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: