Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hard to believe...

...with all the snow and subfreezing temperatures we've had lately, but the World Champion Chicago Cubs (Gosh, it feels good to write that!) will be opening up their 2017 season in just a few short weeks. With that in mind, I took a group of five intrepid Hikers -- John, Nicco, Jack, Ryan and Michael -- over to the site of West Side Park, where the Cubs played before moving to their current location in 1916.

We departed 1212 W. Flournoy at five o'clock sharp, as usual, and made our way west on Polk Street with Tri-Taylor as our final destination. (I know, I know: as George Carlin once pointed out, all destinations are final.) I thought it was fitting, in keeping with our baseball theme, that we passed what was once the home of the Wrigley family that had been physically moved from Ashland Avenue to Polk. (I wouldn't believe this if I hadn't heard it straight from the owner, who strikes me as a straight-shooter.)

After crossing Ashland I just couldn't resist looking back over my shoulder and taking this shot of St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church on the northeast corner of Polk and Ashland. The Greek Revival structure was originally a synagogue, Temple Anshe Sholom, completed in 1910 by Alexander Levy. When the congregation moved west to Lawndale in 1927, a dome and crucifixes were added transforming it into a Greek Orthodox Church. Despite changes in the surrounding neighborhood over the years and at least two fires (I'm pretty sure that's the second-generation dome), the church appears to be thriving today.

We continued west on Polk, entering the Illinois Medical District, and passed a seemingly random Japanese garden in front of an outpatient facility. We had no time for any "contemplation" or "meditation," however; the guys were hungry. So we soldiered on.

At South Wood Street we turned left and reached this commemorative sign, marking the location of West Side Park, which opened in 1893.

The park, originally holding only about 12,500 fans, was the scene of back-to-back titles for the National League club in 1907 and 1908. Little did anyone know that it would be another 108 years before the Cubs would win another championship!

By the early 1910s the wooden ballpark was showing its age, in large part due to neglect by Charles Murphy, the unpopular owner. The dilapidated park found itself competing unsuccessfully with new steel-and-concrete venues such as Comiskey Park on the South Side and Weeghman Park on the North Side. In 1916, Charles Weeghman, the owner of the Chicago Whales of the now-defunct Federal League, bought a substantial interest in the Cubs and moved them to what later became known as Wrigley Field.

Murphy, for his part, tore down West Side Park in 1920 and sold the property to the University of Illinois.

On a personal note, both of my grandfathers, who were originally from the West Side, were Cub fans. My maternal grandfather, as far as I know, never wavered in his loyalty to the National Leaguers while my father's father abandoned the North Siders for the White Sox after owner William Wrigley Jr. fired Joe McCarthy -- a perfectly good Irish Catholic manager -- in 1930. Convinced Wrigley was a "Kluxer" (and not without some justification, actually), my grandfather shifted his allegiance to the South Side ball club of his fellow countryman, Charles Commiskey.

We finally entered Tri-Taylor when we crossed over Ogden Avenue just beyond Damen. The roughly triangular-shaped neighborhood sits within the community area of the Near West Side, and is bordered by Congress Parkway to the North, Ogden to the East, Roosevelt Road on the south and railroad tracks on the west.

Ferrara Bakery, at 2210 W Taylor, was founded in 1908 and is a fixture of this Italian neighborhood. Along with his two brothers-in-law, Salvatore Ferrara also founded the Ferrara Pan Candy Company, which manufactures such favorites as Lemonheads and Atomic Fireballs. Yum!

It was dinnertime now, and the guys had to decide between Bacci Pizzeria, across the street, or Baba Pita, a Middle Eastern restaurant just a few doors down. I thought since it was the Ides of March (and the day after Pi Day) a place serving pizza pie and other Roman, er, Italian food, would be more appropriate. But since our little group is a republic, not an empire, Baba Pita won with a majority of the vote after only a little horsetrading.

Two of the guys peeled off from the group after dinner and took the No. 7 Harrison bus back to 1212 while the other four of us walked home with our backs to the setting sun. We passed a small farm by the name of "Growing Solutions" that seemed to be in hibernation until the spring.

It was quite a view walking back down Polk toward the Loop just before seven o'clock, and the guys and I all agreed that Daylight Saving Time wasn't such a bad idea after all.

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