Thursday, April 11, 2013

O My Northside Home: A rainy walk to Wrigley Field and back.

I'm moving! On August 1st! For the first time in 16 years! My tiny, shitty studio apartment has served me fine for a long time; but now that I need a place where I can hold CCLaP parties and fundraisers on a regular basis, and especially now that I'm going to start dating again later this year, the time has finally come to get a place both bigger and nicer. I'm hoping to stay in the same neighborhood, but I might not get to; so I thought while I had a chance, I'd get some photo essays done of just everyday walks in my neighborhood, nothing spectacular but just normal looks at the reasons I have so enjoyed walking the streets of my area for all these years now, which if you think of it is almost as long as I lived in Missouri with my parents while growing up.

I live literally one block north of the border between the Uptown and Lakeview neighborhoods, so really call both my "home," although both of these areas also have more specific names too; so my side of the border is also known as "Buena Park," which was the original name of this smaller area when it was first settled in the late 1800s, and which it was known as until the city decided to start referring to the entire general area as "Uptown" sometime in the mid-20th century. And then the area south of me is not only officially known as "Lakeview" but also informally as "Wrigleyville," because of Wrigley Field being located within its boundaries; this is not a historical precedent, I think, but just an invention of realtors and residents.

I had a walking errand to do in the neighborhood this cool, rainy April day; and it started with a walk through Kelly Park, which for a long time was this weird little half-block-wide strip of abandoned land, falling strangely between (on one side) a residential neighborhood and (on the other) first a Jewish cemetery and then a Catholic convent of all things. In 1979 the city finally turned it into a nice little green space, and in 1995 added the playground. This is one of the many reasons I like Chicago so much, is that they've come up with all kinds of cool little workarounds over the decades for various little odd places in hyperlocal neighborhoods, to turn what would've otherwise been a dirty, dangerous, extra-wide alley into a green-filled benefit for the whole community.

At the end of the park, then, another one-block walk through a parking lot, and suddenly you're at the famed Wrigley Field, today suffering through a rain delay that got called right as I was walking through the area. I complain a lot about the drunken frat boys that Wrigley Field attracts literally three times a week all through the warm weather every year; but the fact is that this is one of my most treasured experiences of living in Chicago, is living in such a unique environment (Wrigley Field is one of the last sports arenas in the entire United States to be located literally within the middle of a residential neighborhood), and to have a kind of life where such a big and historic place is just an everyday part of it, something I have walked by literally thousands of times now in every possible weather and situation you can imagine, including nationally televised playoff games, a Bruce Springsteen concert and more.

This was the destination for my errand, so afterwards I decided to walk Sheffield Avenue back home, which as you can see has the same kind of vaguely London-looking Edwardian middle-class feel as most of the other streets in my neighborhood. Although this area was first settled in the late 1800s, most of its development took place from roughly 1910 to 1940, including plenty of examples of the "gray ladies" that Chicago is so known for city-wide. (For those who don't know, these were a hugely popular type of residential building here in the early 20th century, made from the limestone of a local quarry, and there are still hundreds upon hundreds of them found all over the city.) This is part of the quiet enjoyment I talk about when I talk about the enjoyment of walking around my neighborhood; nothing special, just interesting things to look at all the time, and in many cases like literally walking through a living history book.

Like take this building, for example, which by its material and style obviously must be from the late Victorian Age, still up and running as a residential building with no fuss or muss. It's hard sometimes to even find places in the United States where you can just casually go about your day and regularly come across buildings that are this old, and it's one of the things I like most about living here.

But there are plenty of modern additions to the neighborhood, too; here's one of my favorites, a preschool at Grace and Sheffield (on the left here in this panoramic photo) done in that great Postmodernist heavy brick-and-concrete style known as "Brutalism," so prevalent in the 1970s and '80s. I've developed a fascination all over again recently for the "Logan's Run" style of Brutalist architecture, because of the death earlier this year of Oscar Niemeyer, the man who singlehandedly created most of the city known as Brasilia; in fact, I think that's going to be the theme of the bicycle photo-map I make this summer, is trying to hunt down and show off a bunch of Brutalist structures all over the city. (For those who don't know, I pick a different theme about Chicago every summer and take a bunch of photos of that theme while I'm out bicycling, which I then put together as a map at Google; it's basically yet another excuse to be bicycling as much as I can.)

And of course there are still lots of typical Mid-Century-Modernist buildings that are still holding on unrefurbished, just old enough to be eyesores that are often getting knocked down these days, but not old enough yet to be historically quaint. Check out this building a block north of Grace, for example, which I would guess to be from the 1930s through '50s sometime, in that white tile that used to be so popular but has rapidly fallen out of style, currently holding a dive bar that does brisk business on game days (this is literally three blocks from Wrigley Field you're looking at), and with a sidewalk that is always covered with loud, staggering cigarette smokers.

And that gets us to the hub of the neighborhood, the Sheridan red-line el station, surrounded for a block on all sides by crass commercial places like liquor stores, convenience stores, etc., plus the hipster Holiday Club across the street, basically the only bar in my neighborhood known city-wide, and that people deliberately travel to from other neighborhoods on a regular basis. Like every other train-station area in a residential neighborhood, this little two-by-two-block area is the nastiest little spot in the neighborhood, a necessary evil for having the train station needed to make the neighborhood such a convenient one in the first place.

And then a block past that, and the view turns again to what it's been before, pleasantly Edwardian and middle-class, filled with buildings that rarely get above three or four stories in height. Then one more block after this and a side alley, and I'm home!

Anyway, so that was it for my rainy-day walk today; and like I said, I'm hoping to get more of these up as the year continues, just little reminders of why I enjoyed living in this area of the city so much for all these years now, just in case I have to leave it later this year. As always, check by here again soon for the latest, especially now that the weather is turning warmer again and I have an excuse to be updating this "I Am A Camera" blog much more often.

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