Street Smart Chicago

The Life of the (Caffeinated) Mind: How to Spend All Your Spare Cash on Nothing But Books and Coffee in a Single Afternoon

Hyde Park, Lit No Comments »
Seminary Coop/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Seminary Coop/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Baldino

1. Start at the Sip & Savor on the corner of 53rd and South Hyde Park. Order the Signature Caramel Royale, and then be amazed that they managed to fit some coffee in with all that caramel.

2. Take a leisurely stroll down to 55th Street, admiring the architecture as the caffeine slowly comes into effect, boosting the metabolic rate and increasing the levels of your neurotransmitters.

3. As the colors come to life in your eyes and the breeze comes in off the lake, reflect on that lovely line from Rimbaud “the winds have ruffled my assassin hair.”

4. Decide to cut your afternoon constitutional short and really get some things done in your life. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye of the Beholden: Finding Beauty On and Around Campus

Architecture, Hyde Park, Washington Park No Comments »
Photo: Tom Rossiter

Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Amanda Scotese

The brainy students of the University of Chicago often get so wrapped up in their grand ideas that they lose site of the beauty around them. I remember all the lectures and hours in the Reg blurring together during my time in U of C’s Master of Arts Program, but what I don’t remember blurring are the moments that I took to appreciate the beauty of the campus, especially since I’ve made a career out of loving architectural history through my tour company, Chicago Detours. Next time you want a little inspiration from your surroundings or simply a study break, think of this quick guide to the incredible architecture and artifacts of the U of C campus.

Let’s start with some history of U of C. The city of Chicago began to grow in prominence on the world stage in the late 1800s but lacked in the institution of higher education category. To rectify this problem, merchandising mogul Marshall Field—think “Field Museum”—donated land for a campus. John D. Rockefeller took the torch next and funded construction with the hope that Chicago’s new university would be the Baptist “Harvard” of the West. The University of Chicago was born.

Challenged with building a new university from the ground up to rival East Coast scholarship, primary architect Henry Ives Cobb chose the “Collegiate Gothic” architectural style to launch it into, at least, the aesthetic big leagues. All the stone, gargoyles and clay tile roofs mimic the architecture of historic European paragons like Oxford University. Ultimately, the style took to the medieval period in order to give itself a veneer that looked the part of those institutions that founded the classic roots of scholarship. Read the rest of this entry »

Chasing Temporary Anonymity: Find the Courage to Be a Nobody

Education/Training, Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park 2 Comments »
Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

Harper Library/Photo: Tom Rossiter

By Greg Langen, MA ’13

Welcome to the University of Chicago. If the manicured quadrangles did not tip you off, you have arrived at one of the most intellectually rigorous and prestigious research universities in the world. But I’m sure you already know this. I’m sure you’ve already looked up the rankings of the school and your particular programs, crosschecked them with the schools that rejected you, compared them with the school that that one kid from your high school got into. If you are an incoming First Year, I’m sure you’re a bit anxious about starting classes, a bit uneasy about those things that you saw on your roommate’s Facebook page. And I know some of you are rapidly wondering where you can buy fresh goji berries or coconut water in Chicago. Don’t worry. I’m sure they’re here somewhere.

However, before you allow the pomp to confer upon you either a sense of accomplishment and/or an obligation to be unendingly brilliant, I kindly ask you to find the courage this year to be an absolute nobody.

Last year, before setting foot on campus, I made the mistake of Googling the notable University of Chicago alumni, assuming that in some absurd and distant way me and say, Philip Glass, were now somehow connected. We aren’t. At all. Read the rest of this entry »

The Air Down Here: Finding Myself in Hyde Park Without Even Attending the University

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park, Lit, Literary Venues No Comments »

photoBy John Wilmes

At first, I felt like an outcast. I lived against my will in quaint, pastoral places, and screamed about things which no one near me understood. I saw the city as my escape. At first, I merely wanted to belong to Chicago, to belong to it at all.

But once I did, once I’d been paying too much rent and squeezing through the Blue Line for some months, jittery with my sense of inclusion, I grew to want something more. I wanted for my leanings—my preferences for the written, for the expressed, for the over-thought and the intellectually overwrought—to flow freely. For my bibliophilia and existential self-pummeling to be worth something; for them to find a home. I’d long assumed the city was pure fertilizer for the madness I’d always felt, that it was a place for my socio-political yowling to take root, to bloom. This, I thought, was where the alienation I felt through all my suburban life, through all my years in the Big Ten, would be assuaged.

But it wasn’t. I was too surrounded by those merely feigning to feel what I felt. They’d only scheme tragic visions with me until they found a beer, a joint, the correctly musty bar, or the sound of a song that was properly sold to them—at which point they were as opiated as anyone, and closed themselves to the continued crocheting of our dystopian, perversely celestial quilt of the world. I would have to stay up sculpting it myself in Microsoft Word, through any number of failed novels. I would have to fall asleep with my shoes and sweatshirt on, with all of the lights on, with my fingers on the keyboard. Read the rest of this entry »

My Confidants, the Gargoyles

Hyde Park No Comments »
GargoylebyTomRossiter

Photo: Tom Rossiter

Even though they’re everywhere, nobody on campus ever mentions the gargoyles. When I first arrived at U of C, the only offspring of unschooled immigrants to attend an elite university, they were the first thing I noticed.

Hailing from a cookie-cutter suburb where what differentiated the boxy little houses was the color of plastic tile inside (your choice of pink, aqua, or baby blue), I marveled at the hand-carved stone, the unique and imposing presence of the gargoyles. Didn’t anyone else wonder why, for instance, on the street side of  Cobb Gate, four little creatures scamper upwards, but on the quad side, another six scurry amidst the contorting heads and eyes of griffins? Wasn’t anyone else curious?

In my first days in this strange place, I nursed my loneliness in crannies atop the Social Science building and Wieboldt Hall where you could buy bad coffee for a few cents and stare the gargoyles guarding Harper Library right in the eye. Dining in Hutchinson Commons with glib classmates from private-school-pedigree stocks, I drew strength from the grotesques banded like rosettes into the stone outside. Before ducking into Bond Chapel, I would schmooze with the mischievous critters frolicking amongst the saintly human faces on the west facade, embarrassed to admit which I felt closer to. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark the Music: U2 and One Man’s Escape From Everyday Life at the U of C

Essays & Commentary, Hyde Park No Comments »
U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

U2 at U Chicago, April 11, 1981/Photos: Paul Sandberg

By Bart Lazar, AB ’82

Music can be a great diversion, punctuate life’s experiences or be a life’s work. New students at UChicago or new residents in Hyde Park should not eliminate music from life’s major food groups.

WHPK 88.5FM, the university’s and community’s radio outlet, is definitely worth many listens. The music includes indie, rock, folk, blues, jazz, dusties, R&B, classical and live bands, and the hosts are as diverse as the music, including a mix of current undergraduates, graduates, alumni and community members. In today’s world of computer-programmed commercial and Internet radio outlets, it is refreshing to hear an actual human being presenting music and/or information that he/she cares passionately about.

My first day of orientation week, I walked up the elbowed steps of the Reynolds Club and ran into the station’s program director hanging around talking. I told him I had been a DJ in high school and was interested in continuing. He said “great, how would you like Friday afternoon?” Read the rest of this entry »

Those Quirky Kids: The Re-Education of the U Chicago Grad

Education/Training, Hyde Park No Comments »
Photo: Monika Lagaard

Photo: Monika Lagaard

By Erin Kelsey, AB ’12

I graduated from the College of the University of Chicago in June 2012, and I started my job at the University of Chicago one week later. I joined the Alumni Relations and Development (ARD) staff at one of the university’s “schools and units”—which is to say, one of the smaller, independent organizations under the umbrella of the university. In plain language, that means I’m a fundraiser, but not the kind of fundraiser who calls up my fellow alumni to ask for donations.

While I haven’t taken a class in more than a year, my time with the university as an employee has still been educational, as I’ve experienced the vast perspective shift between undergraduates and the rest of the community. That shift was evident immediately: not so removed from my O-Week, I went to new-employee orientation for a long, antiseptic treatment of the school’s history, and I sipped their coffee and waited to hear something new. I didn’t. It was only interesting to see them leave out the unsavory bits of history and how they explained the “quirky student body” to employees who didn’t know Hyde Park. Read the rest of this entry »

Gentlemen’s Club: When Football Came (Back) to the University of Chicago

Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »
Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

By Martin Northway, X’70

“Isn’t that where all the Reds are?” was a common reaction among my high-school classmates when I told them I was enrolling at the University of Chicago. Even in the sixties, what attracted me to Chicago was its abundance of libertarian scholars—led by Milton Friedman—and the prospect of a liberal arts education anchored by the Common Core. I originally fancied myself an economics major but later abandoned it for less-depressing American history. Mainly, I wanted to write.

The last thing I thought I would do at U of C was play football. But I found myself drawn to the purity it preserved in the sport, unlike the tainted and excessive adulation given by my high school, a national power running up a string of consecutive victories that would stand for a decade. What U of C had was a football club, a stew of undergraduates and grad students of diverse abilities.

U of C had been a power in the Big Ten (originally the Western Conference) under legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, but ultimately its small undergraduate talent pool could not compete against Midwest behemoths. A last flash of greatness was back Jay Berwanger’s selection as the first Heisman winner in 1935. (I joined his Psi Upsilon fraternity, again an athletes’ sanctuary.) U of C left big-time football in its rear-view mirror in 1939. To some—especially President Robert M. Hutchins—it was good riddance. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Southwest Side Sojourn

Bicycling, Brighton Park, Checkerboard City, Garfield Ridge, Green No Comments »
IMG_8022

The secret path by Bubbly Creek. Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

I must be a glutton for punishment. That’s the only way to explain my decision to scout out a new “stealth route” bicycle itinerary from Bridgeport to the ‘burbs along the Sanitary and Ship Canal last week, in ninety-five-degree heat. This was to be the continuation of a route I reconnoitered last year from the Loop to the Daleys’ ancestral home, hugging the South Branch of the Chicago River—you can read that writeup at tinyurl.com/SouthBranchRoute.

Completed in 1900, the canal was dug in order to reverse the flow of the river, to keep sewage from entering Chicago’s water supply. It still carries our treated wastewater to the Des Plaines River, and it serves as the only shipping link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Circular Reasoning

Checkerboard City, Loop 1 Comment »
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Michael Edwards with the “Give” sculpture at The Gateway/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The State Street shopping district has come a long way since the seventies and eighties when the strip featured a motley assortment of discount stores, theaters showing exploitation flicks, adult bookstores, strip clubs and flophouses. The thoroughfare has bounced back since the 1996 State Street Revitalization Project, which put in the classy Beaux Arts fixtures we enjoy today, and is once again a vibrant retail corridor.

But the Chicago Loop Alliance, one of the downtown chambers of commerce, is always looking for ways to attract more visitors to That Great Street. One of their key strategies is “placemaking,” taking underused public spaces and activating them with facilities and programs that encourage folks to hang out, relax and socialize.

The chamber’s Pop-Up Art Loop program turns empty storefronts into temporary galleries, which are promoted with monthly art walks. Earlier this summer the CLA and the Chicago Department of Transportation installed tables, chairs and planter boxes in an existing plaza on the median of State between Wacker Drive and Lake Street, now called The Gateway. Last week “Give,” a fourteen-foot-tall circular steel sculpture by Chicago artist Dusty Folwarczny, was installed at the foot of the plaza. Read the rest of this entry »