Monday, December 21, 2009

"Stimulate" the Promontory Point Repair!

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

Point Decay as of October, 2009.

I was at a dinner party last weekend with a woman who just happened to be a former Director of Lakefront Operations at the Chicago Park District (she's now the director of a non-profit). Naturally we got to talking about Promontory Point, and she expressed without solicitation the same opinion I've had about the Point for years: Hyde Parkers have bickered and stalled and obstructed so long that the funding has disappeared, and one of these fine days Mayor Daley will shut it down and build whatever the heck he wants there, for our own safety.

Mayor Daley finds Hyde Parkers a nuisance at worst, and may in fact find us amusing. After Meigs got carved up with big, bulldozed X's on my birthday in 2003, it dawned on me that the very same strategy would work at the Point: ignore our silly local controversy until 1. someone is injured or killed at the Point, or 2. enough erosion has occurred to declare it a hazard to people (shhh, that's already happened) and a flood risk to Lake Shore Drive (less of a worry but more important to the Army Corps of Engineers). And after Daley barricades it, it's not likely that the Army Corps will build the Compromise Plan, with its two deep-water swimming access sites, and re-use of the existing limestone. That's an expensive plan that we were darned lucky to be granted (and to help design) the first time, during an economic boom, and my dinner companion said the lakefront funds are gone now.

So I whined to her, "But our hands are tied! We're being forced to wait for 'Senator' Obama's 3rd-party review process." And then she said something absolutely brilliant, that had not occurred to me because I secretly disapprove of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. She said, "Someone should go after stimulus dollars to build the Compromise Plan. It's shovel-ready, isn't it?"

And yes, if we're lucky, it may well be. I believe the engineering plan was one of those "35%-complete" plans (or whatever percentage indicates it can be signed-off for construction).

But how could we achieve this? Who could do it? Alderman Hairston? Could she simply say to now-President Obama, "Screw the 3rd-party process that never got off the ground, I'm approving the Compromise Plan"? Could she persuade Daley to aggressively solicit ARRA funds for the Compromise Plan, with her blessing?

It would be a bold move. Too bold for her, I fear.

No, the outcome that seems more and more certain, given the level of decay at the Point, the non-existence of the 3rd-party review, and the lack of decisiveness of our alderman, is that we'll have no say in what gets built there.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What You Told Us About MAC (Nothing)

posted by chicago pop

Don't take it personally.

I'm just sayin'. We asked you to give us something to chew on about MAC, and you gave us nothing.

Sure, we're all busy, and actually getting to the facts, instead of rants on Yelp!, is kind of a chore. It's even a pain to write this post, kind of. But if something is really wrong out there, there's usually a way to find out, and the labor usually pays off with some nice juicy information that you can bring into the light of day that will generally addle all sorts of complacent people. We've been doing it for a few years now.

But when it came to our contest to see who could demonstrate that MAC was really worthy of the world-class grad-student world-weariness endogenous to the neighborhood, well, we got the null set. Rents are high? Show us comparables for units in other buildings and other neighborhoods. MAC is a slumlord? Show us code violations from city inspectors and compare them to K&G's record. Horrible service from MAC leading to loss of market share? Show us percentages of lease renewals.

The truth, as they say, is out there. And we're happy to hear about it.

There are a few stories on Yelp! about cockroaches, mouse droppings, and stained carpet, but MAC owns a lot of buildings, which adds up to a lot of apartments, which means that if these complaints were doctoral theses and were making their cases on the basis of statistically negligible samplings, I'm afraid they'd all fail their defense. MAC has over 3,000 apartments in over 70 buildings. To make up for this statistical negligibility, our contest manager, Elizabeth Fama, went out of her way to find people who were really, really pissed off at MAC. She looked hard and found a "No, I don't want to be a fan of Mac Property Management," group on Facebook with 4 members.

That was in early November 2009. As of 5PM today, it has 15.

She also found a a "MAC Property Management is a Huge Disappointment" group. They currently have 17 members, and determined one month after MAC acquired its building portfolio from the notorious K&G that, well, MAC was a huge disappointment. The group seems to have lost steam sometime in the early fall of 2007.

Similar story with most of the complaints on Yelp!

What we see there, though it's only 9 or 1o reviews, does suggest a pattern. MAC had a rough time getting started. If you read the Yelp! comments, a good number of them are concerned with renters who received erroneous eviction notices and had to deal with poor communications. MAC was, at this early stage, a little trigger happy with the payment non-compliance thing, so much so that they mistakenly sent eviction notices to paying tenants with good payment records. This is certainly enough to anger anyone, and seems to have been a real problem. But again, the complaints cluster in the early months of MAC's transition. You can read about a few of the various botch-ups yourself here, together with more recent cockroach-type horror stories.

But does it add up to anything we can make a case on?

Not really.

I'll admit that I've seen a number of freshly rehabbed MAC apartments -- generally those targeting young working professionals, not students -- and they were nice. But no one had been living in them for 3 years. So we'll see going forward how the upkeep goes. And there's a possibility that the student rental market is not MAC's primary concern, which may make it a second priority to leasing out the higher-revenue properties. But MAC's business model differs from that of K&G: it's not in their interest to extract rent from buildings that they are happy to let decay.

So we'll see. As of now, with the info we've got, HPP stands by the conclusion it has reached in reviewing MAC (and Antheus') investment activities: MAC Property Management is good for Hyde Park.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Thoughts for the Season

posted by Richard Gill

Last Wednesday, I rode an early morning Amtrak train to Mendota, Illinois, to work with some friends on a magazine that they publish. Mendota, about 85 miles west of Chicago, is a small farm community. Sprouting seasonally from the ground are seas of corn and soybeans. Sprouting year round from the ground is a sea of wind-power generators.

I planned to return on an afternoon train called the Southwest Chief that comes from Los Angeles. As it turned out, the Chief was running six hours late because it was delayed by a freight train derailment Monday night in California. Ok, I figured, I'll hang around, we'll go out to dinner in Mendota, and I'll get on the train when it gets here. No, said my friends, we will drive you to Chicago, we'll all go out to dinner and then we'll drop you off at home. Thanks for the offer, said I, but why would you drive a 170 mile round trip just to have dinner? They said I'd understand if I had to eat out in Mendota. Based on my experience, they had a point. The fare there is dull.

My friends mentioned that it's nearly impossible to get lamb to eat where they live, so I suggested we go to one of my favorites, Cedars of Lebanon at 53rd & Woodlawn. Did I suggest right, or what? My friends thought the babaganooj, pita and olive oil was manna from heaven, and they raved about the lamb dishes they ordered.

During dinner they mentioned that the produce sold around Mendota is not very good, nor is there much variety, and in general, grocery shopping there leaves much to be desired. I wanted to take them to Hyde Park Produce, but it was already closed, so we headed for Treasure Island. They took full advantage of the store's offerings and bought enough to load up the car. As for me, I had not previously been in TI at 9PM and was pleased to see it was rather bustling at that hour.

So, based on this brief tale, here are a couple of thoughts. First, although Hyde Park has a long way to go in the area of commercial development, we really do have some pretty good eats, and (post Co-op) some pretty good food marts. Count your urban blessings, Hyde Park.

Second, flexibility seems like a good idea when booking a ticket for the final 85 miles of a train's run if the train first has to cover 2000 miles. The train ultimately was seven hours late into Chicago. (Amtrak did refund my return $8.50 fare).

PS: Re urban variety, a really nice French Market opened last Thursday at Clinton & Washington Streets, at street level under the Metra station. There is a global variety of cheese, bread, pastry, meat, fish, produce, prepared food, you name it, plus an area with tables and chairs. The target market is residents of West Loop condos and apartments, as well as commuters. And with trains rumbling overhead, what ambiance! Gare Metra.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Vacation Notice

A velo-meditation pic to help you achieve the proper pycho-physiological balance for proper Thanksgiving gustation.

Kamin Gives Points for Latest U of C Improvements

posted by chicago pop

University of Chicago Main Quadrangle Viewed from 55th and Kenwood (Rockefeller Chapel Visible on Horizon, Left)

Despite the latest fulminations of Hyde Park's Garden Underground towards the Dark Kingdom of Mordor known by the rest of us as the University of Chicago, the U of C has actually been scoring some points with the City's architecture critic for its recent campus makeover and its still-unfolding South Campus developments.

Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin likes the scope of the South Campus plan, and its most recent achievement, a fascinating and "city-friendly" residential dormitory.

It's a happy iteration of a style that fits nicely in Chicago, one that a few of us have dubbed "re-mo" (re-Modern) -- a kindler, gentler Bauhaus.

[Source: Chicago Tribune "Cityscapes" blog:]

This fall, [the University] opened a city-friendly, 9-story dormitory, clad in the familiar material of Indiana limestone, south of the Midway. On Tuesday, the university announced that it would break ground next spring on a handsomely-austere, 11-story arts center, also south of the grassy expanse. And much more is planned, including the installation next spring of 40-foot-tall light pylons (below) that will seek to make the vast Midway more inviting to pedestrians, particularly at night.

While the new designs are not without anti-urban details, such as the prison-like bars to keep intruders out of the dormitory's courtyards, the surge of construction as a whole is praiseworthy.

Forty-foot tall light pylons? Awesome! The new art center is slated to open in 2012 despite the recession and cuts made to other projects. Following on the success of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival and other developments, the art center may help to make Hyde Park a much stronger location on the Chicago art map.

All in all, not bad, I have to say.

New Apartment Gallery Pops Up: The Op Shop

posted by chicago pop

An unlikely corner of Hyde Park will become the site of the neighborhood's latest "apartment gallery," a local example of a long-standing tradition in the Chicago art world of showing art in unconventional spaces.

The phenom has been buzzed upon recently in the local media, but as you can see by checking out the helpful Chicago Art Map, outside of the formal spaces of Little Black Pearl and Hyde Park Art Center, the trend of informal gallery spaces has yet to really hit Hyde Park.

That will change on November 25, when former gallery owners Laura Schaeffer and Andrew Nord open the doors of Op Shop, 1613 E. 55th Street, to the world.

The Op Shop venture, to occupy a vacant space owned by MAC Properties, follows from an apartment gallery hosted in Schaeffer and Nord's private residence. It's not really clear where this kind of venture fits in the world of conventional commercial galleries, being part living room, social center, marketplace, and art cooperative. That's what makes it interesting.

Here's what Op Shop says about itself:

We are inviting artists to bring their art, ideas, thoughts, and concerns to this space in Hyde Park in novel ways. We are open to all media. We hope to create a kind of total installation that is dynamic and constantly developing over the allotted time. The Op Shop is also set up to be a site of exchange, a place where participants are encouraged to identify their own resources and needs and come together to barter or sell objects, artworks, services, or particular skills. Artists' work and social exchange go hand-in-hand in this particular scenario.

This opportunity shop located at 1613 E. 55th Street is a short term, spontaneous pilot project for what we hope will become a series of exhibitions taking place in spaces in transition throughout Hyde Park and the south side of Chicago. By using vacant spaces with the cooperation of the owners for exhibitions, we can economize on overhead and also bring attention to unused urban space.

Especially interesting is the use of a rotating series of vacant spaces, something which turns a problem (vacant storefronts) into an asset (cultural vibrancy). Who knows? if the apartment gallery fashion gains enough momentum, and enough of them come through Hyde Park, it could infuse the neighborhood with a kaleidoscopic stream of color and inspiration.

Dates: 11/27 Fri - 12/31 Thu
Visitor hours: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., Thu-Sun
Evenings, coinciding with events.

Opening reception: 11/27 Fri, from 6-10 p.m.
Silent Auction: 12/5 Sat from 6-10 p.m.
Closing party: 12/31 Thu from 6-10 p.m.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Hairston's $28K of slush money spent for ... what?

posted by chicago pop

[Source: Chicago Tribune, "Friends and family fund for aldermen," Thursday, November 19, 2009]

When you live in Chicago, you get used to bodies popping up in rivers.

So to speak.

You also get used to Aldermen reassuring us that, whatever the offense, "everyone is doing it." As convicted felon (and former 20th Ward Alderman) Arenda Troutman put it, Most aldermen ... are hos."

So when the Chicago Tribune reports on a $1.3 million slush fund that not even the Daley-appointed, hiring compliance lap-dog knew about, it's not really that shocking. Alderman George Cardenas (12th) thinks it's perfectly A-OK to have his dad on the payroll because, after all, "He does a lot of things -- a lot of the things in the community that people have no idea about."

The existence of the slush fund, then -- which apparently is used as a way to allow aldermen to hire independent contractors without having to follow mandated hiring rules or pay city pensions -- is not surprising, nor is the fact that Alderman Leslie Hairston drew down a $28K check from the fund.

What is surprising is that the $28K went to political consultant Delmarie Cobb, and was paid from the fund between January 2008 and July 2009 "to prepare newsletters, news releases and publicize ward meetings for the 5th Ward alderman," during exactly the time that Alderman Hairston had a big crisis on her hands: Doctors Hospital.

(Cobb's next gig, it appears, was working to rehabilitate Senator Roland "Tombstone" Burris' political reputation.)

Now, we happen to have one of Cobb's old news releases publicizing a ward meeting for the 5th Ward alderman, and it pertained to Doctors Hospital. And I remember thinking at the time: The Adlerman is going to get some professional help this time. She wants to keep control of the meetings, avoid another Point fiasco. She wants to stay on the ball.

Back in July 2008, as the Doctors Hospital redevelopment plan was heating up, Delmarie Cobb's PR firm The Publicity Works [no website] sent this email around:

Fifth Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston has scheduled a public meeting on the status of the former Doctor’s Hospital for 6:00 p.m. Tuesday, August 5, in the auditorium of Bret Harte Elementary School, 1556 E. 56th St. The University of Chicago purchased the structure, located on Stony Island Avenue between 57th and 59th Streets, and is working with White Lodging, which proposes developing hotel accommodations at the site.

“It’s been a year since the developer unveiled their original concept to the public,” Hairston said. “The community expressed serious concerns about reservation, how the project visually ‘fits’ in the environment, labor practices, and overall degree of dialogue with local stakeholders.”

Hairston said she the university and White Lodging kept the lines of communication open. “I am pleased to say they listened and even reviewed an alternative design submitted by preservation advocates. We are now at a place where we can talk about how they took our issues into consideration, or why they believe something might not be feasible. It’s an on-going negotiation, and I encourage anyone interested to attend, ask questions and give honest feedback about what they hear.”

Very well.

But we all know what happened. Hairston pulled off a meeting that was relatively orderly, a year after one that was not. But in terms of PR campaigns against the dry vote, or even just advice on how to manage the Doctors Hospital controversy, there appears to have been virtually nothing. At least, not as far as we can tell.

Except, it will be recalled, Hairston's letter to the Hyde Park Herald, published by the hapless newspaper AFTER the election, but also written only 11 days before the election, encouraging voters to oppose the dry vote. And this, after a full summer and fall of controversy on the issue -- when residents of the 39th precinct were receiving mailings from unions and receiving door-to-door visits from petitioners.

Whatever that $28K was spent for, it doesn't seem to have had much effect either advocating for or even informing the voting public of Alderman Hairston's position on the Doctors Hospital issue. It would be fair to say that, if any of that money went towards publicizing Hairston's position, or anything to do with Doctors Hospital, it went down a hole.

With that in mind, we wish Senator Burris the best of luck.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Z&H to Take Over U.M. Space

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

The merely-sufficient Christopher-Eccleston Doctor regenerates into the irresistible David-Tennant Doctor, much to everyone's delight.

It's true. The owners of the Zaleski and Horvath Market Cafe have signed a lease today to take over the space currently occupied by University Market. Hans Morsbach will close the current market during the University's winter break, and move his deli operation to the Medici Bakery.

Tim Schau and Sam Darrigrand, the principal shopkeeps at Z&H, along with their respective partners (marital and business) plan to remodel the space and open the new store -- also called Z&H -- before the end of the school year.

One planned change is a rolling glass shutter where the current storefront window is, so that customers can approach an espresso bar from both the inside and the outside of the store. There will be indoor seating. After some study, Tim Schau said, the current layout of U.M. doesn't appear to maximize the shelf space given the floor space, and a careful re-consideration of dry goods, refrigerated goods, and deli space will allow for better flow plus some tables and chairs. Schau and Darrigrand will work with Hyde Park Produce to improve the fruits and vegetables section.

The market will offer the eclectic and adventurous sandwiches, soups, and salads that devotees have come to love at Z&H, along with a diverse cheese selection, homemade ice cream, imported Italian goods, and more -- all within an easy walk to and from campus.

Don't forget to follow the Z&H blog, where news of the remodeling efforts (and the usual City of Chicago birthing pains for small businesses), will be updated by the horse's mouth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Herald's Chicken: Seriously, the Herald is Funny

Posted by Richard Gill

The Herald can’t help itself. There’s this compulsion to preach. Witness the Herald's “editorial” for November 4. It’s a sermon/lecture on self-improvement, aimed (where else) at the University of Chicago. The Herald looks kind of funny, up there on its high horse.

There isn't room here to dissect the entire “editorial,” and it wouldn't be much fun after the first few hours. So, let’s just go to a few choice morsels.

The editorial makes note of “lots of folks bustling to and from institutional buildings [along the Midway],” and then asks, “Where will these people recreate?” The implication is, of course, that the “Community Garden” is the “where.” Well, almost none of “these people” have chosen the garden as a recreational option. People have countless recreational opportunities. We’d all be in one heck of a pickle if that garden counted substantially toward area opportunities for “fun.”

The Herald goes on to say, “The garden connects the university to the community…..” No it doesn't. The garden connects a relative handful of people to the garden, which just happens to be on university property.

Finally, the Herald accuses the university of “imperious, malevolent behavior.” I’ll agree the university has not always shown great judgment, but c'mon, Herald editors, even you don’t believe “imperious and malevolent.” If the U of C is guarded in its approach to “the community,” it is justified, given the purposeful work of certain neighbors to thwart U of C efforts that would benefit the community at large.

Unlike the “editorial,” I won’t go on and on. Suffice it to say the Herald is great comedy, especially when it gets so serious. I guess that makes the Herald a recreational opportunity in competition with the garden.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

How to be Sicilian 101

Posted by Elizabeth Fama

In a recent article in the Maroon, Hans Morsbach cites the raised rent at his University Market location as the reason the market is closing. The implication -- voiced outright only by UM cashier, Alma Silva, but present in the undercurrent of the interviews in the Maroon -- is that the University is deliberately forcing him out, to make way for a new tenant.

Let's suppose that it's true. Suppose that it finally dawned on the administrators at the University that Mr. Morsbach frequently bites the hand that feeds him. Suppose they noticed, as I did, that he stood in front of Bret Harte on Election Day, 2008 with an enormous tray of free cinnamon rolls for his neighbors, campaigning for a dry 39th precinct, in order to squash the University's plan to build a hotel on the abandoned Doctors Hospital site, and likely costing the University tens of millions of dollars, not to mention depriving the neighborhood of jobs, a decent hotel, and a couple of new restaurants? Suppose the University noticed his literal painting of himself as a martyr against the oppressive establishment, hanging in his restaurant on 57th Street -- a restaurant that arguably thrives because of University students, staff, and catering jobs? Suppose the administrators actually got fed up? (It took them long enough!)

Well, as a Sicilian by heritage and temperament, I'm here to say they did a lousy job in the vendetta department, because somehow Mr. Morsbach wins privately while he publicly "loses."

Am I the only person who noticed that he gets to move the profitable part of his operation at the UM (the deli sandwiches) to his bakery, while cutting loose the unprofitable grocery section, and saving a whole lotta rent in the process? Am I the only one who wonders what business model the next tenant of the UM space is left with, now that Mr. Morsbach has skimmed off the cream of the potential business, and the rent is apparently too high for the location? And Mr. Morsbach gets to do all this while complaining about the University, one of his favorite diversions.

Here's what Michael Corleone would have done after the dry vote debacle, if he had been the University: he would have put a drug-rehab or halfway house in the Doctors Hospital location. He would have said, "Look, you got what you wanted -- we preserved the bland architecture and we're helping the community, all without increasing congestion or taking up public parking spaces on the street."

That, or a severed horse's head on the Market floor the next morning.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


posted by Elizabeth Fama

Hey U of C students! Here's a contest to distract you from those boring midterms!

We've heard grumblings among students that Hyde Park Progress is too soft on Mac Properties and Antheus Capital, and that we praise them too much for their investment in the neighborhood and their ambitious rehab projects.

Well, here's your chance to vent. Here's your chance to counteract our glowing reports. Here's your chance to tell us about the seamy side of the student rental market.

Write a short blog post documenting what you perceive to be systematic (not just anecdotal) problems with the rental units or the management of Mac Properties.

1) Send your entry to Chicago Pop's gmail account (chicago.pop)
2) Entries are due by 11:59 PM, 11/10/09
3) 800 words or less
4) Minimum of one photo, maximum of three
5) At least try to be civil (that is, not like our posts)
6) If you're funny, you'll probably win...
7) ...but the content's gotta be there, too

The winner receives the fame and glory of a guest feature on Hyde Park Progress, plus a dinner for two at The Sit Down*!

Fine Print
Judging will be done by the entirely volunteer but highly professional staff of Hyde Park Progress. Posts remain the intellectual property of the author. By entering you agree to have your entry posted on the Internet for all eternity. The winning post can be published under a pseudonym, but your entry must prove to us you're a real person. Mac owners, executives, staff, and their families, are not eligible to participate.
*Meal value limited to $40, including beverages and tax. Winner agrees to pay the difference if the bill is higher.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Inside the Del Prado: A Photo Essay

posted by chicago pop

The old Shoreland Hotel has gotten all the attention lately, but the real jewel in the crown of Hyde Park's old hotels is, without question, the Del Prado. I'd go so far as to say it's the jewel in the crown of MAC's rental apartment portfolio, including their properties in Kansas City.

Located with views onto what is arguably some of Hyde Park's finest green space, Harold Washington Park, with commanding views to the north and west, the building's original exterior and interior decorations are better preserved and of finer quality than the Shoreland, at least in the latter's current condition.

This sunlit, mezzanine ballroom might become Hyde Park's next full-service family restaurant, with tables looking over the park. Done right, the Del Prado stands a chance of transplanting a little bit of the Drake Hotel's 20's ambiance back to the South Side.

Restoration work has already been done on portions of the Del Prado's entryway, including this grand staircase and the interior lobby.

In the penthouse are the ruins of the world-famous, speakeasy-style Chinese restaurant remembered by many, the "House of Eng." And, continuing the Drake-Del Prado connection, it's worth noting that House of Eng was originally located in the Drake until it relocated to the Del Prado in the 1960s.

What once was...

Red lacquer, orientalist fantasy

Looking to the Hyde Park Bank Building from inside House of Eng

Looking east onto Lake Michigan from the roof of the Del Prado Hotel

Exterior ornamentation

MAC rental property kitty-corner from the Del Prado, poised to be fully on the market sometime in 2010, making the corner of 53rd and Hyde Park Boulevard one to watch

Thursday, October 22, 2009

57th Drive Underpass Mini-Murals

posted by Elizabeth Fama

There are new mini-murals going up at the pedestrian underpass at 57th and Lake Shore Drive. On the day I took these photos (10/20/09), the tile-setter was beginning the process of grouting them, so these images depict the work ungrouted. (The grout the artist chose is a nice dark-gray.)

The artist is a Hyde Park resident, Mirtes Zwierzynski, working in collaboration with local schools. The project is funded by the Harper Court Arts Council and Chicago's non-profit After School Matters (an organization you may have heard of because of their Gallery37 summer program).

The theme of the mosaics is supposed to be Midwestern flora and fauna, but the kids seem to have interpreted the theme pretty liberally, which is fine with me given how cute this little guy is (above).

In general, they are sweet examples of what a collector might call "naive folk art," and they brighten and add interest to the space. I like the spare use of the mirrored tiles, which I think are somewhat overdone in the 47th Street underpass (although I know that's a matter of taste).

This underpass is better protected from the elements than any of the Metra viaducts that are currently getting mural makeovers by the Chicago Public Art Group. So, barring graffiti artists and taggers, they should have a long life with little maintenance.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More Bike Racks, Please

posted by Elizabeth Fama

SW corner of 57th and Blackstone

Hyde Park is so wonderfully bikeable, but for some reason there's a paucity of places to lock up your bike. Landlords ought to provide a secure rack outside, or an easy-access bike room inside. Businesses ought to have 'em out front. The City and University should diligently remove dead bikes to make room for the living...

Rusted Hulk, 3/1/09.
57th and Lake Park.
The wheels are missing now.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jack and the Beanstalk

posted by chicago pop

Forwarded by an Honest and Honorable reader:

From: Jack Spicer
Date: Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 8:56 PM
Subject: community garden demolition

Dear 61st Street Community Gardeners and Friends --

Most of you now know that the University of Chicago intends to demolish the community garden at 61st Street and Dorchester Avenue shortly after Halloween. Many of you have responded to the news. You have expressed sadness at the potential loss and frustration and disappointment with the University. A number of you also asked questions that I will try to answer.

But first, Jamie Kalven has interviewed many gardeners in their plots at the garden. The video of the interviews, The Garden Conversations, is now being published, a few conversations per day, at If you would like to be interviewed or have thoughts you want to share with Jamie, please contact him at com>. Please pass this site to as many people as you can. The "conversations" tell the real story about the value of the garden.

And second, in today's Tribune Dawn Trice talks with gardener Deb Hammond about how the community garden has affected her life. Here is a link to the story:,0,557747.column

And now the questions:

Is it really "essential" to use the garden for construction staging?

No, I doubt it's essential. Maybe "convenient" and it would probably save a little money, but the CTS building, a block away, could certainly be built without demolishing the garden. Contractors build skyscrapers in the Loop without even blocking the public sidewalk. Any independent professional construction manager could verify that the garden site is not essential to constructing the CTS building. We would encourage the University to submit the issue to an independent professional.

Is the Chicago Theological Seminary causing the demolition of the garden?

No, they made a verbal agreement with the UofC that no harm would come to the garden as a result of their new building being built. They were looking forward to having the garden as a neighbor for their sustainable building. The University unilaterally withdrew from that agreement. We've spoken to the new CTS dean, Alice Hunt, and found her to be honest and honorable. I think CTS has done what it can do to protect the garden from the UofC's construction project. I plan to attend the CTS groundbreaking on Thursday as a friend and (current) neighbor.

Isn't it UofC's private property, and can't they do anything they want?

The garden site certainly is their property and they have generously let us use it for the past ten years. We had hoped the contribution the garden has made to the community would be apparent, and the University would act as a good neighbor and allow the garden to live on. Good neighbors and good will are valuable things, not to be wasted. But we had also hoped they would see the garden as serving their own best interests by enriching the neighborhood where their students, staff and faculty want to live.

What's the real reason the UofC is demolishing the garden?

I don't know. I doubt it's a practical decision based solely on construction convenience. The social fallout -- unhappy gardeners, neighbors, students, and faculty; skepticism about the UofC's commitment to sustainability and to living convivially with its Woodlawn neighbors; bad press; etc. -- far outweighs the temporary convenience. It's more likely that it's a policy decision from the Office of Civic Engagement and from the President. But I don't know what their real reason is or what message they intend to send. It remains a mystery.

-- Jack Spicer

Please check the garden website, for updates. You can make comments or ask questions there at "info."

I hope you enjoy "The Garden Conversations" at:

I'm told there is a Facebook group at: "bulldozers versus 61st Street Community Garden"

Some Cat and Dog Progress

posted by chicago pop

Two events concerning our dog and cat neighbors that you might want to know about.

The newly formed Hyde Park Bark Alliance will be hosting a Halloween pet costume ball in Harold Washington Park. The Alliance is organizing in view of eventually establishing a City-sanctioned dog run in the northeastern area of the park. Show up with your pet, and, if interested, let them know of your support.

Meanwhile, the world of Hyde Park cat lovers is working hard to deal with the South Side's feral cat problem. They're holding a workshop at Backstory Cafe this Friday and would like you to come.

Here's what Hyde Park Cats tells us about their event and themselves:

The event is one of many taking place across the country in honor of National Feral Cat Day, October 16. National Feral Cat Day was launched in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies, the national advocate for stray and feral (wild) cats. Alley Cat Allies is the foremost authority on a program called Trap-Neuter-Return, a humane method of care that improves the lives of outdoor cats.

With Trap-Neuter-Return, outdoor cats are humanely trapped and brought to a veterinarian to be evaluated, spayed or neutered, and vaccinated. Cats that have undergone the procedure are eartipped -- while under anesthesia a small portion of the left ear is painlessly removed for identification. Trap-Neuter-Return ends the cycle of breeding, makes cats better neighbors, and improves their lives.

WHO: Hyde Park Cats
WHAT: Helping Community Cats Workshop
WHEN: October 16, 2009, 6:30 pm
WHERE: Backstory Café (61st St. and Blackstone Ave.)
CONTACT: Anna Schmidt ( or

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hyde Park Gets Some Love

posted by chicago pop

This has to be photoshopped, right?

[Source: Chris Sweda, photo in "Hyde away", Chicago Tribune, Friday October 9, 2009]

Post-Olympic bid, post-Obama Nobel Peace Prize, things are getting back to normal in Hyde Park, with a new theater season at the Court, impressive new shows at the Hyde Park Art Center and the Smart Museum, to say nothing of the spectacular success of the 3rd Annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

The Tribune, in its wisdom, decided to send a reporter other than Ron Grossman to bring Chicagoans up to speed not on where Hyde Park was, but where it's going. The old attitude cries in its beer at Jimmy's over all the old joints on 55th, and writes comments to the above article like these:

Hyde Park may ... be noted for what it has lost like the Harding Medieval museum, the studios on Stony Island where writers like Nelson Algren, Saul Bellows [sic], used to hang out, the retail shops and apartments along 55th street which gave way to university development. But it is still a nice place to live.
The new attitude knows this old story, but doesn't repeat it as an eternal prelude. It can, symbolically, find the hipsters -- every neighborhood needs a few of them -- that reporter Lauren Viera caught at a Fixed Friday event over at Tati Cycles at 53rd and Ellis.

Here's the view from behind the fixie handlebars:

If Chicago is two years behind the coasts, then Hyde Park is two years behind Chicago -- and so it would make sense that we are beginning to see a nascent fashion + fixie trend in the hood. It seems to be taking on a unique, UofCesque flavor however: Have you seen the Rush Hour with Proust quotes on the top tube? Or the Rivendell Atlantis with Nitto bullhorns shellaced grey and a White Industries ENO? Or the young grad student with the Anais Nin tattoo and shock of neon pink accents to match her anodized Sugino 75s? I wouldn't have imagined this a couple of years ago.

If it pauses to get a single shot espresso at Istria norte on Cornell and 50th, it absorbs talk of Bruno Latour, Carl Schmitt, and art in Shanghai.

Hyde Park: it's not just the Museum of Science and Industry anymore.

Of course we've all known this, even before the Hyde Park Jazz Festival came on line, or the HPAC started ramping up the cool shows. There have been hidden treasures like the Oriental Institute and the Renaissance Society, the footpaths and ponds at the south end of Olmsted's Washington Park, and the morning mists on the great meadow to the north.

Soon we'll be able to add a restored and revived Shoreland and Del Prado to that list, combining the best of what was with what is yet to come.

There's no mistaking that the cultural momentum in Hyde Park has picked up over the last little while. Props to the Trib for noticing.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Report from the Shoreland Meeting, September 30, 2009

posted by Richard Gill

The Shoreland Hotel, built 1926

About a hundred people attended a September 30 public meeting in the Crystal Ballroom of the old Shoreland Hotel, 5454 South Shore Drive, at which developer Antheus Capital presented its proposal to resurrect the empty structure as a luxury rental apartment building. The firm’s principal, Eli Ungar made the presentation and answered questions. Comments and questions from the floor comprised most of the one-hour forty-minute meeting. Overwhelmingly, the discussion dealt with worries about parking, voiced primarily by a relative handful of residents of 5490 South Shore Drive, located immediately south of the Shoreland. Neighbors’ worries about parking and traffic tend to dominate Hyde Park meetings about development proposals.

Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston was in attendance, as her concurrence with the proposal is required before it can be brought to the City Council for approval. She said that she wanted to hear what people had to say, before she would say yea or nay.

Shoreland Hotel Driveway

When the historic hotel went into decline, the University of Chicago bought it for use as a student dormitory. The dorm was closed this year, with the opening of a new dorm on south campus. Knowing the Shoreland dormitory would be phased out, the University sold the building in 2004 to the Kenard development firm, which later sold it to developer Bob Horner. Both firms had plans for a condominium development. When those plans fell apart, Antheus acquired the property. Antheus will need to obtain City approval for a change in Planned Development (PD) No. 1062 that was approved for the prior condominium proposals.

Under Antheus’ plan, the 450,000 sq. ft. building would have 325 to 350 apartments (primarily one bedroom and two bedroom; with roughly 30 studios; and 30 three-bedrooms). The lobby area and function rooms would be retained, and a restaurant included. Antheus estimated that 450 to 500 people would reside in the building, compared with more than 700 students in the former dormitory.

Rockefeller Chapel and University of Chicago
as Seen From Roof of the Shoreland Hotel

Meeting attendees were generally favorable toward the building plan, which would include a lot of restoration work. That informal consensus left a vacuum of sorts for 5490’s complaints and worries about parking to take up most of the time and dominate the meeting. The people of 5490 said the development would worsen a tight parking situation in the area.

I state here that I like the proposed project and I believe that, at least in this neighborhood, anti-project parking arguments are mostly used in narrow self-interest, despite claims that they are for the general good.

The 5490 building, with about 20 units, has no on-site parking. The building does have a large area in back that could accommodate perhaps 20 cars. This was noted from the floor, and by Eli Ungar. In addition, Ungar repeated what he has said at every similar meeting – that a specific building project cannot solve the neighborhood’s “parking problem” and that adjacent property owners shouldn’t expect someone else’s project to solve their problems. Alderman Hairston has generally agreed with that position, adding that the parking issue should be addressed community wide, not project-by-project. That’s old news, and the tone of the audience seemed to be that they were weary of people trying to stop beneficial projects by using parking as a wedge.

Decorative Corbels on Shoreland Facade

In refutation of 5490’s prediction that parking gridlock would be caused by the Shoreland development, there were two general arguments: (1) by Antheus citing their recent experience, and (2) by people in the audience who essentially said this project is what the neighborhood needs, and parking is not the pivotal issue.

Antheus and its property management company MAC Properties have experience with rehabbed rental buildings in Hyde Park, such as Windermere House and Algonquin Apartments. They said that about one-third of renters use parking facilities on the properties, and that both properties have unused parking spaces in their lots. Ungar said they expect the Shoreland to follow this pattern. He also said that Antheus has more than 100 vacant parking spaces in its “portfolio.”

Ungar said it’s feasible to get 100 “legal” parking spaces into the building without encroaching upon the residential space. A “legal” parking place is one that meets the City code’s criteria for self-parking, in terms of square area, access and maneuvering room. The City figures a building’s “parking ratio” in terms of “legal” spaces. That in itself would meet anticipated demand for about one-third of the Shoreland apartments. However, a valet operation with staff-operated lifts and stackers would enable the garage to handle about 220 cars. In its PD application, Antheus is seeking a variance that will permit this arrangement, which will be important for accommodating function and restaurant parking, as well as residents’ needs. The condominium proposals had included parking on a one-to-one ratio (which 5490 liked), but it required a multi-story garage that would have consumed residential and public space. Antheus says the rental proposal is not economically viable if that residential space is taken up by parking.

Entrance Hall, Shoreland Hotel

Speakers from 5490 took the position that plentiful parking is necessary for property values and quality of life. Others took the opposite position, stating that walkability, density, ability to live without a car, are what make for a desirable neighborhood, and they said that many vibrant places thrive with an extremely tight parking environment, maybe because of it. Hyde Park’s good public transportation was noted. Strong statements were made about the benefits of this project (which has funding commitments despite the present economy). One speaker went so far as to say that if you see a neighborhood with plenty of parking for everyone, you wouldn’t want to live there. An owner of Open Produce on 55th Street said storefront businesses need foot traffic more than they need customer parking.

My overall take of the meeting is that most people want the Alderman to approve the proposal and move it forward. I believe she received that message. She would also like to hear individually from people.

Ungar closed by asking anybody with an alternate proposal for the Shoreland to come forward with it. Further, he said that he understands that the parking issue will continue to be prominent, and that Antheus would be pleased to commit financial support to city public parking projects in the neighborhood.

I hope very much that this project is approved in its present form. The alternative is probably a vast derelict building. Hyde Park is already saddled with two large vacant buildings—Doctors Hospital and St. Stephen’s Church. Narrowly focused opponents stopped redevelopment of these two sites. Both buildings are hulking corpses. Hyde Park cannot have another.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

MAC Restoring Grande Dames at the Shoreland and Del Prado

posted by chicago pop

Terra cotta figure on upper stories of Del Prado Building

A community meeting on MAC's plans for Shoreland will be held at 7PM, at the Shoreland, on Wednesday evening, September 30, 2009.

As part of the community discussion of MAC Property's plans to restore the Shoreland Hotel to its former glory, HPP offers you a photo tour through the inside of both the Shoreland (this post) and the Del Prado (forthcoming). Bringing these historic and unique buildings back onto the market for modern, quality mid- to high-end rental units at key locations in Hyde Park will be an inestimable service to the neighborhood, its local economy, its heritage, and its quality of life.

HPP supports both of these projects 100%.

Crystal Ballroom in Shoreland Building

What criticism there is of the Shoreland project has focused on parking. This is no great surprise. It is also no great argument against either project. Parking is tight in East Hyde Park, as it is in all urban, dense, high-rise neighborhoods, and that will never change.

MAC's current proposal will add considerably fewer units to the market than the building was meant to hold as a hotel, or ever did as a dormitory. Which means that, in an auto-centric age, its impact on neighborhood parking is already considerably less than it could be.

Fallen Mask Wall Decoration, Shoreland Hotel

And, if it adds the maximum number of parking spaces allowable within the physical constraints of the building and Chicago city code, it will be able to provide parking for all patrons to any restaurant in the Grand Ball Room, and rental spaces for approximately 30% of the Shoreland's occupants.

Al Capone's Old Hideaway, Shoreland Building

MAC tells us that this number (30%) is in line with the demand for rental parking at its other high rise properties. HPP adds that this is in line with what ideal parking ratios should be -- and often are by default -- in high density urban areas as well.

Parking ratios lower than 1:1 (one parking space per residential unit, as opposed to 1:3) help to lower housing costs for everyone, while allowing MAC to invest more in its building and amenities than it would otherwise have to spend on a parking garage. Lower parking ratios also stimulate demand for people who may choose a car-free lifestyle, relying instead on alternatives such as car-sharing through I-Go or Zip-Car.

Entrance to Grand Ballroom, Projected Site of New Restaurant, Shoreland Building

Upshot: bringing the Shoreland and Del Prado back on line will not add to Hyde Park's parking problems, because higher-density development tends to reduce auto ownership, lowers development and neighborhood housing costs, and will ultimately support those amenities that make it less desirable to drive everywhere.

Adding more parking than what MAC has proposed would mean gutting a significant portion of the southern wing of the Shoreland. This would go counter to the goals of either preserving the integrity of the building, and of making more room in Hyde Park for people instead of cars.

Fallen Plaster Wall Decorations Stored in Attic of Shoreland Hotel

MAC's Shoreland plan will restore the great majority of a historic building at a conspicuous location, bring a new restaurant to the old Grand Ballroom and rental banquet space to the Crystal Ballroom, and add up to 350 units of rental housing to Hyde Park's housing stock. These are clear benefits to the neighborhood, to the South Side, and to Chicago as a whole.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

47th Street Mural

posted by Elizabeth Fama

The new mural under the 47th Street Metra pass is finished, and was dedicated this past Saturday, Sept. 19. If you haven't glanced at it from your car, or walked past it on your way to the lake yet, it's worth a look.

It's in a style called "bricolage" mosaic, using broken tile, mirrored tile, colored grout, and tiles with photo transfers. The lead designers were Carolyn Elaine (a Bronzeville resident) and John Pitman Weber. The themes were chosen at community meetings, and photographs were donated by community members. The photos pay tribute to both better-known and unknown 47th Street inhabitants (and esteemed guests, in the case of Ella Fitzgerald) and they are, hands down, my favorite part of the mural.

Alderman Preckwinkle provided menu money to support it. The cost was $86,000, including wall prep and the youth team that worked on it over the summer.

Jon Pounds, Executive Director of the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), told me that the challenge was to create something sweeping and almost cinematic as you drive by, but more intimate and thoughtful if you're walking.

I am a sucker for photos from the 20s and 30s.

The symbols that each take up about 1/5 of the mural are (from west to east):
1) the Adinkra (West African) symbol for "know your heritage," called the Sankofa bird, holding the egg of the future in its beak
2) a hand with a spiral in the palm, the Native American sign of human presence
3) a woman's face, reading ("know, learn, read")
4) the Adinkra symbol for "adaptability," called the Denkyem, a crocodile-turtle that lives in water, breathes air, and lays eggs on land
5) Another hand, the Mudra, for tranquility and balance.

The face of the woman reading is in one of three "skylight" segments of the wall.

My biggest worry about murals, and public art in general, is the question of maintenance and removal. In the process of funding this mural, no money was set aside for future maintenance. When it deteriorates -- as it inevitably will (for instance, how color-fast are the photo transfers, when exposed to the elements? Will tiles pop off with seeping, freezing water? The grout in my shower needed work after 10 years!) -- a group like CPAG will have to scramble to find public and private funds for restoration. And years from now, the community that lives with it will likely have little say in whether it's historic enough to be restored, or dated enough to be retired.