Monday, March 6, 2017

On Sunday my son...

...and I resumed our "Western Avenue Project," that is, hiking the entire length of Western Avenue in the city from Howard Street on the Far North Side down to 119th Street on the Far Southwest Side.

We left home at noon just like we did two weeks ago, caught the No. 9 Ashland bus at Harrison, transferred at Diversey to the No. 76 bus and picked up where we left off at Western and Diversey.

Since we got off the bus on the northwest corner of the intersection, strictly speaking (I hate the word "technically" in this context) we began our journey in the far southeast corner of Avondale. But after crossing Diversey we were now "technically" in Logan Square.

The first indication that we were officially in Logan Square was Logan Hardware just west of Western on Fullerton. I really liked the sign outside and at first regretted not taking a picture of it. (I also wished I had captured the view of Lake Street, under the Green Line, from Western.) But when I started writing this post I realized I had more than enough pictures -- maybe too many.

Farther down Western, on the east side of the street, was this old building with a sign saying:


And my son asked me, "Is there much of a market for 'used' safes?"

"I don't know," I replied. "I don't even know if there's much of a market for new ones anymore." (And don't ask me what "all services" means.)

We next encountered a number of buildings consisting of white glazed brick with dark green brick for accents and ornament. According to my go-to Chicago architecture blog, A Chicago Sojourn, this was a popular facade in the years leading up to World War I. According to the author, Robert Powers, this style is somewhat unique to Chicago.

A closeup of the building on the left.

Then there was this string. (Check out the second one from the right.)

Here's a closer look. I thought it was interesting they way the light brick "bled" into the dark. (Or was it the other way around?)

We were now in Bucktown, at least as far as this grocery store was concerned.

Then, at the corner of Western and Armitage, was the legendary Margie's Candies. It was time to give my wife a progress report so I texted her this picture. (She has absolutely no sense of direction or of Chicago geography, but I knew she'd know where this was.)

Did we stop in? No; I'm still abstaining from sugar and, besides, John wanted to eat at the McDonald's across the street. What??? McDonald's over Margie's Candies? What's wrong with you two! you're probably thinking. Well, John was jonesing for a Shamrock Shake and we were both intrigued by the two new Big Macs: the Grand Mac and the Mac Jr. While John opted for the former (and gave it two thumbs up), I had a Mac Jr. to go with my usual Big Mac (I had to keep my strength up). Although John liked the Grand Mac I decided that there's a reason the Big Mac is so popular: it's all in the right proportion. The Grand Mac is too big and the Mac Jr. is overwhelmed by the special sauce -- it needs that extra beef patty and the middle bun portion to balance it all out.

Across the street from McDonald's, in front of the Western Blue Line station, was this skeleton of a new structure going up. Why did I include it? To illustrate all the building going on in this city. Are we in the midst of a mini real estate bubble?

When we passed under the 606, or the Bloomingdale Trail, we not only entered West Town but officially left the North Side for the West Side. (That's the same couple in the previous picture; do you think they thought we were stalking them?)

This picture is simply a reminder that the universe, like this building, isn't all black and white, but rather shades of gray. (I only figured that out a few years ago.)

When we got to Division Street a look to the right, above...

...and a look to the left indicated we were near the formerly-Puerto Rican-but-rapidly-gentrifying neighborhood of Humboldt Park. I tell ya, this town is changing fast!

When then crossed Division into Ukrainian Village, or "Ukie" Village, as my niece calls it.

Next was the ginormous Commonwealth Edison substation (whatever that is) dating back to the 1930s, its massiveness foreshadowing the Midland Warehouse Building farther to the south. The design seems to be almost evolving before your eyes, from Jazz Age Art Deco into pre-war moderne style. (Apparently, there was once a similar building to the north.)

And you know you're not too far from what was once known as the "Polish Gold Coast" when instead of seeing signs advertising "COLD BEER," or even "CERVEZA FRIA," you see "ZIMNE PIWO."

Then there was this old church on the west side of the street, or at least the facade of what looks to be a former Catholic church. (The statue of Mary, just below the crucifix, gives it away.)

But from this angle you can see it's now part of a condo building. This is something you seem to be seeing more and more of in Chicago; in my own neighborhood, for example, an old church has been turned into a single-family residence. It's a great way to repurpose some of these beautiful old churches.

At Western and Iowa is Car Town, Inc. which is really a relic from an earlier time. I hope it stays put for a while.

When you walk under the Metra tracks just beyond Kinzie Street, you enter the Kinzie Industrial Corridor on the Near West Side. As recently as 2010, the surrounding area was said to be the "most dangerous neighborhood in the nation." I've driven around here many times and warned John that it might seem, as my British friend Jamie would say, a little "dodgy." Sure enough, there were about a dozen or so guys "congregating" on the other side of the street as I've seen them do before. (Why there? And what were they doing? I haven't a clue.) We stayed on the west side of Western, however, and no one hassled us. (I didn't really think they would.)

A little farther down, not far from Phoenix Military Academy, is this sign identifying the neighborhood as West Haven. It's on either side of Madison Street and I can tell you in no uncertain terms that it was No Man's Land not too long ago. There is no way in hell I would have walked around here ten or twenty years ago.

Just north of Madison was the shuttered Greater Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church.

And then there's the former West Town State Bank Building, which I've admired many times from my car. (This picture doesn't do it justice; it's really a beautiful structure!) Designed by Mundie & Jensen in Art Deco, including stylized eagles sculpted in limestone, it was completed in 1930 shortly after the stock market crash of 1929. Ironically, the West Town State Bank failed a year later in 1931, a casualty of the Great Depression. The building then housed a couple of black radio stations but sat empty for at least 20 years before it achieved landmark status in 2003. The eight-story mid-rise at the northwest corner of Madison and Western was renovated beginning in 2007 and is now an apartment building with a bank on the ground floor.

After crossing the Eisenhower Expressway we were now in Tri-Taylor, just west of my own neighborhood. Julie met us at the corner of Western and Harrison and we chatted for a few minutes in the car while I charged my phone up to 50 percent. We continued on, and encountered this interesting "pillar" on Western just north of Polk Street.

John alerted me to the smiling figure within the decoration.

At Western and Grenshaw was this ancient structure which the real estate websites say was built in either 1881 or 1886, depending on whom you believe. Bottom line: it's old. It was home to a bar recently with apartments above, but is currently being renovated.

A closeup reveals the name of J. Danziger, whoever that was.

Next came the Western Ogden Industrial Corridor, with mighty industrial buildings to the west and a vast railroad yard to the east. 

My favorite was the Midland Warehouses at 15th and Western. Built in 1915, the 500,000 square-feet behemoth is a remnant of the brawny, muscular, City of Big Shoulders that Carl Sandburg must have had in mind when he gave Chicago that moniker in 1914.

It's made of red brick trimmed with enameled terra cotta.

Although not all of it has aged so gracefully.

Finally, we crossed under still more railroad tracks at 18th Street into the Lower West Side. This mural, with USA OUT OF COLOMBIA written on it, indicated we were in the predominantly Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen.

We reached the Western Pink Line station just a few steps beyond, at Cermak, and boarded the train for home. (That's downtown in the background.) Can you believe I had never rode the Pink Line before?

To review: We walked in five of the 77 community areas in Chicago yesterday (Avondale, Logan Square, West Town, the Near West Side and the Lower West Side) and several neighborhoods within those areas (Bucktown, Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, the Kinzie Industrial Corridor, West Haven, Tri-Taylor, the Western Ogden Industrial Corridor and Pilsen -- did I forget any?).

Next time we'll take the Pink Line back to Western and Cermak to embark on the third leg of our journey down Western Avenue.

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