obey the typical Chicago grid, they start stop, twist and turn in every which way.  This disobedience with the Chicago grid is a result of old Town surviving the great Chicago fire mostly intact.  At the time of the fire, Old Town was at the northern limits of the city of Chicago.  Prior to the fire, Chicago did not have a grid system, but took the opportunity, after an immense portion of the city had burned down, to institute a more logical pattern for its roads.

Old Town's jumbled roads are a hold over from the previous, less formal time.  This is fact is quite popular amongst Old Town residents for several reasons the foremost being that it gives them a simple, fun fact to bark at nearly all Old Town visitors who happen to be in earshot, or worse yet, happen to get lost on one of the local streets.

The twisting, winding roads also have the benefit of greatly limiting through traffic, as the roads simple do not go through the neighborhood uninterrupted. As a result, Old Town roads are rarely the fastest or most direct way to travel through the north side of the city.  This lack of through traffic enhances the calmer sides of the neighborhood and encourages a walking culture that is more than abundant in Old Town.

319 W Eugine possess several charming Italianate details, including decorative flattened arch frames over the windows and doors, lovely paired corbels and dentils at the roof eave.  Over the front entryway, a decorative stained glass window shows the houses address.  This window is a great detail, but it is worth noting it is not original to the building.  A little bit of Chicago history detective work will reveal the truth.

In 1909, the City of Chicago adopted a a street renumbering and renaming scheme, proposed by one Edward P. Brennan. This renumbering scheme changed the address of many, many Chicago properties, but had the effect of creating uniformity.  The historic numbering scheme was chaotic, random and unpredictable and the city benefited immensely from the changes.  For our specific property in question, the original address of 319 W Eugenie was 102 W Eugenie.  Clearly the window was added after the change, and at a minimum, more than 35 years after the home was built.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Filming in Old Town: The Color Of Money

Rather than do a single post of all the films shot in or immediately adjacent to Old Town, I've decided to break the subject down into individual posts to allow more room to explore both the film and the setting in detail.

In the 1986 film the Color of Money, directed by Martin Scorsese, Fast Eddie Felson (The iconic role which the late Paul Newman won the Academy Award for Best Actor), an aged liquor dealer and former pool hustling, takes the young Vincent Lauria (played by a young Tom Cruise), a cocky but talented pool player with a "sledge hammer break" to a fictional restaurant and bar 'Sir Loin Inn' .  This was actually shot in O'brien's Steakhouse, at 1528 N. Wells Street in Old Town.    In the scene, Eddie hustles Vincent and his street smart girlfriend, Carmen (played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) into picking up  the tab for dinner.  This scene occurs early in the film and is important in establishing the tenor and back and forth, hustle or be hustled dynamic that is explored several times throughout the story.  The Color of Money has several other scenes shots near Old Town, including local bars and pool halls.  tI is a gritty, character film with some excellent performances by Newman, Cruise, Mastrantonio and even has some nice appearances by a young John Turturro and as well as a young Forest Whitaker respectively.  This is isn't a movie review site, but if you'll give me the latitude, I'd recommend it, if for nothing else than the opening scene which believe it or not, uses a Phil Collin's song to incredible effect.

Obrien's Restaurant & Pub is a popular Old Town Mainstay on Wells Street .that "welcomes you to an atmosphere of casual dining with a Continental cuisine specializing in prime steak & fresh seafood."  Obrien's is especially popular during the warm spring, summer, and fall when they have an outdoor garden cafe for open air dining.  By virtue of its location it is especially convenient for people watching comedy shows at Zanies (at 1548 N. Wells.Street) or the Second City (at 1616 N.Wells Street).  Wells street has long been a popular strip for Old Town residents with its diverse restaurants such as Kamehachi, The Fireplace Inn, Topo Gigio, The Adobe Grill, Los Pinatas, and Club 33.  In addition to the many restaurants, Wells street is populated by interesting boutique shops, such as the Old Town Aquarium, The Spice House,The Twisted Baker, The Fudge Pot, and the Up Down Tobacco Shop. 

The Color of Money will always hold a special place for me, given that Paul Newman is my all time favorite actor.  Newman had an incredible screen presence and was a truly great humanitarian (having given over $250,000,000 in charitable donations through his Newman's Own food products, as well as many, many other large donations to various charities, causes and colleges.)

Monday, March 29, 2010

1740 N Sedgwick

Built in 1882, 1740 N Sedgwick is a fine example of the Italianate style of architecture that was very popular in Chicago, as well as much the rest of the US, in the late 19th century.  From all outward appearances it seems to have been especially well maintained, despite its nearly 130 years of age.

Within Old Town there quite a number of Italianate homes, most of which fit two broad categories as either front gabled roofs or townhouses.  These styles are most common on narrow city lots, which are found throughout Chicago.

1740 N Sedgwick fits the first category as it is a front gabled, 2-story residence.  Both styles are typified by ornate cornices detailing, often including corbels and dentils.  It is especially common for the corbels to come in pairs, as we see in this home.  In addition, many of the Italianate homes feature prominent, pedimented and/or bracketed windows and door frames, however this particular specimen lacks this feature.  The windows are normally tall and narrow, while the sashes are commonly single or double paned.  Italianate doors commonly have large narrow panes, mimicking the proportions of the windows.  From their pristine quality, it safe to assume that the doors of this home have been replaced at least once before, though the current doors are fitting for the style of the home. [1]

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Charles T. Yerkes, Railroad Mogul, Philanthropist, Criminal and Astronomy Enthusiast

On March 26, 1888 the Wells Street line of the North Chicago Street Railroad Company's  cable car system opened for business.  In the late 19th century, cable cars ran up and down many of the thoroughfares of the city of Chicago and provided a much needed transit network for business and leisure travelers alike.  The North Chicago Street Railroad Company ran lines on Clark street, Wells street, Lincoln street and Clybourn (note that these last two were was not called Avenues at this time).  Aside from the North Chicago Street Railroad Company, other cable car lines were run throughout the city by companies such as the Chicago City Railway, Chicago West Division Railroad, and the West Chicago Street Railroad (Don't ever get those last two mixed up, they really hate that.)

Our story begins with Charles T. Yerkes (June 25, 1837 – December 29, 1905) from Philadelphia, PA. In the late 1850s and 1860s Yerkes amassed a large fortune first as broker in the Philadelphia Stock Exchange and later as a banker.  Unfortunately, Yerkes fortune was not to last.
"While serving as a financial agent for the City of Philadelphia's treasurer Joseph Marcer, Yerkes risked public money in a colossal stock speculation. Unfortunately for Yerkes, this speculation ended calamitously when the Great Chicago Fire sparked a financial panic. Left insolvent and unable to make payment to the City of Philadelphia, Yerkes was convicted of larceny and sentenced to thirty-three months in the dreaded Eastern State Penitentiary, notorious for its system of solitary confinement. Scheming to remain out of prison, he attempted to blackmail two influential Pennsylvania politicians. The plan failed. However, the damaging information on these politicians was eventually made public and political leaders like President Ulysses Grant feared that the revelations might harm their prospects in the upcoming elections. Yerkes was promised a pardon if he would deny the accusations he had made. He agreed to these terms and was released after seven months in the Eastern State Penitentiary. Yerkes spent the next ten years rebuilding his fortune." - Wikipedia Charles T. Yerkes

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Film Crew on Orleans Street

On a recent walk up Orleans street I stumbled across this film crew setting up their equipment for a n upcoming shoot.  Unfortunately, my reporter instinct was malfunctioning and I didn't muster up the nerve to go and pester them with such  critical inquiries as "what are you filming?" , "who is in it?" and "what does that thing over their do?" .  I did manage to snap this shot of the film crew in action.  Who knows, it could little more than a local commercial being shot, or something as exciting as a early test shooting for the next major Hollywood blockbuster, in Old Town one never knows.

Over the years Old Town has seen more than its fair share of television and film shoots take place on its streets.  In the future I'll go into detail about some of the projects that have shot on location in Old Town, but today I'd like to just tease the topic a little with the comment that stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Steve McQueen, Christian Bale, Johnny Depp and Mini Driver have all had films with significant scenes shot in Old Town.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Time Tells on Old Town

In February, fellow blogger Vince Michael gave us an excellent piece on the Old Town neighborhood.

"When I take my students to Old Town today – as I did last week – I ask them to look not just at the architecture, but also at the sense of place. There is a scale to Old Town, a closeness of building to street and street to cross street and curb to curb that you simply don’t find anywhere else in the city. It is not so much about the rope mouldings above the windows or the paired brackets and dentils at the eave or even those Furnessian ornaments on Adler & Sullivan’s Halstead Houses. It is about a premodern relationship of buildings and streets and narrow alleyways – something not unusual in Rome or the old part of Edinburgh but exceedingly rare in Chicago." Vince Michael, Time Tells

Check out the rest of the post here,'s-old-town/

Friday, March 19, 2010

235 W Eugenie

235 W Eugenie street is the address of this unique condominium building, designed by the prolific Chicago based architect Harry Weese (June 30, 1915 - October 29, 1998).   Before I discuss the specific building in question, I'd like to take a moment to discuss Harry Weese, a seemingly mercurial man who among many other things was once challenged to a duel by Eero Saarinen. [1]

Some of Weese's projects located in Chicago are the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, The Metropolitan Correctional Center (now known as the William J. Campbell United States Courthouse Annex), the Time Life Building and the Fulton House, as well the renovation of the Louis Sullivan Audtitorium Building.  Extensive lists of Weese's many projects are readily available at his wikipedia page (linked above) so I won't list more of them, however,  I will point out from the short list above, it is clear that Weese worked on an immense variety of projects including jailhouses, churches, renovations, low rise residential projects, and high rise office buildings.

As an architect, Weese was principally a modernist. Gone from Weese's projects are the extensive ornamentations, turnings and moldings that typified the construction practices of the past.  It is a mistake to take Weese's modernist aesthetic as boring or rudimentary.  Weese playfully used unconventional forms and layouts to create intriguing and inviting buildings.  Weese's Metropolitan Correctional Center is perhaps the world's only jailhouse that is built in the shape of a slender extruded triangle.  One can only hope that the residents appreciate this piece of architecturally playful Zeit Geist they occupy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

309 W Eugenie

A fun, modern home at 309 W. Eugenie Street, this residence is easily and often overlooked (I must confess I passed by this home a fair number of times before noticing it).  Built in 1963 [1] (this home is nearing it's 50th birthday!) this single family home possesses several architecturally significant details. Close inspection reveals these details and how they separate it from the structures around it.

The first thing you will likely notice are the undulating curves of the brick facade as it playfully interacts with the windows and roof line.  These unexpected curves seem to beak up the otherwise hard and rigid patterns of tradition masonry construction, and seem to suggest something a little less formal, perhaps more natural (which is enhanced by the selection of green paint for all wood panel siding.   It is important to notice these pattern, as it serves as a datum for the remainder of the home.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Schmidt Mitzgerei

On the corner of Hudson Avenue and Menomonee Street resides the charming Schmidt Mitzgerei (butcher's shop) of old town.  The mitzgerei, built in the classic German fachwerk style, utilizing heavy timber framing was established in 1903.    Today it is the home of the Sullivan Law firm.  

It is a fine example of the early German immigrant construction that at one time was quite common throughout the Old Town Neighborhood.  After the great Chicago fire of 1873, Chicago instituted a ban on wooden construction that impacted construction practices in Old Town and the rest of the city to this day. Interestingly, the sign's "Mitzgerei" is spelled with a an "i" while spelling with "e" is the more modern spelling for this German word.

The street the building resides on, Hudson Avenue, was originally named Church Street, which is of note for two reasons, first, it is interesting, that the road switched from an 'Avenue' to a 'street',  which is certainly comparable to switching between the Yankees and Red Sox, proving that these terms really do have no official meaning whatsoever, and second, that the building was able to avoid being located on the adjacent, unfortunately named , Hurlbut  Street (later changed to Cleveland Avenue).