Two Churches & One Temple in Old Town

Towering over N. Cleveland and W. Eugenie Sts. in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago is St. Michael’s, a Romanesque Catholic church dating from just before the Great Chicago Fire. Not good timing, since the building was thus in the path of the conflagration.

“As the fire moved past Holy Name Cathedral, religious from nearby institutions rushed to St. Michael’s for respite, but they knew that the fire was just a few hours away,” the church tells us at its web site. “Priests, brothers, and nuns, helped by parishioners, packed parish treasures onto an oxcart and fled. Soon, flames tore into all the parish buildings, leveling all of them. Only the walls of the church remained standing.”

By 1873, the church had been rebuilt, though various modifications have occurred since then.

St. Michael's, Old Town, Chicago St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoLook closely up there and you see the Archangel Michael, sword drawn, ready to do battle with Old Scratch and his minions.
St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoThe interior looks like this: Bavarian Baroque, according to the AIA Guide to Chicago.

The archangel is also depicted outside on the plaza, facing the church. His sword is at his side, after vanquishing Old Scratch (at least, I assume that’s Satan underfoot). Good thing none of the nearby telephone wires were damaged in the struggle.
St. Michael's, Old Town, ChicagoThe plaza itself is a pedestrian zone that cuts the flow of cars on that section of Eugenie St. That’s unusual. I can’t think of another church in Chicago that has one. It helps make that part of Old Town distinct.

A few blocks to the north, at Wisconsin and Orleans, is the less distinct — at least as a building — Church of the Three Crosses, which is affiliated with both the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church.
Church of the Tree Crosses, Old Town, ChicagoAround back, however, is a sign of the times.
Church of the Three Crosses, Old Town, ChicagoRoughly between St. Michael’s and the Church of the Three Crosses, on W. Menomonee, is the Midwest Buddhist Temple, a temple of the Jodo Shinshu school of Buddhism.

Midwest Buddhist Temple“Jodo Shinshu, also referred to as Shin Buddhism, was founded in Japan by Shinran Shonin (1173-1262),” explains the temple’s web site. “It was Shinran Shonin who made Buddhist teachings accessible to people of all walks of life — in contrast to the traditional, primarily monastic practice of Buddhism.

“Between 1900 and 1940, many Jodo Shinshu temples were founded along the West Coast of the United States. But it wasn’t until 1944 that the Midwest Buddhist Temple was founded in Chicago by Rev. Gyodo Kono — its beginning linked to the ‘resettlement’ of many Japanese-Americans who moved to the Midwest to start new lives as World War II came to a close.”

At the edge of the property is a small but lovely garden, designed by Hoichi Kurisu of Portland, Ore., who also did the Anderson Gardens in Rockford.

Midwest Buddhist TempleMidwest Buddhist Temple“The boulders, set into place by a 30-ton crane, were especially important in representing the topographical features of Shinran Shonin’s walk from Mt. Hiei to the people in the Japanese villages as he spread the teachings of Shin Buddhism.”

Luckily, these days there are funiculars connecting Mt. Hiei with the rest of Japan.

Old Town Ramble

Been going to the city more than usual lately. One destination for a recent walkabout was Old Town, a near North Side Chicago neighborhood that I’ve passed by at the edges countless times. Walked through it, not so much. On a warm day this month, when I did finally take a walk in the neighborhood along such streets as Cleveland, Hudson, Sedgwick, Orleans, and Menomenee, all north of North Ave., I had the strange feeling that I wasn’t quite in Chicago any more.

“There is a scale to Old Town, a closeness of building to street and street to cross street and curb to curb that you simply don’t find anywhere else in the city,” one Vince Michael wrote in the limited but informative blog Renown Old Town.

“It is not so much about the rope mouldings above the windows or the paired brackets and dentils at the eave or even those Furnessian ornaments on Adler & Sullivan’s Halstead Houses. It is about a premodern relationship of buildings and streets and narrow alleyways – something not unusual in Rome or the old part of Edinburgh but exceedingly rare in Chicago.”

I didn’t think of Rome during my Old Town walk, and I’ve never wandered Edinburgh, but even so something about the alignment of the neighborhood is atypical for Chicago. It doesn’t really come through in pictures, though you can get a sense of some of the area’s handsome buildings that way.

Old Town, Chicago

Old Town, ChicagoOld Town, ChicagoOld Town, ChicagoEvery interesting neighborhood worthy of that adjective has its spots of whimsy. So too with Old Town.

Old Town, ChicagoOld Town, ChicagoThen there was this charming building, Schmidt Metzgerei. Butcher’s shop, though the it looks like Mitzgerei, except there’s no dot over the first i. (Vince Michael posits that Mitzgerei is an older variant spelling; I couldn’t say).
Schmidt Mitzgerei, Old Town, ChicagoIt stands out now, but probably didn’t when it was new, as a butcher’s shop with dwelling space on the second floor for the butcher and his family. “The mitzgerei, built in the classic German fachwerk style, utilizing heavy timber framing, was established in 1903,” writes Vince Michael. “Today it is the home of the Sullivan Law firm. It is a fine example of the early German immigrant construction that at one time was quite common throughout the Old Town Neighborhood.”

There’s a broader context, of course. The AIA Guide to Chicago tells us that Old Town “was settled by German produce farmers, who were numerous enough to establish St. Michael’s parish in 1852. After the devastation of the Fire of 1871, wooden cottages sprang up to house the homeless. Most of the ‘relief shanties’ are long gone… The area remained heavily German throughout the following decades, and by 1900, North Ave. as far west as Halstead St. was known as German Broadway.”

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel Cemetery

An obscure monument to obscure men fighting for a now-obscure cause. That’s what I found at Mount Carmel Cemetery last week when I spied the Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument. What a find.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryObscure isn’t meant as a pejorative. People besotted with fame might think it’s one, but obscurity is the common fate of almost everyone and everything. Life’s still worth living. In future millennia, we’ll all be as distinctive as grains of sand on a beach. It won’t even take that long. That’s probably as it should be.

Yet we memorialize. In stone sometimes, no doubt since mankind learned to carve. I’m no expert on the psychology of memorials, but I’d guess they’re mostly for those who already remember: family, friends, colleagues, comrades-at-arms, or a public who read the newspaper stories, saw the newsreels, recalled the special bulletin interrupting a radio or TV show. Memorializing for posterity might be given lip service, but that’s all it is.

The front of the Clan-Na-Gael Monument says (in all caps, but that screams):

Erected by the
Clan-Na-Gael Guards
To the memory of their
Departed comrades

The Clan-Na-Gael was, of course, dedicated to Irish independence. Any enemy of the British was a friend of theirs, such as Imperial Germany 100 years ago, though this memorial goes back a little further. I shouldn’t have been surprised to read the side of the memorial, yet I was:

Dedicated to the memory of
Lieut. Michael O’Hara Co. A
Lieut. Thos. Naughton Co. B
Who died in South Africa
While serving in the
Irish Brigade
Of the Boer Army 1900

Irishmen in the Boer War? Yes, indeed. Not just any Irishmen — though I’ve read there were a fair number in South Africa at the time, working in the mines — but Irishmen from Chicago who headed out to Africa for a chance to stick it to the British.

Soon, I came across a digitized version of an anti-British polemic, Boer Fight for Freedom, written in 1902 by Michael Davitt (an associate of Charles Stuart Parnell, and interesting in his own right). In the book, there’s a passage about the Chicago Irish who fought for the Boers:

The CHICAGO IRISH-AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS

This small contingent of volunteers was spoken of in Pretoria as the “finest-looking” body of men that had yet reached the Transvaal capital from abroad. They numbered about forty, excluding the medicos and non-combatants, and were all young men of splendid physique and of the best soldierly qualities.

They were under the command of Captain O’Connor, of the Clan-na-Gael Guards, and joined Blake’s Irish Brigade. President Kruger extended a special reception to the company, and addressed them in complimentary terms before they started for the front.
Lord Roberts was on the point of advancing from Bloemfontein when the Chicago men arrived, and they were hurried forward to Brandfort along with other reenforcements for De la Rey, who was in command until the arrival of Botha.

O’Connor and his men acquitted themselves most creditably in all the rear-guard actions fought from Brandfort to Pretoria; Viljoen’s Band Brigade, Blake’s and O’Connor’s men, with Hassell’s scouts, doing their share of fighting in all the engagements during events and occurrences which were well calculated to damp the enthusiasm of the allies of the Boer cause.

It is, however, under trying circumstances, offering little or no compensation for services or sacrifice, save what comes from the consciousness of a duty well performed, that men are best tested in mind and metal, and the work done during that most disheartening time was worth many a more successful campaign fought under brighter hopes for the cause of liberty.

The Clan-Na-Gael Guards Monument, Mount Carmel CemeteryBut what of the memorial itself? I found digitized information about that, too, in The Reporter, a Chicago-based national trade publication “devoted to the granite and marble monumental trade,” the masthead says (man, Google wants to digitize everything).

The October 1914 edition of the magazine tells us that, “Sunday, September 27th, there was unveiled with due ceremony, in Mt. Carmel cemetery at Hillside (a suburb), a Barre granite monument to the memory of Lieutenants Michael O’Hara and Thomas Naughton, who lost their lives while serving with the Boers against the British in South Africa. They were the only ones killed out about 40 Clan-na-Gael guards who went to the war from Chicago.

“The monument is a shaft with conventional bases, die, plinth and shaft, and was furnished by the Moore Monument Co., the price being about $1,800.”

That was fairly serious money, about $43,800 in 2017 dollars. I don’t doubt that the surviving members of the Clan-na-Gael Guards’ foray to Africa got their money’s worth.

Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside

Demographic note: a lot more people reside in Mount Carmel Cemetery in west suburban Hillside, Ill., than in the village itself. The cemetery has about 226,000 permanent residents, while the village has only about 8,100 (living) people. But the advantage goes to the living, of course. For instance, they can vote in Cook County elections; most of the dead people can’t.

I’ve known about Mount Carmel for years, but only got around to visiting last week, on a cool and partly cloudy afternoon. The cemetery is thick with upright stones —

Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside ILMount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside IL… funerary art —

Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside ILMount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside… and mausoleums. In fact, there are a lot of family mausoleums there, about 400, including these three.
Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside ILAt Mount Carmel, one learns that the Lord is a Cubs fan.
Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside ILOn a hillock in the middle of the cemetery is the Bishops’ Chapel, or Bishops’ Mausoleum, but in full the Mausoleum and Chapel of the Archbishops of Chicago, complete with Gabriel blowing his horn.
Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hillside IL bishops' mausoleum and chapelInside are the remains of seven bishops, archbishops and auxiliary bishops of Chicago, mostly recently Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who was entombed in 1996. I remember in the fall of ’96 seeing his funeral procession cross the Michigan Ave. Bridge from an office window in 35 E. Wacker, where I worked. Presumably they were headed for Mount Carmel.

The book Mount Carmel and Queen of Heaven Cemeteries by Jenny Floro-Khalaf and Cynthia Savaglio gives quite a lot of detail about the Bishops’ Mausoleum, which was completed in 1912. The cemetery itself was established with the new-born century in 1901, long before the Eisenhower Expressway ran to its north, and probably when Roosevelt Road to the south — not yet called that, but 12th St. in the city at least — was very rudimentary indeed.

“[The chapel] was the brainchild of Chicago’s second archbishop, James Quigley, who oversaw its construction,” Floro-Khalaf and Savaglio write. “He engaged a local architect, William J. Brickman, who came up with the simple, Romanesque style that embodies the building’s outline. However, in keeping with the aesthetic tastes of his predecessor, Patrick Feehan, Quigley engaged one of the most famous architects of the day, Aristide Leonori, who designed the building’s breathtaking interior… Leonari executed a design reminiscent of Rome in marble and mosaic.”

A locked door was as close as I got to the breathtaking interior, for which I blame wankers who would do harm to it. But over the door, you’re reminded that Quigley built the place.

Many Italian names dot the cemtery’s landscape. Benedetto, Bernardo, DeVito, DiGiovanni, Felicetti, Gazzolo, Genna, Mazzitelli, Salerno, Serritello, Truppa, Perazzo, Porcaro, Porzio, and Viviano were among those I saw, though there was a fair number of Irish names and others mixed in.

One name I didn’t see was Capone. If I’d done any research beforehand, I would have known where to look for Al Capone. The cemetery doesn’t guide visitors to his grave, unlike the signs posted to direct you to the Wright Bros. at the Woodland Cemetery in Dayton or the Hunley crews in Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. Maybe some other time.

Other mafioso are buried in Mount Carmel, though not as well known as Capone any more. But their stories are no less lurid. Such as Joseph “Hop Toad” Giunta, who ran afoul of Capone in a particularly bloody way, or so the story goes. I didn’t see his grave, either.

Find a Grave says, “He was a high ranking member of the Capone gang who formed a secret alliance with Al Capone enemy Joe Aiello. Giunta planned to kill Capone and take over his operations, and enlisted the help of Capone triggermen John Scalise and Albert Anselmi with the promise of higher positions when Giunta was in power.

“Capone found out about the plan and invited Giunta, Scalise and Anselmi to a dinner party. During dinner Capone brought out an Indian club he’d received as a gift and proceeded to beat the three men to near death. Capone then allegedly finished the job with gunshots…”

Eda Wade’s Malcolm X College Doors

After leaving the Aon Center, but before leaving downtown last week, I popped over to the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Ave., originally completed in 1895 as Chicago’s main public library.
Chicago Cultural CenterIt’s a fine old repurposed building. Whenever I have a few moments and I’m in the area, I like to go in. For the striking staircase at the south entrance, for one thing. Or the building’s splendid GAR Memorial Hall.

The Cultural Center also features a changing assortment of art exhibits. By chance this time I happened across the murals of Eugene “Eda” Wade, which he painted on the steel doors at Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, from 1971 to ’73.

According to the exhibit, “the inner-staircase door murals at the former Malcolm X College are one of the hidden gems of the Black Arts movement in Chicago, and a remarkable public-art achievement that went largely unnoticed at the time — except to the college’s students, faculty, staff and administrators.

“The 32 double-sided sets of 10′ x 4′ steel doorways were pained by artist-in-residence Eugene “Eda” Wade… At the behest of Malcolm X College president Dr. Charles G. Hurst Jr., campus projects coordinator Rosa C. Moore invited Eda, later a longtime art professor at Kennedy-King College, to paint the institution’s doors ‘so they wouldn’t look like solid black prison doors.’ ”

Solid black, not at all. More doors should be this interesting.

Eda Wade door

Eda Wade doorEda Wade doorEda Wade door“Along with images that related to department floors (architecture/engineering, sports/athletics, etc.), jazz, and militancy, many of the murals depict the links between ancestral heritage — expressed through ancient Egyptian and West African figures — and an urban present…”

As I was looking at the doors, I wondered, why are they here? Why aren’t they at Malcolm X College still? Then I read a little closer, and found out that the 1968 Miesian building at 1900 W. Van Buren St., long visible from the Eisenhower Expressway, was demolished last year, replaced by a spanking new building nearby. Somehow I missed hearing about that. Glad the doors were saved.

More about them is posted by the indefatigable Jyoti Srivastava at Public Art in Chicago.

Views from Aon

Recently I attended an event at the Mid-America Club, which happens to be on the 80th floor of the Aon Center, formerly known as the Amoco Building, and if you go back far enough, the Standard Oil Building (for some time after ’73, when it was completed). At 83 floors and 1,136 ft., it’s the third tallest building in Chicago, but that makes it only the 52nd tallest in the world in our time, when China and the UAE have decided that really tall buildings are just fab.

Aon Center 2017

Getting to the 80th floor, I encountered an elevator system I’d never experienced before. There are touchpads at each elevator bank, and you press the number of the floor you want to go to. Then the machine tells you which of the elevator cabs to board to go express to that floor. There are standard elevator buttons inside the cab, but they’ve been covered over by a hard plastic case and are inaccessible. Guess this makes inter-floor transit more efficient. For all I know, this kind of system could be common and not exactly new; I don’t go into that many very tall buildings any more.

I’d been up to the Mid-America Club before, though I couldn’t remember exactly when. Probably as long ago as the early 2000s. It offers a mighty 360-degree view, though this time around it was obscured some by overcast skies.

This is looking west, down at the top of the Prudential Center. Pru II, vintage 1990, has the pointy spire, maybe for zeppelin mooring. Pru I, vintage 1955, is the shorter structure immediately to Pru II’s left, though it was the tallest building in Chicago when new.
Prudential Center II Chicago spireUp and to the right, and on the river, with the cupola on top, is 35 E. Wacker, a handsome ’20s building in which I had an office for a few years.

Also seen from this vantage is 150 N. Michigan. Years ago, I ventured onto the exterior of that building, at a place marked by the red oval. It’s a lot safer than it looks like here.

150 N. Michigan Ave.

To the northeast, the entirety of Navy Pier, with part of Chicago’s massive Jardine Water Purification Plant behind it. Largest in the world by volume, I’ve read: nearly one billion gallons of water goes through per day.
Navy Pier from aboveOne of the pictures posted here is shot from Navy Pier, looking back in the direction of the Aon Center (and a lot of other buildings).

To the north, a large chunk of downtown off in the distance: North Michigan Ave. and Streeterville.
North Michigan Ave and StreetervilleTo the south, and looking nearly straight down, is Pritzker Pavilion. As seen from ground level in this posting.
Pritzker PavillionThe ribbon snaking off to the left is a pedestrian bridge. Officially, the BP Bridge, one of the projects funded by the oil company before its really big sponsorship of a hole in the Gulf of Mexico. Frank Gehry, who did the Gehry-like bandshell, did the bridge too.

Finally, the Bean, or “Cloud Gate.”
The Bean from the airFrom this vantage, looking like a bead of quicksilver surrounded by ants.

A Poster, A Sign & A Lot of Bumper Stickers

Persistent rain starting last night and on through most of today. Mud season has started. But it also looks like the grass is greening.

Spotted on a telephone pole on Randolph St. on the near West Side of Chicago late last week. Looks like someone added the toothbrush mustache.

anti-Trump poster March 2017Spotted in Itasca, Ill., also last week, sometime after the presumed wedding. Glad that “Bubba” isn’t dead as a name.

Itasca Baptist Church 2017Spotted at a rest stop on I-57 between Champaign and Chicago.

Been There Bumper Stickers 2017I can’t quite make out all of the stickers, and there are more on the non-visible side of the van, but included in the destinations are the Kennedy Space Center, California, Nevada, Laughlin, NV, Key West, Roswell, NM, Wyoming, Mackinac Island (two), Naples, FL, Ventura, CA, Texas, the UP (more than one, including the 906 sticker), North Dakota, Piggly Wiggly, the Full Throttle Saloon (Sturgis), Route 66, Mississippi, Montana, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and a sticker that says, “There’s a place for all God’s creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.”

Al Stewart at City Winery

Considering his longstanding love of wine, it seemed fitting that Al Stewart appeared at City Winery in Chicago last Thursday. I don’t share his oenophilia — I like the idea of wine more than wine itself — but I can appreciate an enthusiasm like that. Still, it didn’t matter to me exactly where he was playing. Some time ago, I decided to catch his shows whenever they were convenient to where I happened to be, and anywhere in the Chicago area is close enough.

City Winery is a relatively new place, taking its current form on the near West Side of Chicago only in 2012, and as such, it was a pioneering venue in that part of the city. Just before the music started, an announcer said, “City Winery’s not just a kitschy name. We actually make wine here. All those barrels in the back are filled with our wine, aging for your consumption.”

Carefully stowed barrels dominate the back of City Winery’s music room. The place also has a number of other rooms, including a large restaurant space forming the front of the building. All together, it’s a handsome interior space, characterized by brick walls and barrels and bottles, and the acoustics are good.

I’ve seen Stewart with a band, with sidemen, and by himself. This time, he had a band backing him, the young but talented Empty Pockets. They did a set before Stewart came out, including a fine version of “Fever.” The band’s relative youth caused Stewart to marvel at one point that he was being backed by musicians who weren’t born when the music they were playing came out, but who had the jam down pat anyway. That wouldn’t be quite so remarkable in a classical or jazz context, but I suppose it still is in popular music.

Though not a member of Empty Pockets, sax man (and flautist) Marc Macisso joined Stewart and the band for the concert too. He blew his sax like a man possessed, and did a fine job on the flute as well. On a number of Al Stewart songs, the sax is a defining sound, so it was good Macisso was on hand. He reminded me of the saxophonist who killed it with Stewart during his 1989 Park West concert, who might have been Phil Kenzie (who played on the record Stewart was promoting at the time), though I’m not sure.

The set list for the City Winery concert was different than any other of his that I’ve seen. After a handful of songs — “Sirens of Titan,” “Antarctica,” “Time Passages” — Stewart and the band played all of the songs from the album Year of the Cat in order.

The bonus was Stewart’s usual entertaining patter between the songs. “This brings me to Year of the Cat,” he said by way of introducing the songs. “It was a shock for me. I was an English folk singer playing in coffee bars, and all of the sudden people bought this thing, and I wasn’t sure why. I did begin on a very commercial note by writing a song about an English seafarer from 1591, Richard Grenville. This is a subject that most disco artists at the time were embracing.”

Stewart was being coy. If ever he did a polished commercial record, it was Year of the Cat (except maybe Last Days of the Century, which wasn’t as good). Alan Parsons produced Year, after all. The first song, “Lord Grenville,” does indeed mention Richard Grenville. He of “Out-gunned, out-fought, and out-numbered fifty-three to one.” I believe listening to the song in 1976 was the first time I’d ever heard of him.

About the next song — “On the Border,” a favorite of mine since I acquired the record 40 years ago — he said, “I thought we’d continue with mass popular appeal by doing a song about the Basque separatist movement, the crisis in Rhodesia and the fall of the British Empire, and amazingly this one actually made the top 40. I have no idea how that was possible. I can only assume the disk jockeys didn’t listen to the lyrics.”

For a long time I thought the song was about the Spanish Civil War, but I’ll defer to the songwriter. But it doesn’t really have to be about anything so specific.

Regarding “If It Doesn’t Come Naturally, Leave It” — my least favorite cut on the record — he said, “It has far too many words. If I’d known when I was 30 that I’d be singing it when I was 70, I’d have written half as many words.”

Stewart said that his favorite song on the album is “Flying Sorcery,” which was not top 40, but a fine tune all the same. “It concerns two lovers. I turned them into airplanes. They take off from the same airport but they get caught up in a fog bank and land at separate airports. Obviously that means they’re breaking up.”

I never quite took that from the song, but no matter. It has some wonderful lyrics, including, “You were taking off in Tiger Moths/Your wings against the brush-strokes of the day.” The brush-strokes of the day. What a way to describe the sky. It occurs to me that he’s done other songs with aeronautic images (not on Year), such as “The Immelman Turn” and “Fields of France.” (“When Lindy Comes to Town” talks about flight, too, but it’s a particular historic event.)

He mentioned some alternate lyrics to the song “Year of the Cat,” though not in as much detail as recorded on this Songfacts page, based on a 2015 performance. I think everyone was pretty glad that the final lyrics came out the way they did, including Stewart.

On the whole, Al Stewart was in fine fettle on Thursday. His voice is still clear and his guitar playing is impressively energetic for a man of 71. He also seems to enjoy himself thoroughly on stage, which must be why he still tours. Hope he’s got more years yet.

The Fulton Market District, Chicago

Last Thursday, late in the afternoon but before dark — Daytime Saving Time is good for something — I took a walk through parts of the the Fulton Market District. Like most urban neighborhoods, it’s a little fuzzy in definition, but roughly speaking the area is on the near West Side of Chicago, west of the Kennedy Expressway and a few blocks to the north and south of Randolph St., until you get to Ogden Ave.

The district is in the midst of a boom. Here are a few headlines about it just from 2017 in Curbed Chicago:

Bright two-bedroom Fulton Market timber loft lists for $475K

Fulton Market office project changes design, again

West Loop residents say five-story proposal looks ‘prison-like’

Ace Hotel in Fulton Market to open in the autumn

Rehab work begins on two older Fulton Market buildings

Another Fulton Market food distributer looks to sell-out to developers

Demolition to clear path for 170-room Fulton Market hotel

The area, formerly a distribution — food wholesalers, mainly — and light industrial district, is giving way to apartments, hotels, restaurants and entertainment. The pattern is a familiar one in Chicago and elsewhere.

West Randolph, looking east, back toward the Loop.
Randolph St ChicagoUmami Burger looked intriguing, but I didn’t stop there.

The corner of Randolph and Carpenter St. is home to a particularly striking building, the former Richters Food Products building, which dates from the early 1930s.
Richters Food Products building - Venue One 2017The exterior has been immaculately preserved. Forgotten Chicago says that “the architect was H. Peter Henschien, a noted and prolific Chicago-based designer of meat packing plants. The Tribune described the new building at the time of construction as being ‘of pleasing design.’ Bruno Richter had started the firm about ten years earlier in Jefferson Park, with the idea of ‘marketing sausage through extensive advertising.’ ”

Remarkably, Mr. Henschien’s Tribune obit from 1959 is online. A remarkable line from it: “He and his firm designed more than 300 packing plants in the United States and in Russia, Pakistan, Cairo, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Canada.” People have their niches, mostly unknown, or in his case, forgotten.

An update on the Forgotten Chicago post: the Richters Food Products is now occupied by Venue One, which “offers 25,000 square feet of customizable event and meeting space.” The construction crane in the picture doesn’t have anything to do with Venue One, except being nearby. It was merely one of the cranes rising over a number of other projects in the area.

My destination for the evening: City Winery, at Racine Ave. and Randolph.
City Winery Chicago 2017A cool venue indeed, though it’s a little hard to tell from this picture. More about it tomorrow.

The Courtyards of Plaka, 1987

Ah, Greek food. A fine thing. I’ve had it in a number of places, including Sydney, but unfortunately not Greece. There was none to be found in San Antonio of the 1970s, nor Nashville of the early ’80s, or at least I made no effort to find it.

March20.1987 (2)So I never had any until sometime in the mid-80s, probably in Chicago. One of the things to do during visits to the city in those days was seek out various kinds of food you couldn’t find at home, relying on word-of-mouth or luck in those pre-look-it-up-on-your-electronic-box days, to get commentary from a crowd of strangers. Will future generations believe people used to live like that?

Based on online evidence, the Courtyards of Plaka seems to be closed, but I’m not entirely sure, and don’t feel like calling them unless I’m going there. In any case, 30 years ago was long enough ago that a lot of restaurants still gave away matches, rather than cards. Now I sometimes can’t find either.

I picked up some matches when I went with my friends Neal and Michelle, who lived in Chicago at the time. I just had moved there the month before. I don’t usually write anything on the matches or cards I find at restaurants, but for some reason I did that time. Maybe I should have more often.

March20.1987Can’t say that I remember much about that evening, though I’m sure we had a fine time. A short 1993 description of the restaurant in the Tribune said: “A lively place, especially once the live piano music gets underway. A handsome bar overlooks the stage-perfect for those who just stop in for a drink. The pretty, two-level dining room is awash in shades of terra cotta, with dark green accents; a series of white wooden slats suspended from the ceiling creates a canopy effect that makes you feel as though you’re eating outdoors.

“The menu lists a fair number of mezedes, the tapas-like tasting portions that lend themselves to grazing. There are also solid, sizable entrees: a pair of double lamb chops, a bit too chewy but quite tasty, and pair of expertly grilled, gently seasoned quail.”