"You can't force a boat through it."

Chicago tour guides often marvel at the epic engineering feat of the late 19th Century that reversed the course of the Chicago River, diverting its noxious flow away from Lake Michigan (the city's source of drinking water). But what those guides never tell you is where all of that sewage went. In short, it was flushed down the I&M Canal and the Des Plaines River, to Joliet

The water is nastier here than it is in Chicago. They have as much sewage there, but the putrefaction is well under way when it gets down here. Down on Lake Joliet it is thick; you can’t force a boat through it.

Thank goodness for modern sewage treatment technology. 

February 11, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Joliet | Permalink | Comments (0)

Grand and humble



I love this undated photograph of the Stratford Hotel, on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, but only partly for the hotel's 19th Century grandeur. What really strikes me is the tiny white storefront at the far left, which is dwarfed by the surrounding structures. I can't tell what the building was, but I'd guess it was a cigar shop or newsstand, even though the hotel would surely have had both of those amenities within its own building.

The photo is taken from Chicago at the Turn of the Century in Photographs: 122 Historic Views from the Collections of the Chicago Historical Society, edited by Larry Viskochil.

February 5, 2017 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Madison and Halsted, 1959


This 1959 photo looks east, toward the corner of Madison and Halsted. The buildings in the left foreground are where my office building now stands. (I guarantee you that the goings-on at the Elite Hotel and Little Max's Clothing - the only two signs I can read in full - were a lot more interesting than what happens there now.) The only building in the photo that's still standing is the long one on the right, between the theater and the corner - the old Mid City National Bank, now vacant. 

December 6, 2016 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Something sinister

At The Millions, Jason Diamond surveys the books of Chicago's North Shore suburbs, from Waukegan (which, Diamond notes, generally isn't considered "North Shore", which is generally a enclave of the ultra-wealthy) to Evanston.

There’s an order to things once you make it out of the city, out to the wider spaces where the houses and people all look alike, an inherent dishonesty in the suburbs that somebody convinced America to look past long ago. The suburbs were supposed to be the reward for working so hard, for making it through. It was supposed to be paradise, the last place you needed to go in life...

Diamond omitted my favorite North Shore novel, Ward Just's An Unfinished Season, which is set in fictionalized versions of Lake Forest and, I think, Half Day (the original name of Lincolnshire). Just's coming-of-age story about a Half Day kid uncomfortably moving through Lake Forest high society is one of those books that has stuck in my mind, years after the fact.

Diamond has just published a memoir, Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned From Watching 80s Movies, which I might check out eventually. I'm a bit too old for Hughes' movies to have much of an impact on my young life (I graduated high school in 1983, the year before Sixteen Candles, his directorial debut, came out) but Hughes was a very big deal to Diamond (the writer grew up around the North Shore, where most of Hughes' classics were set), so the book might still be worth a look.

December 1, 2016 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Seen in passing

Curious sight this morning, at Union Station. As I was leaving the north concourse, headed toward the Great Hall, I walked past an electronic board that features (presumably for Amtrak tourists) information on local attractions. An African-American railroad worker, with a grizzled beard, hardhat and reflective safety vest, was tapping the touch screen, presumably to help an Asian man who looked on with a slightly bewildered look. This wasn't unusual in itself - railroad, security and station workers are helping tourists with directions all the time - but after I left the station and walked a few blocks, I saw the two men again. They were standing on Adams Street, just east of Jefferson Street, and the railroad worker was pointing toward Old St. Patrick's Church, as if showing the other man exactly where he needed to go. I walked past them, and glancing back, I saw them warmly shaking hands as the railroad worker turned back toward the station.

Helping a tourist at the station, when it's not actually part of your job, isn't that big of a deal - a few moments taken from a long workday - but to walk with that tourist for two blocks, on a cold day, to show him where he needs to go, just seems like a really thoughtful, generous gesture. Thinking about it is still giving me a smile.

November 28, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.


A gorgeous pen, made of wood reclaimed from an 1874 Chicago building, Brand's Hall. Perfect. And then I saw the price. Boy's not gonna have it.

October 18, 2016 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Ginza Restaurant


Somewhat recent, but definitely fading, ad for Ginza Restaurant, at State and Ohio in River North, Chicago. Ginza operated here from 1987 to 2013. It appears that Ginza was gentrified out of the neighborhood, which is ironic given that its food was well-regarded, and the area is now booming with restaurants and hotels. If the food was good, you'd think the gentrification and influx of people would have benefitted the place, and not lead to its demise. Apparently the new landlord had other, more expensive plans.

This was a difficult photo to take - I only had my iPhone, the ad was up high (about eight or ten stories) and I was shooting toward the west and the setting sun, which inevitably caused it to be overexposed. I edited as well as I could, but ended up with sharpness that was much less than ideal. Then, again, this almost has a watercolor feel to it, which I like.

August 7, 2016 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

From the 'L'

Excellent series of photographs taken by Angie McMonigal from inside of Chicago's 'L' trains. (Yes, that's the proper nomenclature, including the single quotes. "El" trains are New York, not Chicago.) I think this one is my favorite. Some sort of metaphor there about being in the gritty outlying neighborhoods with the train taking you away to the Oz-like towers of downtown.

(Via Coudal.)

June 27, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

South Side

This week I found myself taking photographs through my train window while passing through the far South Side of Chicago. These were originally posted to my Facebook and Instagram pages but I thought it would be nice to collect them all here.



92nd Place and Vincennes Avenue, Brainerd



91st Street and Vincennes Avenue, Brainerd



78th Street and Fielding Avenue, Auburn Gresham



76th Street and Normal Avenue, Auburn Gresham



76th Street and Normal Avenue, Auburn Gresham



75th Street and Eggleston Avenue, Auburn Gresham



72nd Street and Stewart Avenue, Englewood



Marquette Road and Yale Avenue, Englewood


These neighborhoods have special meaning for me, since my mom grew up in Auburn Park (now part of Auburn Gresham) and my grandmother in Englewood. Though the neighborhoods have changed significantly since my family lived there, both economically and racially, it touches me to see (albeit from the distance of a train viaduct) the streets and many of the same buildings that they moved amongst every day, up until the mid 1940s.

My method was fairly basic. Since there was no way to carefully compose photographs from a moving train, I simply had to take a flurry of shots in promising areas, and then sift through them afterward for the best images, which I cropped significantly to cut out the extraneous, and adjusted for brightness and contrast. Some were taken facing east toward the sun, which resulted in darker images after editing, while others were taken facing west (especially the Brainerd photos, which were the only ones taken under a completely clear sky) and were marked by more natural, vivid light. Any blurring was the inevitable result of the train moving at twenty or thirty miles per hour - instead of marring the photos, I think the blurring helps create a sense of motion.

June 11, 2016 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)


"When I look at my life, all my misfortunes are pretty much self-made; the wonderful things the gift of others." - Lynn Becker

June 10, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randolph Street, then and now (and still sort of then)


Since I started working in Chicago's West Loop and walking around the neighborhood, I was long puzzled by this stretch of Randolph Street (looking west from Desplaines), and why it was extra wide, with the buildings set far back from the main part of the street. The buildings are so far back that there is an extra service lane on each side of the street, which allows rare-for-Chicago diagonal parking. (You can see one service lane on the right side of this photo.)

Then, a few weeks ago, the wonderful photoblog Calumet 412 solved the mystery: 


The city's old West Market Hall once stood right in the middle of Randolph Street, at the exact spot where the cars are lined up in the center of my photo. With this important structure being sited there, the adjacent lots on each side of Randolph had to be set back to allow room for traffic to flow around the building. All of which now makes perfect sense to me.

In the old illustration, Desplaines Street is the horizontal street abutted by West Market Hall; the next street up (west) is Union Avenue, most of which was removed for construction of the Kennedy Expressway, and the next street west is Halsted Street. (My office is now located at the upper left corner of the illustration, on what appeared to have then been a small homestead.) Interestingly, although Randolph west of Halsted appears to have originally been a street of normal width, it now has the same service drives as the stretch between Desplaines and Halsted. The street must have been widened and those drives added after the time of this illustration, to accommodate the wholesale food market that later developed along Randolph. Though a lot of wholesalers still operate there, the area is rapidly redeveloping and the old companies are slowing being priced out the neighborhood.

April 16, 2016 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gapers Block going, going...

Andrew Huff is putting Gapers Block on hiatus, and the site might be going away for good. Sad, but understandable. Everything runs its course, especially in the Internet era, and it's clear that Andrew no longer has the passion that he once had to run the site. Andrew will always have my sincere gratitude, as he published my first major piece of writing, the non-fiction "Captions Without Photos" (for which he also did essential editing, to correct major flaws that a newbie like me couldn't recognize), and also the short story "The Fixer", which is still one of my favorites.

My hat's off to you, Andrew, and I wish you all the best in wherever life takes you next.

December 21, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Amazon Hose & Rubber Company


Construction of the new building at the left appears to have prompted the partial removal of the canvas banner on the building at the center, at 140 N. Jefferson Street. When I saw the vaguely retro typeface and the orange background, my first thought was that this might have been an early logo for amazon.com. But an image search for old Amazon logos brought up nothing that looked anything like this, and so I kept looking, and a search on the address finally revealed that this was once the home of Amazon Hose & Rubber Company, a wholesaler of industrial hoses. The company was established in Chicago in 1945 but, oddly enough, now operates only from three locations in Florida - Miami, Tampa and Orlando. A corporate snowbird, I guess.

November 22, 2015 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Quality Food Products


A soon-to-be fading ad: Quality Food Products, a food wholesaler ("We sell produce, canned goods, dairy, frozen. No fresh meats.") at 172 N. Peoria St.; this ad is actually right around the corner, on another building in the company's complex, at 918 W. Randolph St. I really like the little chef face inside the Q. The company is still in business, but may soon be moving - the Tribune ran an interesting piece (source of that quotation above) on one of the co-owners earlier this year, in which he voices his regret of how much the neighborhood has changed, even though that change would make him very wealthy when the property is finally sold.

October 20, 2015 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)



A random alley doorway in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago. During my afternoon walks I often like to stroll down the alleys, behind the storefronts and old factories. While the street side of buildings may have been cleaned up and polished, the alley doors are often an afterthought, left untouched and weather-worn. I'm slowly collecting photographs like this, and might someday run a series here.

October 11, 2015 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Farewell, Maurice Lenell

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b7c7bf6894970b-pi

Maurice Lenell dodged the bullet in 2008, when the brand was taken over by Consolidated Biscuit. But now Consolidated is pulling the plug.
The company, which produced about 275,000 packages of Maurice Lenell cookies annually, discontinued the line shortly after the new year, when it also took down its website offering holiday gift tins. Antiquated equipment, slow sales and recipes that included controversial trans fats all led to the decision to stop making the cookies, Jasper said.

Today, all that remains of the old-fashioned treats are what's left in stores, including The Cookie Store and More, which opened in 2010 blocks away from the shuttered factory to serve as the unofficial local outlet for the brand. The store now has a "Last Chance for Maurice Lenell" countdown sign hanging in the front window. As of Thursday, the sign said 18 days until supply runs out, said Jeff Bach, the store's owner.
This time I doubt Lenell will find another rescuer, which means those wonderful, old-fashioned cookies will be gone for good.

August 14, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Russell's Silverbar

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b7c7b1df0d970b-pi

I love this 1943 postcard for Russell's Silverbar ("Where the Crowds Meet") at State and Van Buren in Chicago. (The building is long gone; the Harold Washington Public Library now stands on that entire block.) The graphics are wonderful, of course, but what I really like is how all of the great old State Street department stores - Marshall Field, Carson Pirie Scott, Goldblatt's, The Hub, The Boston Store, The Fair - are labeled, as if to say "When you're finally all shopped out, stop by Russell's for a stiff drink before you head home."

July 21, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b7c7af962c970b-pi

From a 1937 Chicago Tribune article, here is an 1880s bird's-eye view of Chicago's downtown lakefront, superimposed with the grid of streets that were added later through landfill reclamation. The new streets are now some of the most valuable real estate in the city, but before reclamation the sandy shoreline north of the river was mostly an outlaw wasteland known as "The Sands." I have a book of the same name (by Francesca Falk Miller) that I picked up at the Newberry Library sale a few years ago but still haven't gotten around to reading yet. Soon.

July 16, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"It was a constant nagging problem that nobody owned up to."

The lost (and gradually rediscovered) county cemetery at Dunning is in the news once again.

May 18, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Boy's gotta have it.

Restored print of an 1898 bird's-eye view map of downtown Chicago. Fantastic detail.

May 8, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)


image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201b8d10ff7e2970c-pi

Sad: Chicago's Mirabell restaurant is closing, after 38 years in business.
Owner Jeff Heil planned one last weekend of food and drink last weekend, but some well-wishers had to be turned away, because more than 1,500 people showed up.

"Probably more than we had all year," Heil said, a trace of bitterness in his voice.

Chicago has not been kind to its German restaurants over the last 30 or so years; one by one, once-storied names such as Zum Deutschen Eck, Heidelberger Fass and Golden Ox have succumbed to business pressures, retiring owners, or both. Mirabell was one of the last old holdouts.
I've been to most of the places mentioned, but Mirabell was my favorite - though I'm chagrined to admit that I haven't been there in twenty years, so I'm as much to blame for its demise as anyone. I first went there with my high school German Club, then on a business lunch after college when I was auditing a company in the area, and then a few times after I moved to the city, including once with my parents. Good memories.

May 7, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

You can't stop eating 'em

image from http://www.boogaj.com/.a/6a00d83451ce9f69e201bb0815993f970d-pi

South Side Weekly has a nice remembrance of Jays Foods, longtime Chicago purveyor of potato chips. The Jays jumbo box (with two chip bags inside) was a staple of my family home - the box was so big that it didn't fit on any of the pantry shelves, but instead sat in the vertical space to the side, on top of the box that held the extra leaf for our kitchen table. And until I read this article, I had forgotten about the Jays pencil that was included in every box in the fall, when school started again. I'd love to find some of those at a garage sale sometime.

Interesting thing about the company's slogan, "You can't stop eating 'em": during the late 1990s, after discovering a Jays faded ad in the city, I contacted the company and traded some emails with the office manager. Curious about the slogan and its similarity to the "Can't eat just one" used by their rival Lay's, I asked her which came first. She replied almost immediately, saying she asked Leonard Japp - sitting right at the next desk, still at work in his nineties - and he testily answered that the Jays slogan was first. She said he had always resented a giant company like Frito-Lay for essentially stealing the idea.

The Jays brand still exists, but it is now owned by Snyder's of Hanover, and Jays products are no longer manufactured here.

April 3, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

A Cash Fortress for Brink's


This photograph shows the Bernadin archives building of the Chicago Archdiocese, at 711 W. Monroe St. If the diocese was looking for a fortress of a building to secure its archives, they couldn't have found a more appropriate structure. Here is an artist rendering from 1937, just prior to the building's construction.


It was originally built as the new headquarters of the Brink's armored car company. According to this Tribune article, the building (built from reinforced concrete, and fireproof) housed the corporate offices as well as the armored car and money transfer operations, and included an indoor rifle range, centrally-operated doors, concealed machine gun nest and a "modern gas apparatus so that the entire structure can be gassed from a concealed location by one operator." I take this to mean that if burglars tried to pull off a heist inside the building, they could be gassed into unconsciousness and then arrested.

Business must have been even better than expected for Brink's, because while the rendering depicts two stories, the building was ultimately built with a third. Also interesting to note that the building contractor was the Avery Brundage Company; besides being a successful businessman, Brundage was the longtime president of the International Olympic Committee and a former Olympic athlete.

March 8, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ramsin Canon on Rahm Emanuel

At Gapers Block, Ramsin Canon writes about Rahm Emanuel and why political strategies that are effective nationally often don't work on a smaller local scale.
What he reaped for this sin of hubris was a whirlwind of deep and abiding loathing after a series of bad decisions--firing library staff, cutting mental health centers, shutting down schools in black and brown communities, raising regressive fees, installing nickel-and-diming red light and speed cameras, and provoking a teachers' strike.

It is notable that his campaign flacks, from David Axelrod on down, characterize these as "tough" decisions. These are not tough decisions; they are decisions that disproportionately harm poor and black and brown people. Ending mental health services for the poor and working class people is a sad decision. Making the rich and powerful pay to keep those mental health services going is a tough decision.
I've read and admired Ramsin's writing for a long time now, and this is some of his best.

February 28, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (1)


His eyes are watery, his face drawn and sagging, cheeks stubbled with two days of growth. Maybe he is growing a beard, he's just started and it's still scraggly and far from full. Or maybe his looks don't matter to him, he cares more about comfort, or he's given up. But he gives no further sign of giving up; his skin is florid and lively, not pale, and he talks easily, with quiet energy, to his two companions. Two women, middle-aged or later like him, and the three talk with the warmth of those who have known each other for years, riding the train every day, knowing each other so well, though perhaps nowhere other than here, nowhere outside of the confines of this train car.

February 17, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (2)

"Whatever the circumstances, whatever his condition, he has dug into all subjects and followed only one law, his own: Never be boring."

The Daily Beast reprints John Schulian's great 1985 profile of Chicago columnist Mike Royko, a long read that is very much worth your time. If the piece intrigues you, I can recommend several of Royko's books to you. To me, Royko's daily columns are still among the finest literature that Chicago has ever produced.

(Via Marie Carnes.)

January 19, 2015 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

"How To Ease That Hangover"

This timeless Mike Royko advice is undoubtedly arriving too late to help you with your evening drinking and socializing decisions, but at least it might ease your morning (and afternoon) regrets.

December 31, 2014 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

McKinley Park


I love this 1906 image of the McKinley Park swimming pool in Chicago, and particularly the fact that something as mundane as a public pool could have had such grandeur (and white-uniformed attendants). The park still has a pool, but the neo-classical structures are long gone.

(Actually, the building on the left still stands, though in sadly degraded form. The other structures and pool are gone.)

July 11, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Clark and Madison


Lively image of the bustling (northeast) corner of Clark and Madison, in 1948. Ah, to be able to take in a show at the Clark Theater, followed by some liquid refreshment at the Bamboo Inn or Kozer's Tap, and then an afternoon nap in an air-conditioned room at the Planters. None of which, sadly, is possible at that same corner today.

June 27, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Haskell, Barker, Sullivan


Detail of Louis Sullivan's gorgeous cast-iron facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings, at 18-22 S. Wabash. The facades were rediscovered during a 2009 renovation, under twenty coats of paint. Alas, the exposure meter on my iPhone wasn't quite up to task; capturing the black detail resulted in the white detail being partly washed out.

June 19, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wabash & Delaware


I love this 1963 image by Vivian Maier. It almost looks like there's another world below the sidewalk, barely visible through a jagged fissure.

June 18, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Dexter Folder Company


Fading ad for Dexter Folder Company, on Harrison Street in the South Loop. At first I assumed that Dexter once made folders of the manila file variety, but I subsequently learned that its folders were actually automatic folding machines that were used to assemble newspapers, books and magazines. Which makes perfect sense: this building is immediately adjacent to Printer's Row, the city's old publishing district.

June 10, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Vienna Sausage


A true Chicago icon: the Vienna Sausage Company (now "Vienna Beef") at its grand opening in 1894. The building was at Halsted Street and 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) near the legendary Maxwell Street open market, but no longer exists after the entire neighborhood was redeveloped as University Village during the early 2000s. Although the sign claims the company's products as "celebrated" and thus indicates the company was already in existence at this time, this may have been its first permanent location. The company first rose to fame during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

June 6, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"And the lull of the Stevenson, beckoning you to stilted dreams at night."

I really like this poem by Susan Hogan, "The Ballroom Artists' Commune", published at Anthology of Chicago. Further digging reveals that this place, the Archer Ballroom, actually exists in the Bridgeport neighborhood, as a residential artists' colony (I resist the loaded term "commune") and performance space. The "Stevenson" referenced above is the expressway that runs directly behind the building, undoubtedly making the building much more affordable for artists and resistant to yuppie gentrification.

I'm intrigued by the concept of a colony like this; just the idea of all of that creative energy bouncing around, along with the colorful but inevitably hardscrabble existence. But I'm fully aware that such a place would never have worked for me, even during my younger days. (I'm a loner, and didn't even have a roommate when I went back to grad school during my mid-twenties.) I would gladly settle for merely writing fiction set in a place like Archer Ballroom, rather than actually living it.

June 5, 2014 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

E.J. Brach



The photo at the top is an early home of E.J. Brach & Sons, on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Illinois, circa 1909. After seeing this online and, on a whim, doing a Google Street View of the address, I was delighted to see that the building is still standing. I took the lower photo today during my afternoon walk. Most of Chicago's once-thriving candy industry is now gone, so sadly this building now only houses nothing more unique than yet another Jimmy John's outpost, plus whatever happens to be upstairs.

May 15, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

19 S. Peoria Street, then and now


19 south peoria

Sure, that parking lot is convenient and the employee picnic table looks inviting, but, still, I'm sure things were a lot more lively at Waller's Public Bath.

April 23, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: People's Gas Company



Here's another fading ad, one that's hiding and seems somewhat shy. I saw this from atop the same parking garage where I photographed the A.C. McClurg ad; it's the old Peoples Gas Company building at 122 S. Michigan. The ad is on the back on the building, facing west, and is mostly obscured by the taller, modern tower at the left side of the photo. Due to its height and the closeness of that modern tower, I doubt that this ad is fully visible from anywhere other than inside the tower.

March 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: A.C. McClurg & Co.


I was quite pleased to suddenly discover this fading ad during my afternoon walk last Friday. I was strolling west on Adams, approaching Wabash, and happened to glance up, above the El tracks, where I saw the ad high up on a building at 218 S. Wabash. Because of where the ad is situated (facing a narrow gap over a small four-story building, next to which was a tall parking garage) the exact spot where I happened to be at that moment is essentially the only point where the ad can be seen from the street. I rode the elevator to the top level of the garage, walked past the cars and to the edge, where I was able to take this shot.

The ad is for A.C. McClurg & Company (you can see all but the "A.C." and the "Mc"), once one of the most prominent publishers in Chicago; McClurg most notably published Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan books as well as The Dial, one of the most prominent literary journals of its day. McClurg also operated a major book store which eventually morphed into the legendary Kroch's & Brentano's. In an interesting twist, this photo actually includes a second ad: in the upper left corner you can see an ad for Lyon & Healy, which I have previously documented.

Parking garages are a great place to photograph from, or just to take in unique views. Most of what we see downtown is either from street level or from high up in tall buildings. But garages provide an interesting middle ground: five to ten stories high, with the uncovered top level providing an open, panoramic view. Especially on the streets along the El tracks (Wabash, Van Buren, Wells, Lake) where redevelopment has come slower than the more marquee streets of the Loop, garages provide a rare glimpse of scruffier and (to me) more charming older buildings. And since they're open to the public, garages are easily accessible without having to navigate through security.

March 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: Brunswick


This building at 623 S. Wabash Avenue in Chicago was the headquarters of Brunswick Corporation (previously the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company) from 1913 to 1964. That distinctive logo should be familiar to anyone who's ever shot pool on a Brunswick table or bowled in a Brunswick alley. Brunswick is still in business, though it moved to the suburbs years ago. Interestingly enough, before Brunswick this building housed a showroom of the Studebaker automobile company, and the opposite (north) side of the building also has a Studebaker ad which must be over a hundred years old. Unfortunately I had to shoot that ad facing south, toward the bright sun, and the lettering of the ad was totally washed out. (You can just make out the ad in this shot from Google Street View.) It's rare for one building here in Chicago to have two fading ads, let alone ads for two iconic companies.

March 17, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fading Ad: Hollywood Tuxedo Rental


I just love this fantastic faded ad from the Chicago Lawn neighborhood, photographed by Marian Saska. But the photo was taken in 1972 and, unforunately, the ad is now long gone. Still, nice to see it preserved for posterity. As for the ad content itself, I know they were trying to emphasize the tuxedo, but it's kind of unsettling to see the woman rendered so faintly, only in outline.

March 14, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cartier-Bresson in Chicago


Excellent: I didn't know that the great Henri Cartier-Bresson was ever in Chicago, let alone that he photographed memorable images here, like this one. I'm heartened to see he was as enamored with the abstract geometry of the El tracks as countless other, lesser photographers (myself included) have been since the system's inception. And I admire the juxtaposition between the hard rigidity of the tracks and the soft and slightly pained humanity of the boy's face.

March 2, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Reading in Public: Chicago, 1964


It's been a long time since I updated my "Reading in Public" series (almost a year and a half now) so when this wonderful photograph came up on Calumet 421, I just had to add it. The photo was taken by Jay King on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in 1964. Not only is this gentleman reading in public, but he's so engrossed by the book that not even walking can distract him; based on the posture of the couple behind him, it appears that he's standing on a corner, probably waiting for the walk light. I certainly hope he looked both ways before returning to his reading. And I wish I could tell which book this was.

February 24, 2014 in Books, Chicago Observations, Reading in Public | Permalink | Comments (0)

Henrici's at the Merchandise Mart


Now, that was a bar: the lounge of the Henrici's in the Merchandise Mart, which opened in 1948. (Not to be confused, however, with the Henrici's flagship location on Randolph Street.) The Merchandise Mart location was designed by James Eppenstein (the subject of this long feature at Forgotten Chicago, where I got the photo; scroll way down in the article for much more on this Henrici's), and that fantastic mural was by Frank Ruvolo. It almost makes me feel like I could slide onto a stool at that glorious curving bar and order an Old Fashioned. Sadly, all tangible vestiges of Henrici's are now long gone.

February 20, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Merchandise Mart, 1934


Love this gorgeous 1934 photograph looking east along the main branch of the Chicago River, with the Merchandise Mart on the left. The river was so placid at that moment that it almost looks like a reflecting pool, and not the open sewer it was back then.

February 10, 2014 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Chicago


Wow, this is so cool: this map depicts the Chicago area at the end of the last ice age, around 14,000 years ago. (I knew about Lake Chicago - the predecessor of Lake Michigan - and was aware of its general environs, but had never seen an actual map.) The shaded portions are the land areas that existed back then, while the dotted lines show the modern-day Chicago River and shoreline of Lake Michigan. What is now the city of Blue Island was indeed an island back then, and even today with the waters having receded, it's an unusually elevated area in an otherwise flat landscape. Same thing for Mount Forest Island, which is between Lemont and Willow Springs; I ride right past there every day on my train.

What's really interesting to me about Mount Forest Island is the two outlets that are shown: the Sag Outlet, the low-lying ground where the Cal-Sag Channel was dug during the early 1900s; and the Desplaines Outlet, which is the current course of the Des Plaines River. As Lake Chicago receded, the Des Plaines formed into a river, bending to the north near McCook Station and roughly following the course of the old shoreline shown in the map.

January 24, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History | Permalink | Comments (1)

Fitzpatrick on Shay

At Newcity, Tony Fitzpatrick writes a fine tribute to the great photographer Art Shay, who's still alive and kicking at 91, and currently has an exhibition at Ann Nathan Gallery.

His images of Wicker Park and Algren have no cheap sentiment in them. This was a neighborhood of immigrants, of the poor, of working people, of junkies and hustlers and whores—and Shay romanticizes none of it. For as unsparing as Algren’s prose was regarding this place, Shay matches him note for note. There was despair. There was grinding poverty. And there were transcendent moments of grace. None of it escaped Shay’s lens.

I really need to buy Shay's collection Chicago's Nelson Algren. ("Read Algren and you'll see Shay's pictures; look at Shay's photos and you'll hear Nelson's words.") One of my favorite photographers, and my favorite writer.

January 22, 2014 in Art, Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fading Ad: Boston Store redux


My good friend Frank Jump was kind enough to repost this photo that I put up last week on Facebook, where I've been running an album called "Photo a Day", of photographs that I've taken each day this year. One afternoon last week, I was walking down Washington Street and looking for a subject, and happened to look across the street at the Block 37 office building, and was very pleased to see the old Boston Store fading ad reflected in the glass. (I had previously photographed the ad - posted here - and inevitably look for it every time I'm walking nearby.) In his post Frank provides more background on the Boston Store, including a great old newspaper ad. I really like the photo, particularly its juxtaposition of modern and aged.

January 22, 2014 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Merry Christmas!


Merry Christmas! I hope Santa Claus brought you elegant slippers, or fine boots or shoes, or whatever your stylish heart desired this year.

Isn't it strange that during this visit from Santa, presumably during the middle of the night and after he just came down the chimney, there's a roaring fire going in the fireplace? What, does Santa not just drop off the presents, but also makes himself at home, starts a new fire, and maybe pours himself a nightcap and settles into an easy chair?

December 25, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ice Ice Baby


I love this photo. If my writing was at all comic - which it isn't - I'd want to have this as a book cover some day.

December 22, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Two views of 1950s Chicago


Rush Street, looking south from Delaware Street, in 1954. Love that tawdry, gaudy neon. The area is now informally known as the Viagra Triangle (for the middle-aged divorced guys haunting the steakhouses and trying to get lucky), but there's no way it has the hustle and throb it enjoyed well into the 1970s.


Doorway by Harry Callahan, 1955. Probably far from the glare of Rush Street, and likely in a working class neighborhood. Just in this tight frame, I see advertisements for three beers (Sieben's - painted directly onto the window at the upper right - Schlitz and Budweiser) and two whiskeys (Hiram Walker Imperial and Echo Springs). I like a place that gives you a hint of what's inside before you even step off the street.

November 22, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (2)