Monday, February 20, 2017

A young man told me recently...

...that he and a friend walked the entire 26 miles of Western Avenue in one day. Beginning at six in the morning in the southern suburb of Harvey, they walked for either eleven hours (with food and bathroom breaks) or until eleven at night (I can't remember which) up to the northern border of the city at Howard Street. According to him, Western Avenue is the longest street in the United States, and there's only one in North America, in Toronto, that's longer.

I love stories like that!

According to Wikipedia:

Western Avenue is the longest continuous street within the city of Chicago at 23.5 miles in length. Western Avenue extends south as a continuous road to the Dixie Highway at Sibley Boulevard (Illinois Route 83) in Dixmoor, giving the road a total length of 27.38 miles.

So the road actually begins in Dixmoor, which is adjacent to Harvey. But the Wikipedia page doesn't say anything about Western Avenue being the longest road in the United States or the second-longest in North America.

So what -- it's still a good story! And I knew there was a Sunday hike in there somewhere for my son John and me. But 26 miles in one day? No way! How about if we just tackled the portion of Western Avenue in the city and broke it down into, say, three eight-mile hikes or, better yet, four six-mile hikes? That would be more like it. So I ran it by John and of course he was game.

We set out at noon sharp yesterday for the first leg of the journey. (My wife decided to join us for at least part of it.) Catching the Blue Line at Racine, we changed for the Red Line at Jackson and rode up to Howard, arriving in Rogers Park at about one o'clock. We then hiked about a mile or so west to Bill's Drive-In at the corner of Howard and Western. It's actually just north of Howard in the very southern tip of Evanston (suburbia!), where Western magically turns into Asbury. Neither my wife nor my son had ever been to Bill's (can you believe it?) and we all fortified ourselves with cheeseburgers and fries. (Good call!)

After lunch we crossed back into the city at Howard and commenced our march down Western Avenue. At 2400 west, Western was actually the far western border of the city from 1851 to 1869. While I thought we were in Rogers Park, it was actually the community area of West Ridge, which begins -- surprise! -- west of Ridge Boulevard. (On some maps the neighborhood of East Rogers Park is in the community area of Rogers Park while West Rogers Park is in the community area of West Ridge -- very confusing.)

The first picture I took on Western Avenue itself was of this light blue glazed brick on a background of beige brick on a mid-century modern storefront. I don't particularly care for it, but it's typical of the architecture in that part of the world. Robert Powers, the author of one of my favorite blogs, A Chicago Sojourn, loves it and writes about it a lot.

After that I noticed a number of signs which indicated the Islamic flavor of the neighborhood. (And saw many people in traditional Islamic dress.)

We passed Warren Park.

I liked the terra cotta detail on this building in particular.

And at the corner of Western and Bryn Mawr, across the street from Rosehill Cemetary in the neighborhood of Budlong Woods, is the appropriately-named Western Bryn Mawr Building. (This is also where West Ridge ends and Lincoln Square begins.) The only thing I could find out about this terra cotta gem is that it was built in 1930 and contains the letter "Y" hidden in a colorful floral design. This "Y"-shaped figure, which represents the three branches of the Chicago River as they come together at Wolf Point, can be found on structures all over the city.

A little farther down was the actual neighborhood of Lincoln Square within the community area of Lincoln Square (I told you it was confusing), across the street from this statue of the 16th president (his name escapes me right now). It was here, after about four and a half miles, that my wife decided to hop on the Brown Line at Western and Lawrence and head for home.

John and I then passed Welles Park.

And came across the extremely charming Jeri's Grill at Western and Montrose in the community area of North Center. (Can you believe I've never been here either?) I told John to take a good, long look at the counter because places like this are not long for this world. I sure hope I'm wrong.

Another building "not long for this world" was Western Automatic Music on the west side of the street, which features this World War II-era paneled storefront. (Despite the less than optimal light, I couldn't resist taking a picture.) By the way, what do you suppose "automatic music" is, anyway? Player pianos?

When John ducked in to get a Gatorade I just had to take this shot of a Tudor Revival apartment building. (Even all those dishes couldn't ruin it for me!)

This is just a beautiful tan brick Chicago building with nice details in the late winter sunlight. They don't build 'em like that anymore!

This unusual structure is the Waveland Bowl, built in 1959 and the largest bowling alley in Chicago with 40 lanes. John had a good question: Isn't a bowling alley an odd place for a "quiet zone"?

Next came a sign advertising hamburgers (before) on one side and a used car lot (after) on the other.

Now I know what you're thinking: How come no mention of Riverview? Or pictures of Hero's Subs on Addison, or Lane Tech?

Riverview was an amusement park which opened in 1904 and closed in 1967. It occupied 74 acres east of Western Avenue between Lane Tech on the north and Belmont on the south. I don't think I ever went there but Riverview had an almost mythic place in our family's culture. The "Bobs" wooden roller coaster, built in 1924, was practically the Holy Grail. (Who, though, would name a roller coaster the "Bobs"?)

As for Lane Tech and Hero's Subs, it was really just a matter of the fading afternoon light. We walked south on the east side of Western to take advantage of the unseasonably warm February sunlight. But it made for taking pictures on the other side of the street problematic. Lane Tech, by that time of day, was shrouded in shadow. But I've written about the legendary high school elsewhere in this blog.

When we reached Diversey we had covered seven miles since the Howard el stop and it was time to go home. We walked east on Diversey to Ashland and caught the number 9 bus to Harrison. Including that last leg it was a good eight miles in all. I was tired but it was worth it. What a beautiful day in Chicago!

In all we had walked through three of Chicago's 77 community areas, West Ridge, Lincoln Square and North Center, and umpteen unofficial "neighborhoods." (I didn't see a banner, or any sign, for West Ridge.) Next time we'll go back to Western and Diversey and walk south another six miles or so to about Cermak on the Lower West Side. Maybe next Sunday.

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