Friday, December 30, 2016

We stayed close to home...

...this week on our last "Urban Hike with Mike" of 2016. My son John had been lobbying for Greektown, so even though it's close, we went there for dinner along with Jack and Ryan.

We started out, as usual, from 1212 at five o'clock sharp and walked east on Harrison, past the University of Illinois at Chicago, and turned left (north) on Halsted.

UIC owes its origins, more than anyone I think, to the first Mayor Daley. He always felt that if Chicago was to become a great city it needed a great public university. So way back in 1935, the first act of the newly-elected state representative was to introduce a resolution calling for the establishment of an undergraduate Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. After World War II a temporary, two-year branch campus of the U of I was founded on Navy Pier to accommodate veterans on the G.I. Bill. (I think the father of one of my best friends went there.)

In 1963, construction began on the University's new campus at Harrison and Halsted and it opened its doors in February 1965. Eventually becoming known as the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, it had to be the first (and only) institution of higher learning named after the junction of three interstate expressways. In 1982 it was rechristened the University of Illinois at Chicago. Good call.

(For those of you keeping score at home, Lincoln-Way East was named after just one road, Lincoln Highway, and is only a high school.)

Until I read its Wikipedia page I had no idea that UIC had the largest medical school in the United States. Apparently, one in eight Illinois doctors is a graduate of the UIC College of Medicine, and one in ten Chicagoans with a college degree is a UIC alumnus. Who knew?

As we turned north on Halsted and crossed over the "circle," I was reminded of my niece, who moved to the city back in 2000 or 2001. I took a Saturday afternoon one day to drive her around town and show her the various neighborhoods but cautioned her not to "go west of Greektown" (the implication being that it wasn't "safe"). Nowadays, however, I would tell her (or any recent college graduate) not to "go west of Greektown" -- you can't afford it!

You might be wondering, What brought the Near West Side "back"? (My dad would have told you it was always a "rough" part of town -- Chicago's answer to Skid Row.) Opra Winfrey? Michael Jordan? Who knows? But it's a happenin' place now, all the way to Ashland, if not the United Center itself. (When we first moved back to the city in 2014 Julie and I were riding our bikes past "the stadium" and I asked if she ever thought we could do such a thing. That's how much the city has changed in the last twenty years or so -- for the better.)

After dinner at Mr. Greek Gyros at the corner of Jackson and Halsted, above, we continued on north up to Randolph. We passed one Greek restaurant after another, of course, including the recently-shuttered Parthenon, where flaming saganaki was said to have been invented back in 1968. Opa!

(Just so you don't get the wrong impression, we don't always eat at such fancy places; we've also been known to frequent those two Maxwell Street joints you can see from the Dan Ryan where you have to eat standing up outside. On Wednesday, though, we figured we'd "live a little" seeing as how it was our last Hike of the year.)

Greektown dates back to the time when UIC was built in the 1960s. The original Greek neighborhood of Chicago, known as "the Delta," was displaced when the university moved in a few blocks south across the Eisenhower Expressway.

The Greektown "strip" extends north to about Madison, I'd say, where it becomes simply the West Loop. We turned left on Randolph and walked past another series of restaurants, each one trendier than the last: Au Cheval, Girl & the Goat, Nellcote, etc., as well as some of my personal favorites like Perez and Grange Hall Burger Bar.

When we came to the corner of Randolph and Carpenter I was surprised to see construction of the new McDonald's building on the former site of Harpo Studios going full tilt well after sunset. The headquarters, which had moved to Oak Brook from downtown in 1971, is scheduled to open in early 2018. The company's circular journey reminded me that I was now living in the same neighborhood where my grandmother was born in the late nineteenth century. (The Irish were in Little Italy before the Italians.) "We've come full circle, Ma!" I used to tell my mother before she passed away last summer.

Speaking of full circle, it was time now to turn south on Ogden Avenue and head back to 1212. After passing the magnificent Church of the Epiphany, built in 1885 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, we walked east through the Historic District on West Jackson Street, past Whitney Young High School (Michelle Obama's alma mater), and across the Eisenhower to home.

The forecast for next Wednesday is cold (too cold, perhaps, for a Hike) and I'll be soaking in the sun in Los Angeles on the 18th, so I'll have to think of a particularly good Hike for January 11. We'll have to kick off 2017 with something special! Any suggestions? 

No comments: