Street Smart Chicago

State of Freedom: Can Open Streets downtown sell City Hall on future ciclovias?

Bicycling, Events, Green, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Photo: Brett Mohr

By John Greenfield

“On State Street, that great street, I just want to say
They do things they don’t do on Broadway”
—“Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” by Fred Fisher

The question is, can Chicago do on State Street what New York City already does successfully, not on Broadway but on Park Avenue; what San Francisco does on Grant Avenue; and what Bogotá, Colombia, does on Calle 11?

After two previous attempts, the Active Transportation Alliance hopes Saturday’s car-free event on State Street will finally convince City Hall to embrace the ciclovia concept.

Born in Bogotá, the “ciclovia” (Spanish for “bike path”) concept closes streets to motorized traffic, creating safe spaces for citizens to bicycle, jog, stroll, play and mingle, encouraging healthy recreation and social interaction. Ciclovias are now popular around the world, and most of America’s bike-friendly major cities are holding successful events, but the model still hasn’t gained a foothold in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Wright Returns to the Rookery

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

The Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust is honoring its namesake’s position in the rich heritage of Chicago’s architectural history with the grand opening of the new Shop Wright gift store on July 21 in the Rookery, one of Chicago’s oldest and most historically significant buildings. Wright remodeled the lobby of the Rookery in 1905 and it was then restored to his designs at the end of the twentieth century. Heidi Farina, director of multi-channel retailing at the Preservation Trust, explains that the Shop Wright opening has always been the next step after the central offices of the Trust were relocated to the Rookery in late 2010. “It allows us to reach a new, different type of audience,” she says, “not only the tourists but the business community of Chicago.” The grand opening, which the public can attend, will feature “champagne and shopping” from 5pm-7pm together with appetizers, three prize giveaways and a ten-percent discount to the public and twenty-percent to members of the Trust.  Alongside the boozing and browsing, the Trust is offering rare tours to the Rookery Vault storage, which usually has no public access and features catalogued architectural items from recent renovations, including ornamental ironwork and elevator grilles. Farina says that the gift store will contain many new items that incorporate the Rookery’s design styles with floral, geometric patterns and elements taken from the elevators, as well as bird styles that pay homage to the heritage of the Rookery’s name. These will slot in beside the rich catalogue of Shop Wright’s furniture, books, accessories, jewelry and art inspired by Wright’s design work. Together with the new store, tours of the iconic Rookery are being expanded to five days a week beginning at noon every day, Monday through Friday. (Ben Small)

The Go Wright grand opening is July 21 at the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle, 5pm-7pm. RSVP at

411: Preserve this tour

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

The Chicago Architecture Foundation ( has added three new entries to its list of more than eighty-five architecture tours in celebration of the fortieth anniversary of Landmarks Illinois, the statewide voice for historic preservation. Ellen Shubart, co-chair of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tour committee, says these three distinct walking tours, called “Preservation and Pubs,” will explore the various issues surrounding historic preservation within the Loop. “These are one-of-a-kind tours for this special anniversary and will not be on the schedule on a regular basis,” Shubart says. “We will be looking at various buildings that have been preserved and discuss the issues involved for buildings to become a landmark and why people want to preserve these buildings.” Each tour will end at an historic pub—the Sky-Ride Lounge,  Kasey’s and Cardozo’s Pub—and a representative from Landmarks Illinois will be on hand to discuss the history and nature of each location. The first tour, April 29, heads west, followed by the southbound May 13 and the June 17 finale, which will head north. (Nancy Wolens)

Pipe Dreams: How tobacconist Iwan Ries survived the Civil War, the Great Conflagration and the smoking ban

Chicago History, Loop 1 Comment »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

By Jennifer Kelly Price

I remember smelling my grandpa’s pipes, pulling them one by one from an immaculately polished brown leather box kept on quiet display in his den, lifting the lid and instantly being transported to another era. Though I never saw him smoke them, I remember picturing him young—a dashing soldier in his twenties, courting my grandma, puffing a pipe all gentle-like. I could smell that sweetness in the air and on his skin. The smell of a good pipe strikes a note of palpable nostalgia, even for those without direct associations. It’s almost as though the marriage of sweet tobacco and burning wood sprung forth far enough back in history that it exists in our collective memory. Comforting. Relaxing. Swathed with manliness and class.

That’s what the Iwan Ries family stands for. Iwan Ries, the oldest family-owned tobacconist in the country, has touched three centuries and passed through five generations of one family. A phenomenal boom in the fifties and sixties gave the family-run business the momentum to develop their own brand of tobacco, Three Star Blue. They launched a catalog and mail-order service, and began filling orders worldwide. Ries’ daughter Rosalie married Stanley Levi, and Ries passed the business onto his son-in-law. The current owner, Chuck Levi, joined the business as a young man in the fifties, allowing his father to travel the world and gather pipes never before available to American consumers. His own son Kevin Levi now manages the business. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Loop: Chicago Detours leads learning expeditions in the city

Architecture, Chicago History, Loop No Comments »

Photo: Kristine Sherred

Standing just inside the Dearborn Street entrance of Chase Tower, Amanda Scotese welcomes her Friday Chicago Detours group to “Explore the Loop without Freezing.” This morning brings only four curious people together, but Scotese caps the number of tickets at twenty anyway, creating what she characterizes as a unique, personal and immersive urban experience. The attendees give their names and hometowns before Scotese pulls out the multimedia component, an iPad, starting with a nineteenth-century clip of a Chicago intersection and a Studs Terkel snippet.

“It’s not just facts. This is about stories and a theme that binds them together,” says Scotese.

Her digital collection of archival footage, ephemera and images “you can’t piece together on the Internet” complement her mental reserve of “forgotten stories,” as she calls the fascinating history she shares at each stop. She encourages questions and conversation, fostering a collaborative educational environment unlike the talking head on run-of-the-mill tours.

“People love to learn!” she exclaims. “I don’t pretend to know everything, and I’m not into making up answers.” Anything she doesn’t know, she researches and posts answers to on the Chicago Detours blog. Read the rest of this entry »

Romancing the River: Falling in love with the underbelly of the city from the water taxi

Architecture, Essays & Commentary, Loop No Comments »

By Dina Elenbogen

I am floating in the underbelly of the city, the same way the summer my son was an infant, walking along the lake with him strapped to my body at dawn, I’d feel as if I were moving through the underbelly of the day. On this boat I take to work, floating under bridges and taking in new angles and facades of buildings, this city feels unfamiliar. It’s like looking into a face you’ve known for a long time and seeing an entirely new quality of beauty.

I used to envy friends who were able to walk only steps from the train to their buildings but now I realize that I am the lucky one. After a thirty-minute train ride on which I review for the writing class I’ll teach later in the morning, I arrive in the city, walk a few steps, and my boat is usually waiting for me. I step off the pier at Wacker and down a few steps into the yellow boat. I usually sit uncovered on a bench in the back. Some mornings I’ll commune with the red steel bridges that we pass between Madison (1922), and the Michigan Avenue Bridge (1920). Other times it will be the glass facades of the newer buildings next to the old stone and turrets of the Crain Communications Building and the Wrigley Building. If the boat didn’t hit the cement at Michigan Avenue to disembark, I’d probably drift away with my thoughts all morning. Read the rest of this entry »

411: A Walk through the Park’s History

Chicago History, Green, Loop No Comments »

If you have ever gone to Lollapalooza, attended a concert at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion or simply strolled through its elegant gardens, you should consider joining Lawrence Okrent and the Friends of Downtown this Thursday, December 2, for a brown-bag luncheon presentation about the origins and rich history of Grant Park.

Urban planning and zoning expert Okrent (who prefers to be called Larry) has more than forty years experience navigating the history and peculiarities of Chicago land development. Not to mention that over his career, Okrent has amassed an extensive archive of aerial and historical photographs of Chicago. Who better then to illustrate the complex history of Grant Park.

Okrent can tell you, for example, that the land that is now Grant Park was once just a gap of water standing between the natural Lake Michigan shoreline and the elevated Illinois Trestle just to the east. And you might be interested to learn that that little water gap was first filled in with rubble from the Great Fire or that the park didn’t attain its characteristic landscaping until the 1920’s and thirties. Read the rest of this entry »

Field Day: Keeping the green dream alive on State Street

Chicago History, Loop No Comments »

Chicago lost an international icon in 2006 when Marshall Field’s was officially changed into a Macy’s, a company largely associated with New York. And despite the time that has elapsed, to many Chicagoans, including Jim McKay, this change was an insult that will not go on without a fight.

So fight is what they have done, even as the years have worn on. McKay’s Field’s Fans Chicago (, a non-sponsored, non-commercial and non-profit group that is not affiliated with Marshall Field’s or any of its previous owners, began organizing and sharing its opinion on the matter as soon as the change was made. Field’s Fans has been keeping its ear to the ground to keep up with the general opinion of Chicago shoppers on the question at hand. Read the rest of this entry »

Spinning Wheels? Chicago’s bike-share program might not get a fair trial without public funding

Bicycling, Loop, Politics No Comments »

Denver’s B-cycle bike-sharing program—500 bikes, fifty kiosks—received a million dollars in city and state funding. Minneapolis’ not-for-profit Nice Ride program—1,000 bikes, sixty kiosks—received $350,000 in funding from its city. Almost $7 million in federal, state and local funding will expand the DC/Arlington SmartBike program to 500 bikes, fifty kiosks. Boston will start their program with $3 million in federal funding, likely with 2,500 bikes and 290 kiosks.

Chicago? Chicago’s new B-cycle program (, operated by bike-rental company Bike and Roll, receives zero dollars in public funding. It launched July 30 with 100 bikes at six kiosks, mostly downtown along the lakefront. Memberships are $35, with the first hour free and every half-hour after that $2.50, up to $40 a day, encouraging shorter trips. Getting a widespread, affordable bike-sharing program in our flat city is still an uphill battle. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Power Tea

Events, Loop No Comments »

An iPad and a handful of iPhone 4s sit on the table at the Argo Tea at Dearborn and Adams at 8:30 in the morning. Their owners are gathered around the table, and even while they talk to each other, their devices are hard at work. Pek Pongpaet’s iPad shows off an app he created, a database of inspirational business quotes. Bruno Pieroni’s iPhone snaps a picture of a bar code on a pack of gum and instantaneously he knows what store will give him the best price. I take a photo of Erin Borreson’s business card with my iPhone and, suddenly, I’m directed to her website. It’s not an Apple gathering, it’s likemind, a monthly meetup on the third Friday of the month for people interested in creativity and technology. You don’t actually have to be an Apple devotee to attend, but be prepared to defend your smartphone of choice. Some people come to trade business cards, while others just want to hear what new innovations creative techies are excited about. “There’s no set rules. There’s no set agenda,” says Mike Maddaloni, who helps coordinate the events. Allison Hosack, a leadership development consultant who also does personal training, laughs as she looks at her phone. “He’s a quick little sucker, ain’t he. I already got a LinkedIn request from Pek.” She looks at the QR code on Erin’s business card that sent me to Erin’s website. “You want to barter personal training for cards?” (Ella Christoph)