New Years Eve in Chicagoland

As a child at home in the 1960’s, it was about watching the ball drop in New York at 11 Central on TV and then turning on whatever Chicago hosted an hour later for a second New Year’s eve celebration. Sometimes I didn’t make it past 11 pm. On occasion, we would go to a friends house to spend the night. I would play with the other kids upstairs and of course, the parents would do the unspeakable…have fun. .drink…dance to the sounds of Mitch Miller in their finished basement.

Sometimes other shows were on that hosted Guy Lombardo’s Band playing Auld Lang Syne; his final New Year’s Eve appearance took place in New York, 1976. Not many may remember him.  And if Guy Lombardo traveled to Chicago, many celebrated bringing in the New Year at the Aragon Ballroom to listen to his orchestra, which was a powerhouse attraction in the 1940s. Aragon is still in existence today at West Lawrence Ave in Uptown Chicago as I talked about in another article. The Aragon was known as one of the most elegant ballrooms in the world and has a capacity of 5,000 still offering live entertainment.

If my parents went out for a New Years Eve extravaganza…before my time, it was also to the beautiful Edgewater Beach Hotel, a resort hotel complex on Lake Michigan that featured such stars as Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Other new year celebrations included live music at the Willowbrook Ballroom, that had a history of over 80 years entertainment before it was destroyed by fire just a couple of years. A variety of big bands would take the stage for dancing events that occurred on a 6,000 square foot dance floor.

Over the decades, restaurants, ballrooms, a special trip in the 1970’s to New York, a Carribean cruise during the 1980’s where Caribbean Queen was a popular song at the time and other historic trips and traditions have come and gone. But for those who celebrate at home in front of their screens, you can still watch the ball drop in New York and catch other Chicago New Year’s festivities from all media, too numerous to mention. Certainly not on only four to eight channels back in the day.

Today, popular celebrations that have created timeless tradition in Chicago is a trip to Navy Pier where you can enjoy entertainment and family attractions. Navy Pier offered exquisite cruises along the lakefront with an amazing fireworks display on New Years Eve. Many may have reserved a table to celebrate New Years at a fine restaurant in Chicago that offers the best in fine dining such as The Signature Room at the 95th. In the Western suburbs, you may want to try the most popular Meson Sabika in Naperville where you can enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner at this Spanish tapas restaurant.

Maybe your New Years Eve is just centered around pizza delivery, lots of wine and banging pots and pans in your yard with the little ones.  Regardless of how you spend the evening,hopefully, the New Year will bring to you nothing less than an abundance of health, happiness and peace.

Happy New Year!

Memories of the Pump Room

In my best dress, I barely remember eating in a beautiful booth with my Mom and Dad; one of my first Baby boomer childhood trips of elegance. In later years, I celebrated a friend from college’s birthday and excited about seeing the unexpected appearance of one of Charlie’s Angels; a TV series in the late 1970’s and Kate Jackson was her name from the program. My daughter also celebrated a friends birthday at the Pump Room in the 2000’s; bottom picture, my daughter, is second from the right. Dining at the Pump Room, opening on October 1st in 1938 and located at the famous Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago was a popular place for many celebrities who wanted to be seen such as Frank Sinatra, Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and even Judy Garland and her children. It was the infamous booth number one where they would eat together. It always remained vacant until someone important arrived. The table actually had access to a rotary phone where they could make and receive calls. They could also unplug the phone from the wall if they wanted privacy.

Ernie Byfield created the restaurant based on the concept of the original Pump Room in Bath, England, where aristocrats would meet and wanted the same for celebrities visiting Chicago. It worked. Another area I remember is the hall leading to the restaurant that for over 50 years have shared the framed celebrity photos that fill the walls of the room’s entrance, lives that are gone for many. The Ambassador East was located on the northeast corner of State Parkway and Goethe Street in Chicago ‘s Gold Coast area and later was renamed. Until the 1950’s, train travel across the US was the only way and celebrities would have a special cross-country Pullman car switching at the LaSalle Street Station. Sometimes they would stay overnight but they did have a suite where they could freshen before returning to the train. Many stayed for lunch at the Pump room. Irv Kupcinet also talked about the Pump room and his celebrity interviews in his column for the Chicago Sun-times.

According to a wonderful article by Dr. Neil Gail, Saving Illinois History One Step At A Time, in 2010 real estate developer Ian Schrager—known for cofounding New York’s Studio 54—buys the Ambassador East for $25 million. In 2011, assets are auctioned off including the phone and is remodeled which reopens as Public Chicago. In 2016, Schrager sells Public Chicago to investors Shapack Partners and Gaw Capital for $61.5 million. In 2017, the hotel is renamed Ambassador Chicago. Rich Melman’s restaurant group, which formerly owned the Pump Room, returns to manage the space and renames it Booth One. After a remodel, the team installs a rotary phone at the famed table. The actually operated the Pump Room from 1976-1998.

The Pump Room went through many changes before finally closing in 2019. Ebay offers some great items of the historic Pump room including a variety of match covers, boxes and menus.

Do you remember the Edgewater Beach Hotel?

My friends father was a stagehand for a few years during the 1940’s. He helped take the stage curtain down to replace, clean and helped with lights for live shows. His father was a kid then and would sometimes also help in the radio booth since a radio program did evolve from the hotel.  It was a strictly formal environment even though he had to get his hands dirty sometimes. He met Zsa, Zsa Gabor, Debbie Reynolds, Vic Damone as well as many other headliners.  The dining room, alone, could seat over one thousand people. He worked there for about four years. My parents also stayed their for relaxation to celebrate the new year and to see my mother’s favorite, the Tommy Dorsey Band. As WTTW tells us, it was a Chicago landmark — a lavish pink resort that stood on the lakefront at Sheridan near Foster for almost half a century. The Edgewater Beach Hotel has been closed since 1967, yet the memories linger on.

The hotel was huge and besides the hotel’s own radio station, a precursor to WGN with the call letters WEBH, there was a heliport, a print shop and a movie theater. It opened  on June 3, 1916 and anyone who was a star sang and danced at the hotel.  In the winter months, the bands played in the Marine Dining Room and, in the summer months, outdoors on the marble-tiled Beach Walk. Many parents of friends celebrated their proms or attended wedding receptions. Many visited taking romantic walks on the massive private beach.

According to Wikipedia, The 1951–54 extension of Lake Shore Drive from Foster Avenue to Hollywood Avenue reduced direct access to Lake Michigan, leading to a reduction in business. After the hotel was cut off from the lake by the new drive, a swimming pool was added in 1953. In 1960, in order to compete with popular downtown hotels, the Edgewater Beach underwent a $900,000 renovation which included the installation of air conditioning. King gave a major address at the conference to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation at the hotel. The hotel closed in 1967 due to financial reasons. Demolition of the hotel complex began in the fall of 1969 and was completed by 1971.

However, a portion of the complex is still available to visit. In 1994, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and also belongs in the Bryn Mawr Historic District. Currently known as the Edgewater Beach apartments, there is still a lush foyer, a small library, a cafe, private gardens and a indoor pool.

 

 

Chicago’s Navy Pier

My childhood memories of Navy Pier were just that, a pier that was cold, dark and gloomy. A pier that was falling apart, in transition, and far from the dazzle we have today. In fact, the last of the World War II generation remembers it as a training ground to fight. Over the decades, Navy Pier has demonstrated a variety of purpose.

Navy Pier was designed as a municipal pier in 1916 and host to a prison for draft dodgers during World War I. It was named Navy Pier in 1927 as a tribute to navy veterans who served in the first World War. In World War II, the pier was used a center to train pilots and according to Navy Pier’s current website, over 200 planes can still be found at the bottom of Lake Michigan. During these training years, tens of thousands of boys that were drafted used the facility and could also exercise in a huge gym, cafeteria and theater for entertainment.

After the war in 1946, Navy Pier hosted students from the University of Illinois for a two year program though they did have to finish their four year degree at the home campus in Champaign/Urbana. Finally to complete a degree at one campus, Chicago’s Circle Campus ( an new annex of the University of Illinois) was born in 1965. At that time, Navy Pier needed a new face lift.

Since the 20th Century, Navy Pier has been transformed into acres of parks, fine dining, fabulous cruises, a ferris wheel that holds 300 people, and much more. As a result of much to do at the Pier and year round events, Navy Pier proudly holds the number one tourist attraction position in the Midwest. Cruises on the Odyssey, Spirit of Chicago and Mystic Blue offer special holiday festivities and great ideas to spend New Years Eve with your loved ones.

Besides taking a cruise, some of the restaurants can provide a great eating experience and waterfront views. Some of the favorites are Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Big City Chicken, Frankie’s Pizza, and Tiny Tavern where you can stop for a cocktail.

Presently, the Fifth Third Bank is sponsoring Winter Wonderfest at the pier Friday, November 30, 2018 – Sunday, January 6, 2019. featuring 170,000 square feet of carnival rides, giant slides, holiday-themed activities, and Indoor Ice Skating Rink, and more.

Celebrate your Chicago New Year’s Eve. Book your tickets to the 7th Annual Chicago Resolution Gala. The Resolution Gala is the top Chicago New Year’s Eve party going down this year. Every year up to 3,000 guests gather inside of the Grand Ballroom to ring in their New Year. Celebrate your night with food, drinks, a top live DJ, and the perfect intro to 2018 in Chicago!

 

Summers at Lake Michigan

For me, it all began at Rainbow beach which also had an expansive park for picnics. I remember the water purification plant which is now called Eugene Sawyer Purification Plant. My memories of Rainbow had a lot to due with dead fish on the beach and closings due to poor water quality during the 1960’s so since the Southside of Chicago wasn’t that far from Indiana and someone had a car, we would head to Indiana Dunes.

The Dunes was less than an hour from Chicago so a day trip was perfect. Located in Porter County, the beach offered about 15 miles of sandy shoreline with great hiking trails and camp grounds. Though some people became afraid to go to the Dunes in July of 1966 since three young women in bathing suits left the beach, climbed in a small motorboat and were never seen again. Others found the Dunes extremely crowded and in the 1970’s so many of us gravitated to Warren Dunes in Michigan instead.

Warren Dunes has three miles of shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and is open year-round. It also has a dune formation that rises 260 feet above the lake with spectacular views and 1,952 acres of recreational opportunity. Located in Sawyer Michigan, the dunes was approximately an hour and 30 minutes from the city by car and you could take a train from Union Station. The beach was never crowded and always clean. Among the park’s dunes are Mt. Fuller, Pikes Peak, and Mt. Edwards, with the most significant being Tower Hill, the highest point in the park, which stands 240 feet (73 meters) above the Lake Michigan. And downtown Sawyer offered bookstores and antique shops.

Throughout the 1980’s, I lived in the Waukegan area teaching high school and sometimes spending my summers working other jobs or going to school. But did I spend alot of time at Waukegan Harbor and Illinois Beach State Park. In fact, I could hear foghorns from my kitchen window…only a few miles from Waukegan Harbor and the Marina.

The first times I sailed, I did with friends from the Waukegan Harbor and when we didn’t sail, many would fish and take a walk out to the lighthouse. One of the best seafood restaurants was located their called Mathons, which had portholes for windows and a friendly bar. On the fourth of July in 1987, we went down to the Harbor for fireworks and I was pregnant with my son. He had been fairly quiet up until that night when he kicked up a storm at listening to the sounds. He was born only a few weeks later.

The first time I said the words Illinois State Beach Park or was it Illinois Beach State Park when I was in third grade on a stage; terrified to speak. I was so worried that my informational one minute speech, completely memorized, would be botched. It was not by choice. It was a place in Illinois given to me by my teacher to research. All third graders was assigned this project.

That is the first thing that I remembered as a guest at the beach and park. Oh, my, it really does exist! Illinois Beach State Park  stretched 6.5 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan in Zion. The 4,160-acre park, consisted of two separate areas (North Unit and South Unit), which offered ample opportunities for swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and simply appreciating nature.

In the 1990s, 2000’s and now, I live in Downers Grove with a pool and a pond in the back yard though I don’t think the pond would be good for you! (Caddyshack movie joke for some who remember. In the movie, the pond was better for you.

However, today, my adult children and I travel back and forth, up and down. We have taken a walk at Rainbow beach, had ice cream at the Waukegan Harbor, took pictures of what used to be the beer store at Illinois Beach State Park, explored the Dunes and added Michigan City to our travels.

All through one’s lifetime, great vacations still spent on the shore’s of Lake Michigan!

 

Without the Weekly Reader

Decades of children, all ages, couldn’t wait until Fridays when the weekly newspaper was passed out in school.  Ninety years ago, the first edition of the Weekly Reader was distributed on September 21, 1928 and was an immediate success. The first edition catered to older children and a second edition to younger ones; introduced in 1929. By 1931, there were four editions complementing a variety of grades with a circulation of over a million. After a series of several owners in the last fifteen years, Scholastic no longer publishes the reader as we knew it since 2012.

A few years ago, I shared my surprise and sadness over the news of discontinuing the Weekly Reader with my cousin a few years ago who was almost as old the Readers life. We shared our fascinating stories of invention and themes of the week which included anything from safety to volunteering for others even though my experiences were younger than his.

He asked if we had to pay for the Weekly Reader and in 1934 it was approximately 20 cents a semester. In the early 1960’s, my mother always wrote a check every year for the Weekly Reader for me to read about mice going to the moon, a memorial to John F Kennedy and finally men taking that  one historical step for mankind on the moon with the Apollo landing in 1969.  Great progress and history was made as I traveled through the years with my Weekly Reader.

After researching the Weekly Reader, I found one for sale from 1935; a perfect gift for his 84th birthday that he would be celebrating along with the reader.  In January of 1935, it was time to celebrate the birthday of Ben Franklin and his ideas on thrift while articles today in 2012 focus on the similar including protecting the environment and recycling.

However, the main story of 1935 was Old and New Ways to Travel which compared the old steam engine to a new train engine that pulls cars that are streamlined and cuts through the wind. America by rail today is still available with luxury suites and trains that can exceed 300 miles per hour.  Another form of travel mentioned was the celebration of the Wright plane built in 1903 being able to stay in the air 59 seconds. And, of course, new planes had taken part in the event and some of them went three miles in a minute. What a change there has been in airplanes in 31 years.”      “What a change there has been in airplanes in 109 years,” those same individuals would say about the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the new airplane of the 21st Century. Who would have thought you could view a presentation on your computer introducing this dream in the sky.

Wig Wags, the dog, shares experiences in a designated column and children still respond enthusiastically to the little canine friends who can really talk. While another column talks about safety and the game stop and go. A boy plays a policeman with a stop-go- sign and whistle which he blows while turning the sign to stop. A girl is riding her bicycle and must stop when the police boy blows his whistle. She gets a ticket if she does not follow the rules and after three, must forfeit something she likes.

Ultimately, the lessons of the Weekly Reader have never lost their relevance, a treasured memory added to the scrapbook once again. However, Scholastic does publish a weekly nonfiction print and digital magazine for elementary classrooms. They use the most-taught science, social studies, and safety topics to create a multimedia curriculum

For us, the Weekly Reader exemplified more than a just a recap of current events but a cherished time for so many every Friday afternoon during rain, sleet, snow and sun when the Reader was placed in our hands to begin our weekend.

Courtesy of Ebay who offers many vintage copies of the Weekly reader.

Old Town then and now

It was approximately 1749 North Wells which is now an apartment building but was a quaint stone building with a court yard built in the early 1930s. And not only home to my Aunt and Uncles apartment but Van Sydow Moving Company, where my uncle was a supervisor.

I was only about five when he passed away in 1960 and my Aunt moved to an apartment in the suburbs. But I remember the great windows of their large apartment that looked out over the exquisite tree-lined Wells street. I remember the enchanting courtyard where I would chase fairies and the first remote control that changed the channels on their console television.

I remember my Aunt hating God when my Uncle died. She met a new man a few years later just as special but we returned to Wells street many times to talk about her memories of Old Town as well as create new memories for me.

Many have commented that rents had plummeted in the 1960’s and Old Town was the most populated hippy neighborhood in the Midwest. It was the 1960’s that I remember bits and pieces of the Old Town Art Fair which I have enjoyed over the years. On an average, over 200 artists still display their creative work in June every year.

And after the fair or just spending a weekend in Old Town,  it was the Pickle Barrel restaurant that opened in 1960 on Wells that I went to several times where I remember being greeted with a barrel of kosher dill pickles and popcorn  for snacking. The walls displayed a variety of antiques and tables/chairs did not match.

The first Crate and Barrel store opened on Wells street in 1962 filled with European pottery and glass in. And another all time favorite for me was the original Pipers Alley, a cobblestone passageway that housed several eclectic shops and theater at 1608 Wells street.  The alley lent itself to original Victorian architecture.  A huge Tiffany lamp fixture hung over the the trip down the alley that included an old fashioned candy store,  poster shops, a candle shop, and even a pizza place.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Old Town became the center of Chicago folk music which was experiencing a revival at the time.

In 1957, the Old Town School of Folk Music opened at 333 West North Avenue and stayed at that address until 1968, when the school moved to 909 West Armitage Avenue. It has retained the name, although it is no longer located within Old Town. Singer-songwriters such as Bob Gibson, Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, and John Prine played at several clubs on Wells Street, such as The Earl of Old Town.

According to Wikipedia, The Old Town School of Folk Music was closely associated with these artists and clubs. One large and successful folk club was Mother Blues, which featured nationally known artists and groups such as Jose Feliciano, Odetta, Oscar Brown Jr., Josh White, and Chad Mitchell. It also presented comedian George Carlin, Sergio Mendez, Brazil ’66, and The Jefferson Airplane.

In later years and today, I still walk the streets of Old Town enjoying the great shopping and entertainment such as Second City, The Chicago History Museum and O’Briens restaurant.

 

Martin Luther King Jr. is dead: Chicago begins to burn

I was in front of the television set when Martin Luther King Jr was shot.  I remember the black and white newscast of frantic  cameraman capturing the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee where he had come to lead a peaceful march and a lone nut named James Earl Ray shot him as he was standing there.

The single shot was heard across the world, especially in Chicago as he was rushed to St. Josephs hospital and pronounced dead on the evening of April, 4th 1968. I was only 12 and his assassination plunged the city of Chicago into massive violence and turmoil. The Chicago Reader calls it the night Chicago burned and many discuss it today since Chicago’s murder rate has increased.

Many ask if the same past measures in calling the National Guard is something that we should do today when there are problems in the city. There are others that feel the riots had nothing to do with Martin Luther King and just about looting and burning.

Many don’t want to talk about it because it added to racial fear and the white flight.  It wasn’t even dark yet as commuters tried to get home among massive traffic jams where chaos ensued especially on the Eisenhower expressway that night fifty years ago.

Strangely, the Eisenhower stills see’s it minutes of closure due to shootings, one that just occurred not long ago. Riots began breaking out and news captured the violence but what was happening in the city was not the massive rioting but the raging fires that were set, one after another that was annihilating Chicago business in 1968. aFrom what sources claim, the police and fire department admitted they they were out of their control and needed help. According to the Chicago Reader, nearly 600 alarms were tripped in 24 hours. We stayed in our homes, evacuating city streets. It was then that Daley made the decision. Approximately 12,000 army troopers and 6,000 National Guardsmen took over the city.

According to the Chicago Tribune,Mayor Richard J. Daley later told reporters that he had ordered police “to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand . . . and . . . to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city.” No official death toll is given but approximately 11 people died though approximately 500 were injured and many businesses destroyed. Blocks and buildings were gutted and in some sections of the city, remain the same.

And what were our feelings in my neighborhood, Calumet Heights? Though young enough to not quite get it, in my home, family and friends, I saw massive fear along with realtors telling everyone that their houses would drop like a rock and their post war businesses annihilated. This was just the beginning. My father had died a year prior and my mother and I were alone. The house needed alot of work so she was planning on downgrading anyway to an apartment.

We moved in 1970.  Over a half a million fled the city between 1970-1975 for safety in the suburbs and as children, that was the last thing we wanted. Starting high school in the suburbs was a foggy experience since my time spent growing up in Calumet Heights and Pill Hill was amazing along with many new black friends that felt the same way. At reunions today, many of us discuss that time with a deep seated sadness that we will never forget; tarnished by that massive decision. Never again.

I have traveled through the old neighborhood many times. In 2010, I actually had the courage to knock on the front door of my old home. An elderly black woman answered the door as I proceeded to tell her that I had lived in her home many moons ago. She mentioned my maiden name, which many could never pronounce, but she did perfectly.  Mrs Grisham? I said buried in a bank of memory that I did not know was still there. She nodded, smiled and said the neighborhood was not what it used to be since the house had a heavy, metal screen that she did not open. I smiled thinking that we truly experienced the same. She bought the home from my mother. As she spoke, I was reminded of a beautiful black women sitting on the couch under my Dad’s most treasured wall mirror in the living room.  “I have been here 42 years and my husband passed. I raised my son on my own. Just like your mother.I just found the bill of sale to the home and remembered how I felt so terrible that you lost your father at such a young age. That was the reason your mother moved you to an apartment.

All these years later, she knew exactly what I felt. We both wanted the same opportunity as a child, adult and parent.  I can’t give you a tour, she paused still dressed in her pajamas, but she stood aside so I could see the couch that was similar to my own with Dad’s mirror framing it.  Now I was able to glimpse the woman I had become in the reflection of his mirror after all these years and somehow he was telling me that he approved.

Michigan Avenue Chicago: Through the decades

The first places that come to my mind when I think about Michigan Avenue in Chicago that decorate my childhood was The Art Institute and the Grant Park parking garage below street level.

Most of all, I remember driving from Michigan Ave to Lake Shore Drive and back again several times when a handmade sign was placed in front of the ramp to let travelers know that the garage was full. But they must have been pretty good about monitoring customers and that sign. It would always open for us to park if we circled patiently.

I would glance at the Prudential building as we would circle…For me the highest on the 41 floor where we visited the observation deck many times. But then in 1970, the John Hancock opened and at 100 stories high, it was the tallest building in the world.  Now, of course, Sears or should I say Willis in 1973 was built 110 stories surpassing the World Trade Center buildings in New York, destroyed on 9/11.

A trip to the Art Institute during my younger years would have me consumed by the most remarkable Thorne Miniature Rooms, sixty eight glass boxes in walls displaying European interiors from the late 13th century to the 1930s and American furnishings from the 17th century to the 1930s. Constructed on a scale of one inch to one foot,  rooms were designed by Mrs. James Ward Thorne of Chicago and constructed between 1932-1940. The Art Institute had the best museum shop that included a wonderful collection of art books, wall decor, special jewelry and charms. Now they have an expanded and you can order right now online.

During the 1960’s/1970’s, it was the historic Blackstone hotel on Michigan where I attended a young friends Bar Mitzvah in one of its banquet rooms. The Blackstone Hotel has been dubbed “The Hotel of Presidents”. It was once considered one of Chicago’s finest luxury hotels, and a dozen 20th-century U.S. presidents have stayed at the hotel. Today, the Blackstone is still a stunning hotel example with beautifully decorated rooms and marble bath facilities.

I still remember The Conrad Hilton on Michigan Ave in the early 1970’s where I attended an overnight convention now called Hilton Chicago. Hilton Chicago is still an elegant choice to stay in as it was for me as a young girl but today the Hilton has one of the largest fitness centers along with cellular phone rental and complimentary WiFi for Hilton Honors members.

Now known as the Magnificent mile,  north Michigan ave  boosted the construction of Water Tower Place in 1975 but in the 1960’s it was Saks Fifth Avenue that was probably the tallest most prominent shop.  900 North Michigan Shops is a visually stunning and highly desired shopping destination that resides on the north end of Chicago’s vibrant Magnificent Mile.

The exclusive tenant mix offers shoppers an unparalleled experience of more than 70 luxury lifestyle shops featuring Bloomingdale’s and a strong line-up of national brands perfectly complemented by an eclectic collection of unique boutiques and a diverse selection of delectable dining options.

Michigan Avenue extends south into near south side of Chicago and beyond – past what was once the notorious Levee District,  the historic Second Presbyterian Church, which was built in 1874 and still offers services today.

The former home of the legendary Chess Records at 2120 South Michigan. In 1993, Willie Dixon’s widow, Marie, purchased the building which was then renovated and re-opened in September 1997 with a dedication ceremony. It is now home to Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation.

The Lexington Hotel was a ten-story hotel in Chicago at 2135 S. Michigan Avenue that was built in 1892, once a home to Al Capone. The hotel was closed in 1980 and destroyed despite being a landmark.

 

Calumet Heights and Pill Hill Chicago

It began at 2436 East 91st Chicago Ill, 17. Phone: Essex 5-5930. That’s how I remember zip codes, addresses and phone numbers. It was called Calumet Heights where I went to Hoyne Elementary with Mrs O’Brien and because the area was overcrowded, a new school was built in time for first grade in 1962, Kate Sturgis Buckingham that provided kindergarten through fifth grade.

It was in the gym where we had a make- shift library session in the third grade where I sat and stared at the wall clock when President Kennedy was killed. Fourth and fifth grade were probably my favorite with Mrs. Mary Landon who taught me to write and love to read… the little girl that grew oh so much over the years as she wrote in my eighth grade autograph book from Joseph Warren Elementary in 1969. Though, my least favorite teacher was Mrs. Madsen at Warren school, I did win an award in my sixth grade class for writing an essay on Keep Chicago Clean. Overcrowded then at Warren, we had several mobile classes.

My friends are too numerous to mention and we still keep in touch today on Facebook. Some lived in what was known as Pill Hill, where many of my friends parents were doctors that worked at South Chicago Hospital and dentists though there was a variety of business owners in the area; some owned furniture stores.  We had a special group of girls called the Consolettes though I don’t exactly know why we were or established or  what we had done. Every week we met at each other’s home after school….that I remember.

Since we went home for lunch, many of us ate at Marcon’s restaurant, only a block from Warren. A hamburger, fries and Green River float was my standard. During the summer, the Jewish Community Center was next to Marcon’s and it was a special treat to go swimming in their outdoor pool. On 87th street, between Jeffrey and Stony Island we would travel to one place that had the best lochs and bagels, and Totville for clothes.  I think there was a Woolworths there too where I could spend my meager allowance.

I have been back to the old neighborhood many times through the decades. It is not quite the same. In 2009, I knocked on the door of my childhood home and a Mrs. Grishman opened the door. I told her who I was and she had just found the bill of sale when my Mom sold the house to her in 1970. She could not show me the inside but told me my Dad’s mirrors and glass work still decorated the interior.

Recently, I have been back and Buckingham School is closed. In the last few years it had been a special education school but CPS closed the school in 2013 due to lack of funding and need…just the opposite in my day when it was a booming community. The original Warren school had been built in 1920s which had been torn down and a new junior high built. A student was just shot in the playground not long ago.

The windows of Marcons restaurant are sealed with concrete and the community center is still there though I am not sure about the pool.  Perruso Cleaners is still there on 87th Street though most places are closed. However, at the corner of East End and 87th is Thomas’s restaurant….I am also certain that it is where I ate lochs, bagels, and now it  still has an excellent menu and reviews.

The homes have stayed the same with Pill Hill still remaining elegant and many have kept the same landscaping over the years. One day I did a Google run through the neighborhood and in my research found, that Mrs Grisham had died in 2014 and her son had inherited the house.

How ironic that her obituary represented the family, friends and parents I recognized in the same neighborhood.

Mrs. Grisham and I were neighbors for many years. She was a hard-working, intelligent, proud woman. The apple of her eye was her son, Terrence Paul. We grew up together on the south side and cared for our neighbors.

We made a village that took care of each other.

We were neighbors that protected the children and offered the best in culture and education.

Just like us!