Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What is this Sh*t! or Why I Love Jerry Kleiner

posted by chicago pop

"It’s been 50 years since we had anything here with any style or energy."

--Jerry Kleiner on his new Hyde Park Restaurant

Photograph by Sarah Preston

Jerry Kleiner's first words when viewing the property that has since become the home of his Restaurant -- Name Pending: "It's like, what is this shit! What an ugly effing building." (Chicago Reader, April 14 2006)

Not only did he win my heart then and there with his frank appraisal of the ski lodge that never made it to Vail -- around here known as Harper Court (and its nearby clones) -- but the man is the most perfect confounding element in a rather pious neighborhood with 5 theological seminaries (that I know of) and a lot more people who, though maybe not thinking so much about G-d, know that this is where "fun comes to die."

Long story short: here's to more men in pink pants in the vicinity of Harper and 53rd. White guys, actually, who don't mind getting kneed by beautiful black women (well, she's not really "black," she's his Italian-American girlfriend). That's what Hyde Park is all about, right?

As much as I love him, I can't help but ask myself: can Hyde Park survive Jerry Kleiner -- assuming he can ever find a name for his restaurant?

Here's some more, from Chicago Magazine: “I was going to call it Hyde Park Grill but I ... got people saying to me, ‘It’s a shit boring name. All of your places have cool names like Red Light, like Gioco, like Marché. It’s been 50 years since we had anything here with any style or energy.’ And I got to thinking about it, and they’re right."

This can only be good.

While our community leaders set up their committees and subcommittees with preliminary expanded meetings for later preparatory reviews of previous exploratory committees on the future of 53rd Street, some on the 4th floor, some in the basement, Kleiner has got the neighborhood figured out. As he said in a 2006 interview for the Chicago Reader: "Somebody like me needs to set the bar for the community. Somebody needs to take a shot at it." ... "Even Kleiner complains about the retrograde aesthetic sensibilities of Hyde Parkers: "Where they are now, there's no real fashion or design."

This little corner of 53rd might get a whole lot more interesting before you can say the word TIF.

Jerry Kleiner Thinks About What to Call His Hyde Park Restaurant
(Photo courtesy of Jim Newberry

Kleiner is right, of course, though most Hyde Park crunch-sters, grad students, and full-time activists probably don't care what they wear. Or, like me, are probably too busy trying not to freeze most of the year to wear anything interesting. But it's nice to see someone try, and know that, like a PhD in some obscure topic in the humanities, someone (thankfully not me) is out there doing it.

And after all, Kleiner knows that he can't push it too far too fast. He knows, just like we do here at blog headquarters, that Hyde Park will never be the meatpacking district of West Randolph, or the high-rise jungle of South Loop, or alt.Wicker.Park. Of all the nightmares we try to plant in the minds of neighborhood NIMBYs, this isn't one of them. "My feeling is to create something that has a little bit of flair to it, but not too much ... a sophisticated approach to non-sophistication."

Or maybe a non-sophisticated approach to sophistication. Whatever. Just open the damn thing Jerry. Don't leave us with Ein Kleiner Nichtmusik. I need someplace where I can wear my pink pants.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Concrete versus Limestone

posted by Elizabeth Fama

You've got to hand it to the SAVE THE POINT group: they had a brilliant marketing campaign. Look at this (horrifically misleading) ad they put in the Hyde Park Herald in April of 2003, when they knew full well that the stretch of all-concrete revetment between 51st Street and 54th Street was no longer what the City was offering us:

Apparently, all's fair in love and marketing.

Implicit in this visual message is not only a critique of design, but also of material. The concrete is photographed to look cold and sterile (at the sight line of a rat), and the limestone is photographed from above, with warm human beings delighting in their surroundings.

In typical bureaucratic fashion, it took the City too long to come up with its own visual campaign of what it was really offering:

Some of our readers have commented that they do prefer the look of limestone, and they have wondered all along why the City can't just re-build Promontory Point out of limestone. After all, the limestone blocks from the 1930s are fully intact, while some of the cement sidewalks the City poured just last year in Hyde Park aren't.

I'm not a structural engineer, but I'll tell you what I know about concrete versus limestone.

1) Yes, individual limestone blocks are hard and durable. But the Army Corps of Engineers will not build a revetment for us that does not have a steel and concrete core. Why? Because limestone blocks can't be anchored against wave action and the shifts and separations that freezing and thawing cause.

2) If good-quality concrete is poured in the right way and at the right temperature and humidity, it's durable -- very durable. The contractual requirement for the lakeshore project is that the concrete must resist 5,000 lbs of pressure per square inch. As the contractors pour the concrete, they pour sample cylinders on site for the Army Corps to test after the concrete has cured.

3) The Army Corps and the City are willing to re-use all of the existing limestone, by (a) making the top two steps of the revetment out of limestone blocks, (b) building limestone steps into the water for swim access, and (c) covering the steel pilings with a tumbled limestone toe berm. These non-structural uses of limestone will at least allow us to retain some of the beauty of the stones, to sit on them, and to wade on them. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has said that this mixed-material design satisfies its requirements for historic preservation. The famous Memorandum of Agreement (a document that I'll recap in a future post) does not specify building materials, nor does Barack Obama's "Scope of Work" document.

Here's a series of photos that I find revealing about the strengths and weaknesses of limestone:

In the foreground of this shot you can see how the wood pilings and steel rails have failed, and the limestone blocks have shifted and fallen. (The old sub-structure is a "crib" or cage of wood pilings, steel rails, and tie-rods, which is filled with "stone aggregate," or coarse, crushed stone.) In the background of this photo you can see the "concrete coffins" at the tip of the Point -- a concrete repair of the promenade that took place around 30 years after the Point was built and is now itself around 45 years old. The concrete coffins are still very much intact.

Thus, concrete as a material is sturdy enough to handle 45 years of crashing northeast waves, and 45 winters of freezing and thawing. But that's only part of the story. Since the sub-structure at the tip of the Point was never repaired, the wave action is still eroding the stone aggregate underneath the concrete promenade, and causing the limestone steps behind the coffins to buckle:

The stone aggregate must be almost gone under this section. But even beyond that, the erosion of the waves is sucking dirt and sand from under the grassy meadow-side of the revetment as well:

When the Point was built, the soil level reached the top of the top step of the revetment. Now my friend Gerald can stand 3 - 4 feet deep in the ditch behind the top step.

And just look at these caves:

(My kids are not allowed to walk above this section.)

The new revetment won't have a "crib" by the old definition. The contractor will drive strong, stable steel piling, and then backfill with crushed stone before pouring the concrete promenade. The concrete is reinforced with rust-resistant rebar (rust would cause the rebar to expand, which would crack the concrete around it). The steel piling does most of the structural work, and the concrete core protects the backfill from erosion because it doesn't allow water to penetrate.

In the end, the longevity of the core of the new revetment will depend on sound engineering and quality control of inputs and labor, not on whether it's built of limestone, or concrete, or kryptonite.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Herald's Chicken: We Want Our Say Too!

posted by Peter Rossi
This week's Hyde Park Herald features an instant classic, "HP-K CC proposes new committees" (January 23, 2008). The Herald passes up all other actual events to feature the ruminations of members of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference in the most prominent news spot. The opening of HP Produce doesn't make it above the fold.

So what is in this gem? The reporter and headline writer try their best to conceal the content of the story from the reader with confusing terms, irrelevant pictures and rambling quotes. It took me a while to get the gist and it's a doozy.

A few folks got together on January 10th to grouse about why they are not being consulted on future "development" of Harper Court. The story claims that these "dozen" people represent the "Zoning and Development Committee" of the HP-K CC.

The HP-K CC website refers to a "Preservation-Development Zoning" task force (there is that word again) but doesn't cite a list of members or even the purpose of this "committee." There are long rambling posts by well-known NIMBYs on their "views" on development. However, I only devoted a short time to wading through the stream of consciousness that this website represents.

Let's get this straight. This is a standing committee that wants to weigh in on any issue involving preservation/development and zoning. We know that "zoning" is code for "alderman." As far as I can tell, this committee has no regular meeting schedule nor are minutes taken. Perhaps, the committee members do not feel it necessary to produce minutes as this is done for them by their faithful Herald scribe.

Harper Court is a particularly sore spot for NIMBYs. As we all know, Harper Court is a run-down set of badly designed retail spaces. The original mission of the Harper Court Foundation was to provide space for artisans. This mission is not being fulfilled (unless you think that vets or restaurant owners are "artisans"). The best thing to that could happen would be for the HCF to sell this valuable property to a developer and get out of the landlord business. With the proceeds of this sale, HCF could set up an endowment to aid local artists.

So what is the sore spot? The HP-K CC wants to be consulted on the future of Harper Court. Does this "committee" have any greater claim to input than any other random 12 people in Hyde Park? I think not.

The subtext of this article is that the HP-K CC feels threatened by real attempts to solicit community input. The recent "53rd Street Vision Workshop" was a meeting of more than 150 people who actually voted on issues near and dear to NIMBY hearts. In particular, those who attended the workshop voted overwhelmingly to endorse mid-rise and retail development.

I'm wrong, you say. The HP-K CC likes the 53rd street workshop. No, they "agreed that a community workshop similar to the" vision workshop is what they want. The article goes on to quote HP-K CC types questioning the representativeness of the workshop. In particular, the race card was played. In fact, the 53rd Street workshop was conspicuous for drawing younger people, families, and African Americans.

What our friends in the HP-K CC want is a recount. A chance to pack a meeting with NIMBYs much the same as at meetings regarding Doctor's Hospital and the Point.

To my mind, this reinforces the need to get out of the game of who can turn out more screaming people to a "community meeting." For a fraction of the cost of a "vision workshop," we could have a scientific poll which really would be representative. This, of course, limits the opportunities for some to appoint themselves as guardians of our community.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Real Goddam Progress

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Hyde Park Produce opened its doors on Wednesday, Jan. 23rd in the Kimbark Plaza -- in the space (Otto and) I like to call Mr. G's but in its most recent incarnation was actually the Co-Op Express.

The banner over the deli at the new Hyde Park Produce proclaims our Dream!, and a lot of love has clearly gone into this store. It's orderly, it's clean, and it's well-stocked. There are seemingly dozens of employees buzzing around like bees, and smiling ear to ear at the customers, nearly giddy with pride. It's a sight to behold.

It was difficult for me to take a photo there, because the store was quite crowded, and I didn't feel right posting a snapshot of innocent bystanders.

The store feels spacious, and it's well laid out. There is, of course, a ton of produce. But there's also a deli counter with a variety of desserts, pre-made salads, and side-dishes. There are two small refrigerated meat cases in the back of the store, with fresh chicken, fish, and beef. There are freezers with frozen vegetables, pizzas, and ice creams. There's a dairy section with organic milks, cheeses, eggs, and yogurt. There's a shelf for artisanal bread (Labriola), but it was a little sparse today. And there are about three "grocery" aisles (pastas, jams, kosher items, canned goods, imported foods, bottled water). You can get almost anything you need here (other than paper goods, toiletries, and cleaning supplies, which you can get at CVS or Walgreens.)

As with the "old" Hyde Park Produce, I saw some spottiness in the freshness department. The bok choy was dead today. There were wilted heads of lettuce. The asparagus had dried and shriveled. And before you get your hopes up about doing all of your shopping there, I thought the prices for grocery items were high. A bottle of San Pellegrino is $3.79. Bonne Maman jams are $4.99 -- more than a dollar higher than University Market. A block of Mozzarella is $5.08. A 34 oz. bottle of Colivata extra virgin olive oil is $19.99.

In fact, here are some impulse purchases I made (granted, I have expensive taste), and the total came to $45.71.

Hyde Park Produce Loot

I am looking forward to seeing if those San Marzano Italian tomatoes are as good as the delightful imported brand that I buy at Costco.

And just to whet your appetite for more progress...

This is how the Co-Op is dressed today.

Here's what Treasure Island promises us, among other things, in their Message to the Hyde Park Community: a "bountiful" salad bar; a full-service butcher (with dry-aged meats) and fish monger; "homemade" prepared foods; imported cheeses, pates, and prosciutto; artisan breads; made-to-order floral arrangements; and an extensive catering menu.

From the Hyde Park Herald we learn TI will have even more (did I hear the magic words "Belgian Chocolate case?"), including a sushi bar, a juice bar, a conventional and organic salad bar, and an ice cream bar. Who knew you do could all that with 35,000 square feet?

If it's true: deep sigh.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Looking Back on 47th Street: Risk and Corruption on the South Side

posted by chicago pop

Lest the title of this post mislead anyone, I'll state it upfront: I know of no evidence that corruption of any sort played a role in the saga of Lake Pointe Park Shopping Center, the retail shopping mall that for a few years housed the Hyde Park Co-Op's ill-fated 47th Street Store.

But the Chicago Tribune's front page story detailing the Clinton campaign's effort to tie Barak Obama to Antoin Rezko, alleged south side slumlord and Springfield influence-peddler, got me thinking about just how dicey the world of south side development is. How big the risks are, and how easily the plans go bust. Like they did for the Co-Op.

I don't think Obama's ties to Rezko, who is facing federal indictment, amounted to anything illegal, or even unethical. But if you track the players involved in any of the residential or commercial developments in near south side neighborhoods over the last decade or so, a small set of names and organizations turn up again and again, linked to and including Rezko. It makes you wonder if they should be.

In a conspicuous number of cases, someone running with this small pack gets busted for doing something illegal. Or called by the Trib or Sun-Times for deals that no one can crack, but which come across as suspicious. It seems hard to keep your hands clean in real estate anywhere, and South Side neighborhoods are no exception.

Take one of the partners originally responsible for developing Lake Pointe Park, the Fund For Community Redevelopment and Revitalization, a Woodlawn-based, non-profit community development corporation (CDC) that originally came together with a for-profit developer to build the shopping center at 47th and Lake Park.

During the final agony of the Hyde Park Co-Op, very little media attention was paid to the details of the deal at 47th, who had made how much, and who was still cashing checks from the Co-Op and Certified to pay for an empty store.

The Fund for Community Redevelopment and Revitalization (FCRR) was founded by the prominent civil-rights era activist, Arthur M. Brazier, who together with Leon Finney has founded a number of similar redevelopment funds centered in the Woodlawn area.

As a partner in the Lake Pointe venture, the FCRR was able to obtain a $2,000,000 combined grant from the City of Chicago and HUD, and approximately $1.5 in loans from a national non-profit redevelopment organization to undertake the project at 47th Street in the mid 90s.

While the Lake Pointe Park center neared completion in the late 90s, the FCRR was at the same time hammering out deals with Antoin Rezko's development firm, Rezmar, on a number of south side affordable housing rehabs. To stick only to those deals involving the FCRR, (leaving aside deals between Rezmar and sister organizations of the FCRR also headed by either Brazier or Finney), FCRR signed on with Rezmar in 1997 to rehab affordable housing units on South Ellis and East 46th Street.

In 1998, the FCRR again joined with Rezmar to obtain a $3.8 million loan from the City to redevelop two buildings on South Michigan Avenue, and South Kenwood. Rezmar ceased managing any of these properties when it ran into financial difficulties, while the City foreclosed on several others managed by Rezmar with different CDCs. (Tim Novak, "Rezmar Deals Involving Davis Miner Law Firm." Chicago Sun-Times, April 23, 2007).

A few years later, Allison Davis, a former board member of the FCRR and a founding partner at the prestigious civil rights law firm where Obama worked (Davis Miner Barnhill & Galland), and which handled legal work for projects involving Rezmar, set up his own development deal in Woodlawn on East 63rd Street. The Columbia Pointe mixed-income residential project was initiated with grants from the City for infrastructure, and several parcels of City-owned land were donated to the project. (Tim Novak, "City land for Davis' 2 sons." Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 11 2007. p. A-16)

Here again, Brazier and Finney show up as backers, together with Vince Lane, former head of the Chicago Housing Authority. In 2001, Vince Lane was found guilty of lying to obtain bank loans to rescue a failing supermarket he had developed at 76th and Racine. Lane was sent to prison for 2 years. (Steve Warmbir, "Ex-CHA Chief Found Guilty of Lying to Banks for $2.5 Million in Loans." Chicago Sun-Times, March 22, 2001, p. 1).

In the Columbia Pointe project, according to Tim Novak at the Sun-Times, Davis sold "the biggest, most expensive house" to his son Jared, for $386,000 in a "mixed-income development project subsidized by Chicago taxpayers." (Novak, "City Land for Davis' 2 Sons")

Just a few months ago, Novak reported that:

Davis and his partners -- including his son Jared and Cullen -- have gotten more than $100 million in taxpayer subsidies to build and rehabilitate more than 1,500 apartments and homes, primarily for the poor. His deals include a massive redevelopment of the Chicago Housing Authority's notorious Stateway Gardens...Davis and his partners have made at least $4 million in development fees over the last decade. (Tim Novak, "How reform-minded City Hall critic bacame a cozy insider." Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 11, 2007).

It get's confusing fast, and everybody has done deals with everybody. Brazier and Finney have been involved with multiple shady characters. There is money to be made from City and Federal grants to build housing and commercial developments for the poor.

Given the number of these projects that went bad, from Vince Lane's supermarket on 76th and Racine, to Antoin Resko's numerous unheated, below-code, and foreclosed rehab rentals in neighborhoods surrounding Hyde Park, it's not surprising that the Lake Pointe Park shopping center lost its anchor store.

But the fact that the Co-Op was subleasing from Certified, rather than leasing directly from the landlord, is probably why the mall managed to stay afloat at all when the Co-Op went belly-up, and not wind up like Lane's supermarket on 76th -- another casualty of the risky and shady world of south side development.

It also makes me think that Brazier and Finney must have the same amazing knack as Mayor Daley for working on a daily basis among big-time crooks, while somehow managing to keep their hands clean.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Great Hyde Park Bagel Hunt (Part 2) & Thai Restaurant Debate (Part 1)

posted by chicago pop

Sesame Seed, Poppy Seed, and Everything Bagels from Orly's

The best bagels in Hyde Park come from a very strange place. Orly's Restaurant, at the corner of Lake Park and 55th. It's weird, there's no doubt about it. But this isn't a restaurant review, so I'll hold off on just why Orly's left me wondering whether I had walked into a Mexican restaurant (southwestern murals), a Wisconsin trucker bar (those tinted windows), or a strip club (those tinted windows). Or maybe some combination of all three, with a bagel rack perched prominently by the door.

But I came here to praise bagels, not to bury restaurants. And on that score, I don't differ from the reader consensus that emerged from the first installment of The Great Hyde Park Bagel Hunt, that Orly's has the best bagels -- in Hyde Park. And considering that Orly's bagels became available only as recently as 2006, this fact alone represents quite an advance. (See this very helpful review from the Maroon on just where to find the best bagels in all of Chicago.)

So Orly's get's an "A" for effort. In fact, I just enjoyed a sesame seed bagel schmeared with my wife's amazing chopped chicken liver, and am now quite content. But the fact remains that Orly's bagels are still not equal to our chosen baseline, bagels from The Bagel on Broadway. And, though we haven't had a chance to get up to Dempster this month, reader sentiment was that Orly's would have to work even harder to compete with other North Side bagel kingpins: New York Bagel and Bialy, and Kaufman's.

Let's take a look at what we have:

Egg and Sesame Seed Bagel Halves from Orly's Restaurant

Orly's bagels come close to the dynamic tension that must be maintained by any great bagel, between an outer surface that becomes nicely crunchy when toasted, and a doughy, twisty-chewy interior. On repeated tastings, however, Orly's seemed to push that dynamic too far, resulting in a very crisp shell encasing an overly- fluffy interior. As far as the seasonings, I have no complaint; it was only the dough that was a little too bread-ish.

By now it should be clear that anyone offering bagels in Hyde Park has to satisfy a discriminating audience. That's how it should be, and how we intend to keep it. Dining establishments only offer quality product where and when they know it will be appreciated, and they only maintain that quality when they face the continuing pressure of discerning customers (which is why the Thai food in Hyde Park is so poor, but that's another post...)

Orly's has definitely raised the bagel bar. Now we don't have to bend down nearly quite so far to get one. If they keep it up, hopefully we might have to reach up a little.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

When Public Art Goes Bad


posted by Elizabeth Fama

Some of our readers may be entrenched enough in Hyde Park to remember the Virginio Ferrari* sculpture that was in front of Woodward Court (now the home of the Graduate School of Business's Harper Center). It looked something like this when it was in one piece:

summer, 2004

I searched up and down on the Internet, and I could not find a photo of it in situ in its glory days. Even Virginio Ferrari has decided not to put it in his online portfolio. I did track down the actual sculpture, however, and it's living a modest but comfortable life in a little mechanical graveyard behind the steam plant on 60th and Blackstone. It looks like this:

January, 2008
You see, this sculpture happily served its useful life. It adorned the front of an ugly, squat dorm without upstaging it; over the years it supported thousands of college students reading a book between classes or flirting a bit; it even let a little girl climb on it nearly daily in the late 1970s on her way to the Laboratory Schools (as if she wasn't late enough). When it's useful life was over -- voila! -- the private owner (i.e. the University) simply retired it.
The sculpture below is publicly owned, so apparently, in spite of our pleas, it can't be removed.

And the mural below is not only publicly owned, but heaven help us, local and national organizations are fighting to refurbish it...whether we like it or not.

The Getty Foundation says, "The qualities that make these murals so distinctive -- their outdoor locations and the materials used to create them -- can hasten their disintegration and decay." Well, duh. That's why we should consider them transient art, and either give someone else a shot at the wall (in my opinion, a classically trained artist), or re-think the visual design of our underpasses entirely.

*2019 Edit: It has come to my attention (through an astute reader) that the duct-like sculpture shown at the top of this post was not created by Virginio Ferrari, but by Buky Schwartz. Since this post was originally published, the pieces have been moved to 60th and Cottage Grove (visible on a satellite image). 

Thursday, January 17, 2008


posted by Elizabeth Fama

It's a birthday today of sorts: the birth of the Promontory Point Controversy. And in honor of that anniversary, Hyde Park Progress is offering FREE BUMPER STICKERS!

Git 'em here. Git 'em while they're hot.

Seven years ago, on January 17, 2001, the City held a public meeting to show the community its plans for the stretch of revetment between 54th and 57th Street. A Community Task Force was formed. Healthy negotiations with the City occurred. A 9-Point Plan was unveiled. The "Point Savers" rejected it and took over the Task Force. A Compromise Plan was unveiled. The Point Savers rejected that one, too.

Let's see what else has happened since January 17, 2001:

-George Bush was sworn in as President. Twice.
-The twin towers fell.
-We started two wars.
-Slobodan Milosevic was caught, tried eternally, and eventually died.
-We lost a Beatle (*sniff*).
-The EU switched dozens of countries over to the euro.
-SARS, Avian Flu, E Coli.
-Meigs was demolished overnight.
-Martha Stewart was tried, went to jail, got out, and re-established her empire.
-The Bam earthquake, the Indian Ocean Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina.
-Qadaffi transformed himself into a man-about-town.
-Edvard Munch's paintings were stolen. Two years later they were recovered.
-Arafat died, Sharon was incapacitated.
-We found out who Deep Throat is.
-The White Sox won the World Series.

And much, much more. Feel free to add your favorite event of the last 7 years.

And if you'd like a bumper sticker, send an e-mail to me at , give me your postal address, and I'll mail you one.

The Point has not been saved. It's time to fix the Point.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Preservation Con Game

posted by Peter Rossi

A time-honored NIMBY tactic is to assert an opinion frequently in hopes that it will become regarded as fact. If we scream frequently that the Doctor's Hospital should be preserved, this will shift the debate from "is the Doctor's Hospital worth preserving?" to "how can we preserve it?" The NIMBYs are now applying this tactic in discussions with Chicago Maroon reporters.

In a recent editorial , Maroon editors urge the university to seriously consider an alternative "preservation" proposal drawn up under the auspices of the Hyde Park Historical Society preservation committee. Does this imply that the Maroon editorial board accepts the proposition that the Doctor's Hospital should be preserved?

Those who advocate the preservation of this building have made no arguments regarding its architectural merits. It is not a unique building (the firm that designed it produced over 100 similar structures) nor is it an exemplar of any style of architecture. The only thing we say say about the building is that it is reasonably old. To my eye, it has that gloomy look that reminds you of obsolete institutions such as state mental hospitals or orphanages.

The Maroon editorial states that our local preservationists claim Doctor's Hospital is an "architectural landmark." It is not. No city, state or federal landmarks agency has declared this to be the case. A private preservation group who call themselves the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has put the Doctor's Hospital on their "watchlist." There is no formal criteria for inclusion on this list and inclusion does not constitute landmark status.

So what this boils down to is that a handful of Hyde Parkers have declared the Doctor's Hospital to be worth preserving and have not been required to justify that conclusion.

It is not even clear what the alternative preservation proposal consists of. Are there cost estimates, architectural plans, and engineering studies? The Maroon news story quotes local "preservationist" Jack Spicer as arguing (quite irresponsibly) that you can have your preservation cake and eat it too. That is, it might be cheaper to preserve the buildings. It stands to reason that to preserve even the facade of the hospital will be much more expensive than building a middle of the line Marriott.

But even if it turned out that Doctor's Hospital was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's chauffeur, we still must ask - could this structure make a viable hotel? If you were a prospective student, parent, or visiting faculty, would you want to stay behind this ugly facade? It looks like a Columbia University dorm circa 1940. It will make the Omni New Haven look like the Ritz and the Durant Hotel in Berkeley look like the Savoy. The Stanford Park in Palo Alto will seem like Shangri-La.

Going the preservation route will maximize the chances that this site will remain an embarrassing eyesore and visitors to the U of C will stay downtown. We need a hotel. Preservation can't and shouldn't work for this site.

I would encourage Maroon reporters to ask hard questions of preservation advocates and check some of the assertions which are going unverified. We will all be better off for it. This is something that our local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, should do but we have learned that the Maroon is a far better source of real news. The Maroon has a 50 per cent larger circulation to boot -- so, go to it guys!

Treasure Island to Replace Co-Op End of February 08

posted by chicago pop

Today's announcement from Hank Webber:

I am pleased to tell you that the University has signed a lease with Treasure Island to open a grocery store in the Hyde Park Shopping Center at 55th Street and Lake Park. Treasure Island is working intensively to obtain a number of city business licenses that are required. Although the timing of this process is somewhat uncertain, Treasure Island has set a goal of opening the new store before the end of February.

Treasure Island, a locally owned grocer (see, plans to make major renovations to both the interior and exterior of the store, while maintaining operations throughout the remodeling. It will be some months before the renovations are completed, but we believe they will be worth the wait.

Treasure Island will occupy the space formerly leased by the Hyde Park Co-op. Given the Co-op’s serious financial difficulties, the University worked closely with the Co-op Board to ensure the smoothest possible transition to a new store. The Co-op’s licensing agreement for the 55th Street store will expire at the end of January, and the Co-op anticipates closing its operations by January 20 as its current food supplies are sold.

All of the current Hyde Park Co-op employees who are interested in working at the new store will be invited to interview for employment, beginning as early as this week. Additionally, the University has worked with Alderman Toni Preckwinkle to ensure that city and state resources, support, information and training are made available to the Co-op employees.

Beginning immediately, Treasure Island is offering on-line shopping and delivery service to the Hyde Park community. For information, visit and click on the “personal shopper” link. Treasure Island has also agreed to immediately take over the Co-op’s shopping and delivery program to the area shut-ins, ensuring continuous service to those who cannot do their own shopping.

In addition to the news about Treasure Island, we are looking forward to the opening by the end of January of the new Hyde Park Produce in Kimbark Plaza at 1226 E. 53rd Street. The new store will be more than three times larger than the current store at 1312 E. 53rd Street, providing a significantly larger selection of produce, meats, cheeses, and other foods.

Since we are in a period of transition, we want to remind you of other Hyde Park grocery shopping locations near the University, including:
  • Harper Foods, 1455 E. 57th Street, 773-363-6251
  • University Market, 1323 E. 57th Street, 773-363-0070
  • Village Foods, 1521 E. Hyde Park Blvd. (Village Center), 773-288-8180
  • Market in the Park (Regents Park), 5050 S. Lake Shore Drive, 773-734-3687
    A detailed map with shopping alternatives can be found on the web at More information about shopping options is available through the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce at or 773-288-0124.


    Henry S. Webber
    Vice President, Community and Government Affairs

  • Inside Drs Hospital: See What You're Preserving!

    posted by chicago pop

    Future Amputation Ballroom

    Local preservationists must really like the façade of Doctors Hospital, because the interior sure isn't much. It's what you might expect it to look like, given the fact that it was a modern, functional hospital until 2000, when it was abandoned by the felons who ran the hospital and a Medicare scam there.

    Not quite the Trading Room of Louis Sullivan's famed Chicago Stock Exchange, preserved today in the Art Institute. But pretty cool in an apocalyptic, white-collar crime sort of way.

    From the looks of it, keeping the façade of this building would amount to a postmodern exercise in decorative make-believe: quaint exteriors with studied historical references, concealing the most unrelated of utilitarian interiors.

    So what is there to preserve inside the building itself, you may ask? Look for yourself, and revel in the ambiance that wafts from these pictures...

    Future Sigmoidoscopy Cafe

    Wrong movie set -- get outta here! (*)

    Future Bon Jovi Party Suite

    Communicable Diseases Corridor-- Single and Double Rooms

    Thanks once again to intrepid urban photographer, Charles Janda for the photos. After having led us through the ruins of St. Stephens, he has once more been our guide through the bowels of yet another decaying Hyde Park edifice. Thanks, Chuck. View the full set here and here.

    * Planet of the Apes gag inspired by longtime HPP reader and scathing critic of all things NIMBY, famac.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Promontory Point Historical Photos

    Part III in the Promontory Point Controversy Series

    posted by Elizabeth Fama

    Hey kids, here are some old pictures that are fun and informative!

    First, an architectural elevation of the revetment between 39th Street and 56th Street (built in the early 1930s):
    Second, a photo from 1923 showing workmen installing the bulkhead (the steel rails and wood piling that hold the riprap and limestone blocks above) between Randolph Street and the 12th street Beach:

    Notice how the original bulkhead hardly resembles the deteriorated little toothpicks and dental floss that we have at all:

    Finally, here's a photo of the way a step-stone revetment appeared at completion, in 1922:

    Clearly the steps are for sittin', the promenade is for walkin', but the lake is not for swimmin'. In fact, the revetment we have at the Point was not originally designed for water access. We are able to swim off the Point precisely because the revetment failed: blocks of limestone from the promenade slipped into the water, and we use the partially submerged rocks to clamber (as best we can, if we're athletic) into the water.

    But let's get back to that promenade above. The one you could walk along with your beau, your heels, your long skirt, your white gloves, and your parasol, in 1922.

    Today you'd better have your hiking boots on, and keep your hands free, because there is no promenade left:

    I admit this scene is harshly beautiful. What it isn't is functional for any sort of recreational activities -- sittin', walkin', or swimmin'.

    Saturday, January 12, 2008

    Revealed Preference: There are no restaurants in the 5th ward

    posted by Peter Rossi

    Fundraisers are a way of life for Chicago Aldermen. Short terms force constant worry about reelection and the considerable funding required. 5th Ward Alderman, Leslie Hairston, is no exception. Indeed, her war chest is often reported to be considerably smaller her than that of her big sister in the 4th ward. So the annual event is doubly important for Hairston.

    Planning the annual soiree must pose a thorny problem for the Alderman and her hard-working staff. The ideal place is a banquet hall or larger restaurant where the pols and friends can have elbow-room. A bar and perhaps a small dance floor or a band stand would be nice. Venues like this are hard to find in the 5th.

    In the past, I've attended one of Hairston's events at the Marina cafe at Jackson Harbor. While a beautiful setting, this place was pretty bare. After Hairston dropped the ball on fixing the Point (and her endorsement of the Compromise Plan), I stopped contributing and working for her campaign. A neighbor showed me the invitation for this year's event which I reproduce below

    It appears that this year, the staff couldn't find a venue in the 5th ward and the fundraiser was held in Greektown. I can't say that I really blame the Alderman. The pick en's are really slim in the 5th.

    I do think it is quite ironic that the Alderman put the kibosh on the University's plan for a hotel in the 5th on the site of the Doctor's Hospital. The hotel would certainly have a nice banquet area for fundraisers. She didn't like White Lodging and she wanted a plan the was "preservation" minded. I wonder how she feels about the labor practices in Greektown? Would she like to have her fundraiser in a building that looks like a state mental hospital? Perhaps, the main reception could be in the former electro-shock treatment room. Donors could be strapped down until they yielded their wallets (just kidding, Leslie).

    Even if we set aside Doctor's Hospital, the NIMBYs have been quite successful in chasing restaurants, bars, and clubs out of our neighborhood (witness the huge difficulties Bar Louie had in getting their liquor license and the fact that the "golden rectangle" voted itself dry, effectively prohibiting the development of anything more interesting that delis and coffee shops). It's time to put an end to this.

    Note: before members of the Hyde Park Hysterical Society rush in to correct me. I only said that Doctor's Hospital "looks" like a state mental hospital. "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" could have been filmed there. We all know that it is little more than an ugly, abandoned general purpose hospital.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    53rd St. Visioning Results

    posted by chicago pop

    Now that the polling results from last December's 53rd Street Visioning Meeting have been passed around, I wanted to post some reflections on the event, originally posted as a comment on the blog shortly after the meeting, but now worth posting up front.

    So here is my take on the meeting, with some of the more important numbers -- above all, the tallies showing support for mid-rise development on 53rd, and lack of support for building height restrictions anywhere in the corridor.

    Co-blogger Peter Rossi and I both want to stress the positive significance of this result for possible development on 53rd and at McMobil. It means that if NIMBYs start making noise about opposing mid-rises, representing "the community," and standing in front of a vast troop of neighbors who oppose building for greater residential density on the 53rd Street corridor, a big red caca flag should pop up in your head.

    There have been, as yet, no good reasons advanced as to why buildings 4 stories and taller should not be put up anywhere from Woodlawn to the Lake on 53rd St.

    Here's the report:

    A few things were remarkable about the crowd: about 25% of those in attendance were African-American. About the same amount were under 40. There were also a few families with small children.

    For some contrast, take a look at the picture of the Co-Op Board meeting in the December 12, 2007 Herald for just the opposite demographic. The workshop representation was almost the exact inverse of what usually passes -- with much smaller numbers -- for "the community."

    Demographic Diversity of Co-Op Board (from the Hyde Park Herald, December 12, 2007)

    The NIMBYs were vastly outnumbered at the 53rd Street meeting. The most controversial vote, and this only moderately so, was the final one (which one heckler felt was "railroaded") asking if people would approve of a mid-rise "somewhere" on 53rd, not specifying where.

    The results were favorable, with 63% answering Yes and 26% No. That's almost the same split as we saw with the vote to close the Co-Op, and suggests that good sense has not decamped from the neighborhood along with good retail.

    A different measure of the same sentiment was taken by a separate vote, and makes it just as clear that most folks there did not oppose a mid-rise on 53rd, or at McMobil in particular.

    The category "height limitations," meaning a cap on how high a building can go, which is the linchpin of opposition to a mid-rise at McMobil, pulled in only 8.3% in the first round and 13.2% in the second. Height limitations are not a majority concern. A well designed mid-rise building at McMobil, I believe, could win most people over.

    Asked what buildings should look like on 53rd, the top 3 responses were "Mixture of historical and well designed modern buildings" (44%); "mixed use" (40.6%); and "underground and off-street parking" (21.7%).

    I decided to drive the issue home in a post immediately following the meeting because there is an increased awareness of the site, and because not everyone now reading the blog may have read the earlier posts dealing with what may happen at McMobil.

    It was also clear at the time that the Spicer Dream Machine was revving up a PR drive to limit the height of whatever gets built at McMobil, all while beginning to display the trappings of a pro-density self-transformation. The latter is bogus.

    Despite not having been able to advance a single substantiated or objective reason to oppose anything taller than 3-4 stories at the McMobil site, which sits within clear view of buildings just as tall or taller, Jack Spicer has signed a petition and written 2 letters to the Herald on behalf of folks who resist adding population to Hyde Park. Spicer's most recent letter on the subject is a case in point: his a priori claim for wanting height limitations is that mid-rise buildings are "oversized, monolithic projects that dwarf their neighbors and bring congestion and boredom." (Herald, December 12, 2007)

    The terms in the quotation above are all subjective, lack specific referents, and have no bearing to any existing plan for the site. They embody numerous tacit assumptions, and have more to do with phobias about density inside the NIMBY mind, than what can be built outside of it.

    For change to happen in Hyde Park, we need more households and more people. That means making the buildings for them. The results of the 53rd Street Visioning Workshop demonstrated that Hyde Parkers understand this and are willing to see it happen.

    53rd TIF Meeting Monday, December 12

    posted by chicago pop

    January 14, 2007

    7 PM

    Hyde Park Neighborhood Club

    5480 S. Kenwood

    The Agenda Will Include:

    1) TIF information for 2007; 53rd St. TIF Annual Report -- Alderman Toni Preckwinkle

    2) Cleanslate 2008 Request

    3) Canter Middle School Update -- Colleen Conlan, Principal

    4) 53rd St. Vision Workshop Follow-Up Report and Next Steps -- Hubert Morgan, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

    Alderman Preckwinkle, the SECC, and the Workshop Planning Committee are developing a draft report on the December 8, 2007 workshop. The SECC is developing a website to serve as a conduit for information regarding the workshop and related issues. It is currently online, but remains a work in progress:

    Tuesday, January 8, 2008

    The Great Hyde Park Bagel Hunt

    posted by chicago pop

    The subject first came up in conversation with a faculty couple from the East Coast. "Where can you get a decent bagel in Hyde Park?" It's come up many times since then. It's not that bagels are unavailable; it's just that, well, they're not really bagels. I don't mind being thought of as a bagel-snob, as I'm sure there are others who would join my club. The point is, progress comes in all shapes and sizes, and in this case it comes with a hole in the middle.

    So I've decided to go on a hunt for Hyde Park's best bagels. I'll start with 2 local bagels, and one bagel of reference, imported, of course, from the North Side. There will be future reviews, and this is by no means a definitive or comprehensive sampling. I'll taste bagels as I find them, and maybe readers can tip me off to some purveyors that I've missed. But for starters, here's what I've come up with.

    The Bagel Standard

    Sesame, Everything, and Poppy Seed bagels from The Bagel, 3107 N. Broadway

    OK, these are real bagels. They look the way a bagel should look, like that girl your mom keeps inviting to dinner, the one with hair on her forearms and a broken nose, but an undeniable va va voom. They're lumpy and have a nice, random smattering of topping. They're nice and crispy-golden on the outside. But let's not limit ourselves to superficial appearances, as pleasant as they are.

    Now, when you cut one open, here's what it looks like:

    Cross Section of Poppyseed Bagel Above

    Like good French bread (which is another post, Bonjour Bakery), there should be some small holes in the dough, which displays a varying density throughout. This contributes to the bagel's "mouth feel" of chewiness, in pleasant contrast to its crisp shell. If I cut into a bagel and it looks like a slice of Wonder Bread -- smooth and fluffy and even -- I give it to my dog.

    OK, so armed with a standard of reference, let's see what we've got.

    The Medici Bakery

    Poppyseed, Sesame, and Cinnamon-Raisin Bagels from The Medici Bakery, 1327 E. 57th Street

    These bagels are beautiful. I can't deny that. I like looking at them. The problem arises when I decide to eat one. But sticking to aesthetics, these bagels strike me as the kind that Jimmy Stewart would make with his family on Christmas Eve. No hairy forearms here. They are perfectly round, have geometrically round holes in the middle, and look at that almost perfect band of poppy seeds. It's all just so nice!

    The problem is, these are bread rolls with holes in them. I think they might be good with butter and jam, but I don't eat bagels with butter and jam. I'm not quite sure how they got this way, but the dough lacks the chewiness and tastiness that lets you know you've bitten into a bagel that means business. I buy these once in a while, but they always leave me wistful for Dempster Avenue.

    Third World Cafe/Costco/Einstein's Bagels

    Everything and Sesame Seed Bagel from Third World Cafe, 1301 E. 53rd St.

    Third World Cafe buys their bagels outside. When I asked the cashier most recently, she told me they were from Costco. I frequently buy bagels in bulk from Costco, and they are usually labeled as Einstein Brother's Bagels. So my assumption -- and it could very well be wrong -- is that these are Einstein's bagels.

    I've had Einstein's around Chicago and they are good, and they are just as good when served up at Third World Cafe. They're a little on the oval side, with a nice messy smattering of topping, and when you cut into them, they look like this:

    Cross Section of Poppy Seed Bagel Above

    Nice and doughy with plenty of holes inside, all translating into that light-but-chewy mouth feel that I love in a bagel. So, you can't really go wrong with the bagels at Third World, but that's because you're more or less buying standardized Einstein's bagels. Not spectacular, but pretty good. They're the best I've been able to find in Hyde Park so far, but I'm not done looking.

    What to Do in Kenwood Park? Meeting Tomorrow Night

    An HPP reader forwarded me this message about a community meeting tomorrow night that may be of interest to sports enthusiasts and park users in Kenwood and Hyde Park. It appears that a controversy is brewing in a part of the neighborhood that hasn't featured much on HPP lately.

    HPP does not endorse one side or the other on this issue. This post, and the information included with it, and in the comments, is meant as a public service before a public meeting, and to allow for community debate and clarification of the issues.

    I don't know the history here, but the details are all going to be rolled out tomorrow night, so check it out if you're curious, or just want to weigh in as a citizen park user, to balance out folks who live immediately adjacent to the Kenwood Park.

    The note appended below is presented to stimulate discussion.


    Dear Baseball Family,

    As you may or may not know, Legends Baseball has been embroiled in a
    dispute with neighbors of Kenwood Park regarding our desire to expand
    our league to include 13-15 year olds (which would play on Saturday
    and Sunday) and our desire to move Fall Ball to Shoesmith.

    We received a go ahead from the Alderman for these two proposals in
    December. Since then, several articles have appeared in the Hyde Park
    Herald critical of our plans. While Julie Lemon, the head of this ad
    hoc grouping claims to be representing the Kenwood Park Advisory
    Council, the Chicago Park District has informed us that no such group
    exists. She has selectively passed out to the community spurious and
    incorrect information regarding our program. This information suggests
    that the four baseball fields and the existing program are too much.
    They prefer to severely limit use of the baseball fields and have more
    soccer and a doggie run.

    As a result what may be a very heated meeting will be held THIS
    WEDNESDAY, January 9th at St. Paul the Redeemer church (located at
    50th and Dorchester opposite Shoesmith) at 7:00 PM.

    HPK Legends is in desperate need of your help. The room will be filled
    with individuals opposing our program and we need to balance it with
    our baseball supporters. PLEASE COME TO THE MEETING.

    If it is absolutely impossible for you to attend the meeting, please
    email Alderman Preckwinkle at with a
    brief letter of your support for baseball's existing program and
    proposed expansion.

    Please defend HPK Legends; a program that belongs to all of us, or we
    could lose it.

    Please RSVP if you can attend the meeting. We must know that we have

    Sincerely, Evonne Taylor, President, Hyde Park Kenwood Legends

    Sunday, January 6, 2008

    Timeline of the Promontory Point Controversy: in 10 Painful Steps

    PART II in the Promontory Point Controversy Series

    posted by Elizabeth Fama

    The tattered symbol, triumph?

    I know this post looks long, but I've chiseled the timeline down as much as I can. It will bring you up to date on why the Point is actively deteriorating, more than 6 years after the City started rebuilding the rest of the shoreline:

    1) January 17, 2001: At a community meeting, the City and Chicago Park District (CPD) presented an unacceptable plan for the Point revetment. The plan was along the lines of what you see between 51st and 54th Street. And even if you don't mind the way that stretch of new revetment looks (this means you, famac), the design (1) precludes water access (that's a deal-killer right there), (2) is arguably out of scale and over-engineered, and (3) does not reuse any limestone. So Alderman Leslie Hairston agreed to coordinate meetings between a community task force and the City and CPD officials, with the goal of modifying the design.

    2) January, 2001 – May, 2001: The executive committee of the original community task force (Margie Borecki, Kay Clement, Bruce Johnstone, Tom Knight, Gerald Marsh, Lauren Moltz, Peter Rossi, and Jack Spicer) worked with the City to hammer out the “9-Point Plan,” which included nine design concessions from the City, including reducing the scale of the promenade and steps, lowering the top step to the height of the current revetment, and adding two, 300-foot limestone platform steps to provide swimming access on the north-side and south-side (to replace our current, horrible swimming access), along with sanctioned deep-water swimming. (Other than these limestone platform steps, and a limestone toe berm to visually hide the steel supports in the water, the structure was all concrete and steel.) Work would be carried out in phases, so that one half or the other of the Point would be open to recreation during construction. The plan also restored the original Caldwell landscaping.

    3) May 1, 2001: All members of the executive committee of the community task force, including Jack Spicer and Bruce Johnstone, verbally agreed to a "Memorandum of Understanding" between Alderman Hairston, City officials, and the CPD, approving the 9-Point Plan.

    4) May 1, 2001 – October, 2001: Apparently Jack Spicer and Bruce Johnstone decided that they didn’t support the 9-Point Plan after all. Behind the scenes they marshaled activists to attend the City’s October 1 presentation of the 9-Point Plan to the community, held in the auditorium of the Oriental Institute.

    5) October 1, 2001: When the microphone was opened to the audience at the public meeting, Jack's and Bruce's troops unexpectedly shouted down the 9-Point Plan. Two Chicago Tribune writers, Rick Hepp and Liam Ford, reported the next day that "residents turned out in force" to "scoff at an updated plan," and to demand limestone. In the following weeks four members of the executive task force who still supported the 9-Point Plan resigned (Clement, Knight, Moltz, and Rossi), to allow Jack Spicer and others their chance to negotiate for more limestone.

    6) Jack Spicer formed the new task force, which I’ll call the SAVE THE POINT group. He launched the successful blue bumper sticker campaign, raised money -- including a hefty check from Hans Morsbach and a grant from the Driehaus Foundation -- and got hundreds of petition signatures from uninformed but well-meaning people who believed the task force was fighting for the recreation of the old limestone Point over the City's plan to "pave it" with cement. Lots of my friends signed the petition and even gave money. But hey, we all want to save the Point, I understand their mistake.

    7) March 12, 2003: The SAVE THE POINT group unveiled a -- I’m sorry, it has to be said -- kooky architectural rendering of their idea of preservation. It essentially tuckpointed the supposedly-protected south side, it merely replaced the piling in the water of the eastern tip (leaving the ugly 1960s concrete-coffin section intact), and it dismantled and rebuilt the north side, using a funky blend of limestone with a concrete “strip" down the promenade that the Army Corps studied and said was an engineering nightmare. (This plan is no longer being considered by any party, and an Illinois Historic Preservation officer stated in a private meeting that it did not meet preservation standards.)

    8) July-August, 2003: The City released their new “Compromise Plan,” containing a further concession to the SAVE THE POINT group of more limestone.

    This is when the activism degenerated into madness.

    It was a damned good plan that reused all of the existing limestone by fashioning the top two steps of the revetment out of limestone, installing two 150-foot limestone platform steps into the water (note: the steps were previously 300 feet long in the 9-Point Plan, but we all know that when a teacher regrades your test you run the risk of losing points as well as gaining them). Finally, the two bottom steps that were made of concrete would be textured to resemble limestone.

    Again, the SAVE THE POINT group denounced this genuinely sensible plan, misleadingly labeling it "anti-preservation," a "demolition plan," and "an all-concrete" plan. The four members of the task force who had resigned (and I) began to campaign for the Compromise Plan, which was almost impossible due to slanted articles, editorials, and letters in the Hyde Park Herald.

    8.5) OK, I’m skipping all the 2004 Jamie Kalven stuff, because it just doesn’t add to the story other than to make me feel hopeless about “mediation.”

    9) July 25, 2005: The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency certified that the City’s new Compromise Plan met historic preservation standards, paving the way for a public meeting to present the plan to the community. The meeting was held on September 15, 2005, at the South Shore Cultural Center. The SAVE THE POINT group once again stacked the audience and shouted down the proposal. I'm not exaggerating when I say the meeting made Hyde Parkers appear to be lunatics.

    10) 2005 – now: The shoreline construction project is in its end stages. When the rest of the shoreline project is finished, I have no idea what will happen to the funds originally slated for the Point. During this period, the SAVE THE POINT group persuaded Jesse Jackson Jr. to insert language into the Water Resources Development Act 381-40 requiring that the Point be rebuilt according to (undefined) preservation standards. The activists also pressed Barack Obama to become involved, and in October, 2005 he requested a third-party review of the engineering plans, with the goal of resolving the conflict in six months.

    Meanwhile, although members of the SAVE THE POINT group have abandoned their architectural plan, they have not stipulated an alternative that would be acceptable. Some of their members say the Point is not collapsing, in spite of the fact that it’s as plain as the nose on your face and some of them want it to be re-built all in limestone, which the Army Corps has said outright it will not do. Some seem to have lost interest; others have shifted their activist energies to other projects and obstructionist causes.

    Wednesday, January 2, 2008

    Inside St. Stephens

    posted by chicago pop

    Back in November 2007, Peter Rossi posted an essay on the empty and deteriorating St. Stephen's Church at 57th and Blackstone.

    In response, over the digital transom came an interesting link to a set of photos from someone, then unidentified, who had evidently been inside St. Stephens in November 2003 and had taken about a dozen pictures of it in all its magnificent decrepitude. I'm taking the liberty of posting a few of them here.

    For those of you interested in the full set, follow this link, where you will see St. Stephens and much, much, more -- all presented to you courtesy of one Mr. Charles Janda, trained photographer specializing in decaying urban structures, and the challenges of photographing them. It's great, eerie stuff.

    I thank Mr. Janda for passing his pics along, together with what I take to be implicit consent to their use on this blog. (Just let me know if you want them pulled).

    I hope readers will appreciate these pics for their merit as photographs, but also for what they reveal about just how far gone this building is. Bear in mind these pictures were taken almost 5 years ago.

    As Peter Rossi pointed out in a comment to his original post, the building is unheated and is masonry-clad, which is a bad combination in a cold-weather climate. Several broken windows continue to allow the elements full access to the interior.

    Absent the sudden appearance of a lunatic philanthropist with a fetish for preserving knock-off greco-roman wedding cakes like this one, in a short time there won't be anything left to preserve here except some interesting graffiti up on the dome.

    What if Everything You Thought You Knew about the Promontory Point Saga was Wrong?

    PART I in the Promontory Point Controversy Series

    posted by Elizabeth Fama

    Hyde Park Activist versus Progress

    If you’re a faithful reader of this blog and its comments, you know that I’ve been making these two argument for months:

    (1) the final plan for the Point that the City offered was genuinely good, but very few people have seen it (YOU probably haven't seen it, for instance, dear Reader),

    (2) most people innocently believe the “Save the Point” group did a service for the community by putting the kibosh on the City's plan.

    I now have anecdotal evidence of both (1) and (2), and his name is Alec Brandon. Alec is a student in the College who wrote an interesting online Maroon Op-Ed piece about how the activists in Hyde Park messed up by interfering with the Doctor’s Hospital deal.

    But in that otherwise dead-on piece he dropped this one, disturbing line:
    While the Point revetment was a fairly open-and-shut case -- the
    city wanted to change public land for the worse -- tearing down the Doctors Hospital and putting in two hotels is far more complex.
    So I wrote to Alec, and he admitted to me that he hadn’t researched the Point controversy carefully.

    This is how most people understand the Point controversy:

    (a) On January 17th, 2001 the City proposed a revetment like the one we now have between 51st and 54th Street, which is inappropriate for the Point and relatively unattractive, to boot,

    (b) a community task force succeeded in stopping that bad design through “activism,” and (apparently) with overwhelming public support.

    That’s not even half the story.

    What’s missing you ask? Well, exactly 6 years of wrangling between multiple parties: the City, the Park District, the Army Corps of Engineers, a couple of historic agencies, an original Task Force that worked hard to secure multiple concessions from the City, and a second Task Force (the "Save the Point" group).

    Here's what you really don't know:

    All of this wrangling culminated in a great design that the "Save the Point" group stubbornly (and somewhat hysterically) rejected out of hand -- a design that very few people have actually seen.

    Over the next couple of weeks I'll tell you more about the history of the Promontory Point controversy. The story is big and cumbersome and messy -- it's far from Alec's "open-and-shut" case -- so you’re going to have to slog through a lot of details and get your hands dirty.

    But before I do that, you really ought to familiarize yourself with the Compromise Plan that your neighborhood “activists” threw away, supposedly on your behalf.

    Go forth. Read it now. Skedaddle.

    Come back when you think you can accurately describe the Compromise Plan to the next well-meaning but misguided person you see with a Save the Point bumper sticker.