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.


Fun with Dick and Jane: Still addicted to reading

I did not like Dick,Jane, Sally, Spot and whoever else was in the series. I had a difficult time reading in the beginning. I didn’t enjoy Think and Do work books  or a  kindergarten book called Work that is Play.  School work was not playtime for me until about 4th and 5th grade where I started to read…just a little….and write my first composition about a steer named Thunder who won a prize from a county fair.

It wasn’t until junior high where my writing and reading really took off with doing well in my sixth grade class on an essay for Keeping Chicago Clean that was turned in for a contest, a poem published in the Chicago Tribune about two wonderful boys I babysat for named Mark and Michael and I began to enjoy reading:

Laura ingalls Wilder: The Little House on the Prairie Series really began to intrigue me and at night before falling asleep I would day dream of the cottage that I wanted to live with a family like the Ingalls . Based on the real-life adventures of Laura Ingalls Wilder, there were nine books that were cherished by readers of all generations.  On the Banks of Plum Creek is the Newbery Honor-winning fourth book in the Little House series, this edition features the classic black-and-white artwork from Garth Williams and probably my favorite in the series.

The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as they leave their little house on the prairie and travel in their covered wagon to Minnesota. They settle into a house made of sod on the banks of beautiful Plum Creek. Soon Pa builds them a sturdier house, with real glass windows and a hinged door. Laura and Mary go to school, help with the chores around the house, and fish in the creek. Pa’s fiddle lulls them all to sleep at the end of the day. But then disaster strikes—on top of a terrible blizzard, a grasshopper infestation devours their wheat crop. Now the family must work harder than ever to overcome these challenges.

Trixie Belden: The title character in a series of “girl detective” mysteries written between 1948 and 1986. The first six books were written by Julie Campbell Tatham, who also wrote the Ginny Gordon series, then continued by various in-house writers from Western Publishing under the pseudonym Kathryn Kenny. Today the rights to the series are owned by Random House. The series was out of print for a number of years, but Random House began releasing a new edition of the books in mid-2003. As of mid-2006, volumes 1 – 15 have been reissued.

Beatrix “Trixie” Belden is a young teen living just outside the fictional town of Sleepyside-on-Hudson, in the Hudson Valley area of New York. She lives at Crabapple Farm, which had been in her family for either three or six generations (this varies between books), with her parents and three brothers, Brian, Mart, and Bobby. The first book establishes her friendship with lonely, sheltered rich girl, Honey Wheeler, whose family has just moved into the Manor House next door and soon the girls are embroiled in their first case.

I loved Trixie and the book was not always easy to find. Many of my friends liked the Bobsey Twins or Nancy Drew and though I read those years later, it was Trixie that got me excited about reading and girl time adventures.

Anne of Green Gables: A 1908 novel by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery (published as L. M. Montgomery). Written for all ages, it has been considered a children’s novel since the mid-twentieth century. It recounts the adventures of Anne Shirley, an 11-year-old orphan girl who is mistakenly sent to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, a middle-aged brother and sister who had intended to adopt a boy to help them on their farm in the fictional town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. The novel recounts how Anne makes her way with the Cuthberts, in school, and within the town. Since its publication, Anne of Green Gables has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into at least 36 languages

I vaguely remember reading Anne as a school assignment and again fell in love with the detail and description. I struggled, but was willing to do my best with learning the delicate vocabulary.

From them on through the decades, not just years, I have never been without a book. I have given up smoking, adjusted to new people, new jobs, new things but can’t imagine life without a book. I will never forget someone telling me years ago that you are never bored if you love to read.

And reading opened the door for constant writing of new form and ideas; another love I try to do daily.

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
― Charles William Eliot


30th Anniversary of the Rube Goldberg Machine Contest® Live Finals

Registration Still Open For Historic Competition

Thousands of Students Compete to Pour a Bowl of Cereal in the Most Complicated and Comical Way!

New York, NY — Rube Goldberg, Inc. continues to celebrate laughter and invention through their annual RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary by having its Live Finals relocated to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago April 20-22, 2018. Registration is now open and students of all ages across the country are encouraged to enter in this year’s contest, which will also premier an Apprentice Division for the first time, aimed at kids in elementary school.

“We’re excited and honored to be at the Museum of Science and Industry for this very special year in our history,” said Jennifer George, the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®’s Legacy Director and the grand-daughter of Rube Goldberg. “We’re both committed to creating a fun and engaging experience where kids not only learn a lot about S.T.E.M., they also learn to laugh at the same time.”

Started in 1988 as a college competition, the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST® uses the iconic invention cartoons of the famous Pulitzer Prize-winning artist, Rube Goldberg as its inspiration. Since that time, thousands of students, teachers, hosts, inventors, museum personnel and Rube fanatics have participated. The competition is also a learning experience which falls in the category of S.T.E.M. / S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math– and Art) education. Rube Goldberg is often referred to as “the grandfather of S.T.E.M.”

Each year’s contest focuses on a defined task which every machine is designed to accomplish. For 2018, the simple task is “Pour a Bowl of Cereal” and the RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE CONTEST®’s 2018 Task Sponsor is General Mills. Students from elementary to the university level are encouraged to make this simple task ridiculously complicated and will be judged on their teamwork, creativity and spirit of Rube Goldberg.  Approximately 40-50 teams will be competing in the Live Finals at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  The teams which compete at Finals have won regional competitions, where more than 250 teams compete.

“We’re very excited to host the Live Finals this year, as The Museum of Science and Industry, American’s foremost science museum since 1933, has always focused on hands-on, experiential learning. We’re looking forward to seeing the comical, creative and complicated Rube Goldberg Machines come to life in our community,” said Anne Rashford, The Museum of Science and Industry’s Director of Special Exhibitions and Business Partnerships.

Registration for the contest will remain open through March. There are four divisions to accommodate students at all school levels. Participants can go to http://rubegoldberg.com to register and get more information.


Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) was a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist best known for his zany invention cartoons. Rube Goldberg is the only person ever to be listed in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as an adjective. It’s estimated that he did a staggering 50,000 cartoons in his lifetime. Rube Goldberg, Inc. is dedicated to keeping laughter and invention alive through the legacy of its namesake. Annual competitions, image licensing, merchandising, and museum and entertainment opportunities continue to grow and enhance the brand. At the helm is Rube’s granddaughter, Jennifer George, whose best-selling book on her grandfather, The Art of Rube Goldberg, is now in its fourth printing.RGI is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to promoting STEM & STEAM education for students of all ages.

Hyde Park Chicago

For me as a child, we would pull into the parking lot of the Museum of Science and Industry to visit my favorite Yesteryear, the chickens hatching, Telephone Town and the coal mine. That was what Hyde Park was all about but over the decades I was curious to explore more beyond those museum walls in Hyde Park, Chicago.

Seven miles south of the Chicago Loop located on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan, the Hyde Park neighborhood hosts  the city’s most eclectic collection of antiquities, culture, historic landmarks including the college dwelling of U.S. President Barack Obama. Recognized as the established home for the University of Chicago and the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition, Hyde Park has been a focal point for prominent guests such as Mary Todd Lincoln, who lived during the summer of 1865.

Museum of Science and Industry

Known as the Palace of Fine Arts at the World Columbian Exposition, this building originally housed the Field Museum which moved to the south loop in the 1920s. Currently, The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum. Well known throughout the United States, the museum hosts the Apollo 8 spacecraft, the Pioneer Zephyr which was the first diesel fueled passenger train, a 3,500 square foot model train, a trip to a replica coal mine and a German submarine captured in World

Midway Plaisance

Originally the midway point of the World Columbian Exposition  providing knowledge of other world cultures, refreshments and the exciting new Ferris Wheel, today it is a one mile long park that has remained a green area  supported by the University of Chicago. Boosting cross street bridges  with a  breaking taking view of the buildings along the Midway, the area  has been refurbished with an ice skating rink for winter and expansive gardens during the summer. The word plaisance is French and defines a pleasure ground of nature.

Jackson Park

An expanse of 542.89 acres, Jackson Park was designed after the close of the World’s Columbian Exposition featuring the first golf course in 1893. The Golden Lady sculpture and the French’s Statue of the Republic are remnants of the fair. The Osaka Garden, a 17th Century stroll garden was established in 1934 and beyond the entrance gate, a peaceful abundance of lush plants, exotic trees will exemplify peace for the weary traveler.  If you enjoy bird watching, Jackson Park is home to over 200 species. In recent years, Jackson Park provides a gymnasium, fitness center, and basket ball/tennis courts.


Promontory Point

Located in Chicago’s Burnham park,  Promontory Point offers spectacular views of the city’s skyline and a great place to relax. The point was constructed as a man-made peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan and can be accessed by the Lakefront Trail, a  tunnel which passes under Lake Shore Drive at the east end of 55th Street. Promontory Point also offers a variety of special events such as movies and guest performers. Designed by Alfred Caldwell, the point offers the beauty of harbor beaches and exquisite natural meadows.


Robie House

Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Robie House in Hyde Park is a prairie style example of his contemporary work also located on the campus of the University of Chicago. Tours are available that even include private spaces not readily available to the public. The Frederick C. Robie House is a national historic landmark and was designed in 1908 for the assistant manager of the Excelsior Supply Company. Robie and his wife Lora had selected the property in order to remain close to the University since his wife was a graduate.

Obama’s Home and Favorites

Coming to Chicago as a community organizer after graduating Harvard Law, Barack Obama lived in apartment 1n at 5429  Harper in Hyde Park if you are interested in sharing  the legacy of the President of the United States. After viewing his apartment, you may want to see the Hyde Park Hair salon and the chair where he used to get haircuts.  Located at 57th and Kimbark, for those who love the written word, stroll through the57th Street Books, another Obama favorite.

Court Theatre

Looking for professional theater, the Court Theatre on the campus of the University of Chicago provides innovative productions and classic plays  that have included Waiting for Godot, Agamemnon, Wait Until Dark, and The Glass Menagerie. Attended by over 35,000 each year, the award winning Court puts on five plays per season. It has been named the most consistently excellent theatre company in America by the Wall Street Journal.


After visiting the historical culture of Hyde Park, Valois cafeteria is one of the Obama family’s recommended eatery’s. After walking in the front, a sign indicates the President’s usual orders when in town. The restaurant provides comfort food with American specials such as  feta omelets for breakfast and a huge variety of beef.  In service for over a decade, Valois  greets customers with walls of murals that celebrates the Hyde Park neighborhood.  It has been said many times that if you live in Hyde Park, Valois is a family tradition.

Favorite holiday children’s books through the decades

For me in elementary school in the 1960’s, it was Brenda Brave helps Grandmother, a beautifully illustrated story I bought at one of my first book fairs. It still has the price tag, $1.00 and the code for how book fairs demonstrated their books. The story was about a little girl named Brenda Brave who lived with her Grandmother in a small cottage. Grandmother raised Brenda when she was a baby. Grandmother makes candy to sell in town but one day Grandmother falls and hurts her leg. Brenda takes over the cleaning, cooking and Christmas even selling candy. And for Christmas, Brenda gets the beautiful porcelain doll that she always wanted from Grandmother.

For many of us then, it was the most elaborate story of  The Night Before Christmas  that we had in our holiday collection as well as Frosty the Snowman that possibly had a record and A Charlie Brown Christmas. We may have received our books as gifts or a traditional purchase at the downtown Marshall Fields book floor. Krochs and Brentanos may have been another choice.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was another favorite as well as Rudolph.  For many of my Jewish friends, to celebrate Hanukkah, I remember learning the Dreidel Song and game more so that reading Jewish stories. The Littlest Angel and The Christmas Story came in many colors and styles that shred the birth of Jesus.

As the years passed especially in the 1980’s, it was more artful creations of The Night before Christmas  as well as Madelines Christmas and The Polar Express that came in a box with a jingle bell.  Different versions of the Christmas Carol were published to compliment many levels of reading as well as celebrating Kwanzaa.

In 2015, there was a parakeet named Dreidel that taught the story of Hanukkah and collections of books that includes how to catch Santa and how to catch an elf.  Santa arrives in Illinois on Christmas Eve is always fun to read to see if your home is on his list this year.

Today,  The Night before Christmas is still the ultimate favorite with awesome illustrations to read the night before Christmas and depending on religion, The Christmas Story from Amazon or maybe Target or Walmart’s book section. Versions of the classic, A Christmas Carol ,is required reading in many schools followed by a field trip to see the play. Polar Express is complimented by the movie with Tom Hanks and How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a must read and much watched movie with Jim Carey. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace is a fully illustrated children’s book that is mainly poetry. The story of a treasure thought to be lost in a batch of tamales is also a great Christmas Eve read called Too Many Tamales.

Childhood road trips: Good Old Neon

As a Baby Boomer child  in the car traveling  with my parents, there were no cell phones to play or movies to watch on video players. You were lucky if your parents played games like 20 questions, Name that Tune or Alphabet  where you would look for every letter of the alphabet from the road signs you passed. It could be any sign but neon were easy to see with their beautiful varieties of color, sparkle and great logos.

Though for me, I didn’t really care about the games. Unfortunately, reading a book while traveling made me sick. I just loved to pass the majestic signs. Ultimately, it was the neon signs alone that offered a colorful road trip suggesting great places to visit such as Kiddieland , Margies Candies or the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.  How my parents loved the Green Mill Lounge with its beautiful gold array of lights highlighting the green title,even back in the days of mafia connections.

I always wanted to stay at the Tangiers Motel…something I thought…  truly out of the country. Fortunately, I was spoiled. When I pointed and cheered with determination at the mesmerizing neons, we would actually stop at many taking advantage of the rides, sweets or a chocolate shake; maybe even an overnight stay.

Remember Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket neon sign in Willowbrook?  I am only a few miles from the Chicken Basket and the sign still guides me today…one of my favorite restaurants.

Nick Freeman felt the same way about neon growing up and Chicago’s rich neon heritage is published in his full-color collection of delightful signs. From the South Side of Chicago to Wisconsin, his book Good Old Neon  spotlights the familiar signs captured in over 130 photos; many fast-disappearing artifacts of a glorious era when brightly lit signs filled the landscape.

“Several dozen of the signs pictured in my book have disappeared since its publication, and once they’re gone, they’re not coming back,” Nick comments, ” Big reason for my passion for preserving them through photography.”

Nick talks about the cost of the neon which is expensive due to the hand-crafting that goes into each one, as well as the physical and technical requirements involved in their construction and placement, not to mention upkeep.  The fragility of glass tubing continuously exposed to harsh Chicago weather makes the survival of an old sign a kind of urban miracle, deserving, at the least, of photographic preservation. Even the many that have outlived their functional glory days have their own visual appeal. Animated neon signs, working or not, are a special treat.

Nick Freeman, a life-long resident of the Chicago area, has been involved with words and pictures throughout his professional career. Starting at Feldkamp-Malloy, one of the last of the old-time art studios in the city, he spent 30-plus years in advertising–god help him–serving as production director at Leo Burnett and other agencies.

He now devotes his time and attention to his first love, oil painting, and has exhibited his work in a number of local and regional shows. His art, both paintings and photography, can be seen at galleryfreeman.com.

After viewing his work on his website, I was amazed by his polished, realistic technique and use of color. Two of my favorites were Isla Jane and the Pumpkin Farm which were sold. But his wonderful collection offers a great painting of Dog N Suds called Root Beer, Flea Market II, the Blue Goose for sale and many others. He currently resides in St. Charles, Illinois.

Good Old Neon is available direct from Lake Claremont Press, Amazon or wherever fine gift books are sold. Founded by Sharon Woodhouse in 1994, Lake Claremont Press has been publishing amazing histories and guidebooks about Chicago by Chicago authors.

Unlike many publishers, their books truly capture the passions and knowledge of their authors. Many have been featured in national newspapers and numerous television shows such as the History Channel and The National Geographic Channel. Because of their credited field expertise, most authors are actively involved in non-for profits and several of the the greater Chicago land missions.

Please visit their site and you can sign up for the Lake Claremont Press newsletter to receive announcements about new book releases and special offers of distinguished Chicago authors.