We left the house around 12:30 yesterday, picked up the Pink Line at Polk, and got off at the Western Avenue station, just north of 21st Street, at one o'clock. Thus we began our seven-mile hike down to St. Rita where my wife was to meet us with the car and whisk us off to Vito and Nick's Pizzeria on the Far Southwest Side.
Lower West Side, by the mural that greeted us almost immediately after stepping off the el.
February 19, it's an example of light blue glazed brick on a background of beige brick.
Mr. Powers also wrote about extensively. Once again, not my cup of tea, but it seems to be a uniquely 1960s Chicago thing and therefore worth noting.
Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which afforded this breathtaking view.
Also known as the Chicago Drainage Canal, it opened in 1900 in order to send sewage away from, rather than into, Lake Michigan. This was part of the effort to reverse the flow of the Chicago River, which as a layperson I still find positively amazing. (I thought only Superman could "change the course of mighty rivers.")
Since the Irish were famous for digging canals I wondered if any of my ancestors took part in the construction of this one.
And that in turn reminded me of the play The Irish… and How They Got That Way, by Frank McCourt, in which one of the characters reminisces:
We came to America because we were told that the streets were paved in gold. And when we got here we discovered that not only were the streets not paved in gold, they weren't paved at all. And -- what's more -- we were the ones expected to do the paving!
"What are we gonna call this other road that runs parallel with Western Avenue, boss?"
"I don't know; I'm tired of thinking up names for all these streets! It's Friday and I wanna go home. Call it, call it . . . Western Avenue."
"You heard me! See you guys on Monday..."
The Western Avenue to the east is mostly residential while the other is more commercial. Since we knew we'd eventually want to stop and eat we chose the latter one.
John and I had been here before, in October, to see the house in which Ray Manzarek of the Doors grew up. (Yeah, and we're going to see Robby Krieger play at City Winery next month!)
Originally the home of Irish immigrants working on the Illinois & Michigan Canal in the 1830s, the area was incorporated as Brighton in 1851 and annexed by the city in 1863. Long the home of good working-class jobs in steel mills, brickyards and meatpacking plants, McKinley Park still has a number of hulking industrial buildings along Western Avenue that are remnants of an earlier era. I remarked to my son that for generations ethnic Chicagoans probably lived in this neighborhood and walked to work, but those days are long gone. I imagine the Irish, Poles and others began leaving the neighborhood in the 1950s as the jobs either moved to the suburbs or just disappeared altogether.
Brighton Park begins at Pershing and extends to 49th Street. It took its name from the Brighton neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, which was famed for its cattle market. Brighton Park was incorporated as a village in 1851 and annexed to the city in 1889. I snapped the picture above from the front of a private home or some unidentified business or something. It looks like a family sitting around a kitchen table with a birthday cake on it and a dog in the background. What that's all about is anyone's guess!
Gage Park, which goes down to 59th Street.
Next came the community area of Chicago Lawn, from 59th Street to the railroad tracks at 75th, and I have to admit, things started getting a little dicey here. To the east of Chicago Lawn are the scary neighborhoods of West Englewood and Englewood. If you're one of those people -- like Donald Trump -- who thinks Chicago is a "war zone," Englewood is one of the neighborhoods you would have in mind.
I'm not sure I'd recommend this particular stretch of Western Avenue to just anyone; it's not for the faint of heart. (My wife couldn't believe we walked through here.) Even though Marquette Park is just a few blocks west and Chicago Lawn was once known as the "Lithuanian Gold Coast," there were no Lithuanians in sight on Sunday afternoon. (Let's just say it's not exactly Winnetka.) At one point, I think it was at 71st Street, there were about a half dozen guys just milling about on the sidewalk. They were probably harmless but we crossed the street anyway. What's the worst thing that could have happened? Honestly, I think they would have stared at us or called to us and maybe made us feel a little uncomfortable. But that's about it; I'm sure we were more of a curiosity than anything else. If you do try to walk the length of Western Avenue some day, though, my advice is just to try to look like the baddest mother****er in town and hope for the best. That's what we did and I lived to write this blog post. In truth, I don't think "bad" neighborhoods are anywhere near as "bad" as people think.
Ashburn, the home of St. Rita of Cascia High School.
It's such a large and beautiful school that I was surprised to find out it only enrolled around 600 boys. (Still no girls. Can you believe it?)
Founded in 1905, St. Rita moved in 1990 to what had been the campus of Quigley South, a seminary that had operated on the site since 1961. (I actually went to the old location at 63rd and Claremont Avenue on one of my Ray Manzarek pilgrimages. Can you believe that?)
I had been to St. Rita several times before for football and basketball games but always at night and never on foot. It's very pleasant during the day, and John and I found a shady spot in which to sit while we waited for my wife.
It was a beautiful day and we plan on tackling the last leg of Western Avenue, down to 119th Street in Morgan Park, soon. (Although my friend Kevin says we should keep on going, through downtown Blue Island. We'll see.)
So yesterday we passed through six community areas -- the Lower West Side, McKinley Park, Brighton Park, Gage Park, Chicago Lawn and Ashburn -- on the West, Southwest and Far Southwest Sides. Not a bad day's work.