Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Dead Grocers' Society, 20 People Envision Harper Court, and Other Local Curiosities

posted by chicago pop

Howard Hughes Mulls New Vision of Harper Court
"I can help get this bird off the ground," he tells community group.

I. The Dead Grocers' Society

Seeing as how Hyde Park's version of crazy millionaire Howard Hughes, Herald publisher Bruce Sagan, has dialed down the paper's editorial wackiness since the death of the Co-Op, we've been forced to forage more widely than before for satirical inspiration, plowing through the articles themselves in search of more modest specimens of neighborhood lunacy.

Predictably, we have not been disappointed.

This week, for example (February 20, 2008), we learn that the Hyde Park Co-Op Society is holding elections for its Board of Directors. That's right. And on a related note, it should be added that someone still claims to be the King of France, and is rumored to be sharing a flat in Palm Beach with the Emperor of China and the last Romanov. Like many ageing boomers, they're probably all looking for something to do and someplace to do it, and this is the perfect opportunity to keep them out of counterrevolutionary trouble.

Rulers of non-existent nations might feel comfortable running for an equally defunct community organization. The nominating committee might want to seek out this demographic.

Anyone wishing to hold a position in an organization that is coming to resemble a spooky fraternity without a house on campus, need only gather the signatures "of 20 or more other members of the cooperative." There may be precedents for this sort of thing: maybe it will turn out like the Elks, or the Shriners, and provide us with an entertaining contingent in the 4th of July parade.

II. 20 People Envision Harper Court

At least the Co-Op claims to have 25,000 (ghost) members. It turns out that in Hyde Park, far fewer numbers of people are much more effective at accomplishing things, or at least attracting attention. Need "community input" for a grandiose redevelopment project? Get 20 people in a room with a Big Local Dude and you can make sure your ideas are the ones that count.

Take the recent hubub over Harper Court. We've had our say on the subject here at HPP, way back in fall of 2007. In fact, the Tribune wrote us up. Tear it down and build something new, we said, and this seems to be the direction things are going, so we haven't been raising too much fuss.

But it is curious the way a few Big Local Dudes, with lots of ideas about "bottom-up" community input, nonetheless seem to have a lot of firm ideas of their own, and manage to get their own modest paws over just about every plan in the works.

Whereas the 53rd St. Visioning meeting of late November 2007 pulled in over 150 people and produced statistically significant data pertaining to neighborhood preferences, the latest splashy vision for Harper Court is the product of two meetings, the first with 17 people, the second with 20, with an architectural designer/planner thrown in.

Rendering of Harper Court Redevelopment.
(Source: Romero Cook Design Studio)

Looks A Lot Like This: Lakeside Press Building
(Formerly home to R.R. Donnelly Books)

That doesn't include the input from any developer, nor any nuts-and-bolts feasibility study as to the economics of the thing.

Finding someone to finance all-new construction of a cluster of 6-ish story buildings, probably requiring significant structured parking and use of high-quality exterior finishings (translation = very expensive!) rented out to poor artists, curio shops, and non-chain, local retail -- all in keeping with the magical realist "original mission" of Harper Court -- is a small difficulty that this 20 person pow-wow hasn't addressed.

For it to work, there's a good chance that Hyde Park would have to transform itself the way downtown Evanston has: with high-rises full of millionaires. And not just confined to 53rd east of Harper.

To their credit, those involved admit that the plan is "purely hypothetical," and "something that can't stand on its own." The HP-K CC website argues that the new Harper Court should also remain true to its original mission of housing small, local, non-franchised businesses. That last statement, it should be noted, doesn't contradict the first two.

The good news is that no sensible folks are arguing for keeping the old buildings. And it's nice to have some pretty pictures. As for the real community input, we're still waiting: the HP-K CC assures us that it's on its way, in the form of a high-tech online survey. Based on the user-friendliness and clever organization of the current HP-K CC website, it should be impressive.

Since we have a little collective experience dealing with survey methodology here at HPP, we'll be keeping you posted on just how reliably the Big Local Dudes live up to their interest in seeking out real "community input."

Whether anyone will be able to find a developer who can pay for the stipulations that result, is another matter.


EdJ said...

Just as the Co-op was closing, the board said that there was a need to have this election because the closing activities would not be completed in time. Now it looks like the people there to close it up are trying to find some reason to be. All in all, probably pretty harmless. Of course, in the movies, the zombies/undead always seem pretty harmless….


If they can figure out something do with the Co-op, more power to them. They no longer have the stranglehold on grocery shopping in Hyde Park. When it comes down to it, the Co-op is now like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it.

On another note, the Co-op website does have an important reminder to write off the stock loss on your taxes. Keeping that stock let me get the satisfaction of voting in favor of the buy out AND get a $10 write-off. Priceless.

I agree that there is some positive to be seen from the fact that there are no longer serious proposals to keep those Harper Court buildings. I am keeping an open mind on he survey until they send it out. In the Herald last week there was a miraculous quote from the designer that he would not be surprised if the survey results showed that people are not in favor of maintaining the original mission of Harper Court. HPKCC is just trying to play catch up.

chicago pop said...

HPKCC is just trying to play catch up.

Big Local Dudes (BLD's) have to do something to justify being BLD's.

Anonymous said...

I work for RR Donnelley. Great old photo of the former plant!

But the comparison is one I hadn't noticed when I looked at the Herald online yesterday. Weird. The Cal Plant (what Donnelley old timers call the original building) is ancient.

For what it's worth, I don't think the rendering of the planned Harper Court redevelopment is too bad, even if it is a bit derivative. It's definitely better than what's currently there.

That said... I wonder what would be wrong with bringing in an architect to design something truly new and original? The last 15 years of building in Chicago remind me of The Fountainhead. Everything is derivative of something: Greek, Gothic, or that silly all-glass-and-steel lobby thing that's such a big hit lately (particularly with the birds who fly into it at top speed and die as a result).

Personally, I wish they would redevelop the entire Northeast corner of 53rd and Lake Park, starting from the Hollywood video store and encompassing the parking lot and Harper Court, all the way to 52nd street. Put in a decent movie theatre, stores, a multilevel parking garage, etc.

Okay, done rambling.

nate said...

Hey now, don't dismiss a gathering of 20 people. That's some pretty serious numbers, right there, compared to the East Hyde Park Six a few pages later.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Nate, I noticed the same article: a handful of neighbors meeting over coffee to decide how to form a committee. The Herald used the term "half dozen" though -- someone decided it sounded weightier than "six."

chicago pop said...

Ah, the East Hyde Park 6. Saw that, but again, there's only so much you can do in one post.

But 6 is better than the Jill White 1 (back in a summer 2007 article on 53rd St. development), which turned in to Jill White + about 12 people, which all turned out to be really mostly all about Jack Spicer, as usual and as is probably still the case.

The Herald article mentioned that the lady in charge of the East Hyde Park 6 has lived here since 1957. I thought of an alternative headline:

"After half a century, woman forms committee."

Anonymous said...

"After half a century, woman forms committee."

You know what's cool about the Herald is that many of the articles and headlines are interchangeable with headlines and articles in The Onion.

chicago pop said...

I'm convinced that The Onion flat-out steals its best copy from the Herald. Only they know they're joking.

In recognition of this state of affairs, we actually have a label, "the onion," intended to flag entirely satirical posts. It is used quite heavily by Peter Rossi, but shows up elsewhere as well.

Peter Rossi said...

chicago pop has some excellent points about this ridiculous "design prototype" for HC. It reminds me of the absurd Save the Point revetment design (now abandoned).

the Herald headline should read

"make no good plans"

EdJ said...

I just checked the HPKCC website and it appears the survey is out:

Hallie said...

Re: the Onion, ran into this today and thought you all might enjoy.

Looks like nothing I've ever seen in the Herald.