Chicago’s Oak Street Beach

It was in the 1970’s during my high school and college years that I remember traveling with friends to Chicago’s Oak Street Beach for a summer field trip from the south suburbs of the city. We would also pick out high rise apartment buildings we wanted to live in after college. And I remember it crowded with beach chairs, towels, bicycles and of course, numerous bathers and acrobatics. I remember male friends wanting to be a life guard as a summer job there; where prestigious life began. Oak Street Beach is located at 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street and Lake Michigan near the Gold Coast/Streeterville neighborhoods.

According to the Chicago Park District, Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive suffered constant damage from storms and lake shore erosion. The city built a breakwater made of pilings, planks, and stone on the lake’s edge between Oak Street and North Avenue in the 1870’s. This device could not protect Lake Shore Drive, so in the late 1880s, the commissioners began working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a seawall between Fullerton and North Avenues to provide better protection. Lake Shore Drive was also extended south from Oak Street to Ohio Street.

The park district claims property owners helped pay for the landfill extension, which included a breakwater to protect the lake shore and roadway from erosion. Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a 50-foot-wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, and luxury lawns with elegant trees.

The beach was extremely popular in the early 1900’s but rich, mansion property owners complained about how small it was so it was extended in 1923. My father remembers living in the city in those early years as a child attending the beach. According to sources, over 50,000 visitors were known to travel to the beach during that time.The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful history on all Chicago area parks and when they can be used.

Today, Oak Street has gone through many renovations and has a outdoor cafe though with Covid restrictions, not available at this time. Currently, the beach is closed but when opened, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas. Of course, public restrooms are available. Usually, various vendors carts are seen along the path. Besides swimming, many beach goers play volleyball or just sit, taking pictures of amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, a beautiful place to visit.

Photo courtesy of Greg Wass

Dan Ryan Woods/Swallow Cliff Tobaggon

As the winter has finally arrived with snow, I thought about playing in the snow. I did not ski or ice skate but as a child, there was sledding and the closest tobaggon slide was at Dan Ryan Woods in Auburn-Gresham/Beverly. I did not have a toboggan but other friends and parents of friends did. I followed; all bundled up, mainly to watch, but I do remember how terrified I was taking a fast trip down one of the wooden shoots.

When my children were young, it was not Dan Ryan Woods that we visited, it was Swallow Cliff in Palos Park watching my children use the slide. My husband was a skier and he helped them down. Unfortunately, I was too terrified to try. My first time skiing I was in my early twenties before children. I went down a steep slope with a friend at Alpine who tried to show me what to do but I had problems going way too fast and broke my ankle. I never went skiing again. With the exception of building a snowman, winter sports were just not my thing though the hot chocolate and a fire in our fireplace was always appreciated.

Swallow Cliff slides were officially closed down in 2004 but were operable for decades. However, weather had to be cooperative for them to be used with enough snow (at least 4 inches) and temps of 25 degrees or under. The cost to keep them safe was expensive. Constructed in 1930 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, 125 limestone stairs lead to the top of a former toboggan run on Swallow Cliff’s 100-foot bluff.  So in 2016, the Forest Preserves added another set of stairs with an additional 168 steps, creating a full circuit. They do have an active sledding hill during the winter. Just north of the 100-foot bluff and popular fitness stairs, the Swallow Cliff Pavilion is perfect for any occasion and was also built in 2016 with a cozy fireplace during the winter and a kitchen prep area with refrigerator.

Dan Ryan Woods Commissioner found out how popular the stairs at Swallow Cliff was and he actually polled walkers in Palos. He decided to do the same and the project was approved recently. The Dan Ryan Woods now has a brand new set of outdoor concrete stairs made for walking just last year. The 63-step fitness stairs are officially open near the northeast corner of 87th and Western in the forest preserve near Auburn-Gresham and Beverly.

It was just a year ago that I wrote about the storm of 1967 called We Share Our Memories that actually happened this day, over 50 years ago, which was January 26th. We missed school which was the good part, the bad part is the city was not prepared for the disaster. Then there was the storm of 1979. Between 7 and 10 inches of snow were already on the ground, after an earlier blizzard the previous New Year’s Eve. More snow began to fall with a vengeance on the night of Jan. 12, and it kept piling up until 2 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 14. The new snowstorm alone topped out with 18.8 inches on the ground. My mother had taken her first vacation to Hawaii and was scheduled to land at OHare on that Sunday. I was going to pick her up. Fortunately, she got to stay away for a few more days since her flight was re-scheduled and one of the first to fly into O’Hare. The storm of 1999 had wind gusts over 60 miles per hour and 2013-2014 saw its share of snow that totaled over 60 inches.

I have seen enough winter storms over the decades.  As the winter slowly disappears into spring, I am going for a trip on the stairs.

 

Magical summers

Many Baby Boomers growing up did not always have their summers planned with vacations. Some went to summer camp and many, like me, waited anxiously for best friends to get home from camp so we could play or create the next adventure. Some of us had no place to go during the summer with the exemption of exploring the neighborhood because we did have full freedom to go outside and play on a nice day.  Full freedom to explore and be back by 6 for dinner or for some until the street lights came on. No fear of stranger… danger!

Sometimes, we would go to the local playground or city park such as Chicago’s Bessemer which had a community pool or Stoney Island Park, which was popular for its ball fields, now known as Jessie Owen Park on the South Side of Chicago. Of course, riding our bikes(without helmets) often doing all sorts of stunts to get there. Many families had plastic, above ground pools in their backyard…not so different as those today.  The backyard sprinklers were are last resort but always fun once turned on. We never got sick drinking from the hoses either. Playing hopscotch, kick the can, red light, green light, red rover, Chinese jump rope, jacks( inside and out.)

I am not sure if it initially came from boredom or just not sure what to explore next but we produced plays, musicals and all sorts of summer shows for our families. One my friends and I did was about Betsy Ross and instead of the infamous lemonade s tand we re-created the Sip and Stir on a front porch which was originally an ice cream shop in Old Town. We made chocolate shakes and decorated the porch with tissue flowers. Though unless we had help from a Mom, we had to make sure that cooler was stocked with ice.

If in junior high and a Chicago city kid, sometimes we would ride the local Illinois Central Train downtown for lunch in the Narcissus room at Marshall Fields. Sometimes we would ride the bus to Evergreen Plaza in Evergreen Park on the west side; one of the first indoor malls.

However, screens did come into play when it was a rainy day. You could select from 3- 5 channels. If it was Saturday morning, you had a variety of cartoons to choose. Prime television was generally in the evening and reserved as a family event after your friends returned home. Board games or blind mans bluff were always an option and some of us had indoor ping pong or pool tables that we were allowed to play in the cooler finished basement since some did not have air conditioning.

Saturday afternoons could offer corny black and white horror movies such as Attack of The Crab Monsters,Teenagers From Outer Space and I Was A Teenage Werewolf. This was all after adjusting the TV antennas which could take some time especially if weather was poor and Mom watching over you while you made Jiffy Pop, the best stove- top popcorn that you loved to gently slide back and forth over the burner and watch the foil expand to new heights. Evenings were always spent with my favorite paint by number set from Bargain Town or reading which was encouraged before I went to bed. We always took trips to the local Chicago Public Library branch. Today, I am an avid reader and love to paint for fun.

Raising children in the 1990’s actually was pretty similar to the 1960’s though there television sets had a lot more channels to select. And they still made Jiffy Pop and my kids loved to help. Personal computers were just showing up in homes and they were pretty bad. So were pagers used mainly for work and more Mom’s needed jobs. I still let my children take over the neighborhood on bikes.Though, they did not have the run of as many blocks like we did in the old days. They did play outside and established some creative plays to perform for parents. Games were similar like tag, Red Rover with the exception of Marco Polo, a new game at the pool. I found sometimes, as parents,we would get too involved in the preparation of games and adventures. Maybe,we should have taken a back seat more often and just watched them build their creativity and love for one another. A very difficult exercise.

Today, just give kids markers, chalk, paper, and even washable paint. Let them go for it outside. Give them boxes, paper towel rolls, saved cereal boxes, tape and let them create their own summer houses, vehicles or forts. Pull out old clothes, dresses and see what they can do. Let them play with their friends and learn together. As far as games,Duck, Duck Goose and Monkey in the Middle seems to be popular. Gathering by themselves to play without you is the best of time for your children during the summer.

But never limit your field trip trips to the local library. You can actually cook Jiffy Pop on the grill outside. And watch the entire shows and movies from the past on Netflix. Maybe true summer fun hasn’t changed that much after all.

Free O’Douls at the Cubs vs Mets game: June 21st

Chicago fans can get their hands on limited edition cans of O’Doul’s, designed by local artist Brandon Breaux, on June 21st at the Cubs vs. Mets game at Wrigley Field. Visitors can visit Responsible Fan kiosks on concourse levels during the game. Fans at the game can look out for O’Doul’s signage on the big screen in the outfield to learn where else they can find the cans throughout the stadium. The cans will be given away at the game free of charge, no purchase necessary.

After the ODoul’s can refresh in November with NYC-based artist Mr. Kiji, they wanted to bring him back for a second launch and expand to two additional top markets in the U.S. The O’Doul’s team worked internally to identify three unique artists that produce art reflective of their cities’ one-of-a-kind aesthetics, and approached Brandon for this unique opportunity.

Brandon talks about his artwork for the brand, “The design utilizes color forms to communicate, which I feel speaks to the brand’s message and impact that message holds. The goal of the design is to make something that attracts people and gives off a good vibe in any environment.”

Brandon Breaux is a fine art/designer who was born in Chicago graduating with a Bachelors of Art and Design from DePaul University and is currently working out of the city. He is widely known as the artist behind all 3 of Chance the Rapper’s iconic album covers but continues to be involved with painting, sculpture, web, video and print projects. Brandon has his own shop online with a variety of art that you can purchase including a picture of Chicago’s great Harry Caray (still available) and Harold’s Chicken; another Chicago favorite. However, his overall goal is to inspire and educate by producing creative solutions. Once a child myself from the south side of Chicago, I appreciate Brandon’s collaboration with The Invisible Space at 85th and Cottage Grove offering yoga and meditation sessions helping to transform others into a more healthy life style; just like promoting a non-alcoholic environment.

O’Doul’s has been a leader in premium non-alcohol beers for nearly 30 years. Wanting to socialize responsibly, Anheuser-Busch- ODouls bottled beer was always my choice at a restaurant or bar for it’s full body taste. Perfect for attracting people who want to enjoy the fine beer flavor but take pleasure in a sober/ positive event. O’Douls and O’Douls Amber contain only the finest of natural ingredients-including barley malt, domestic and imported whole cone hops, brewer’s yeast, select grains and water.

In a time when more brands are entering the non-alcohol beverage category, O’Doul’s wanted to shake up its look for long standing brand fans, while enticing new consumers to drink responsibly and in moderation this summer.

Last days of recess

I take a break on the wooden bench, reflecting during outdoor kindergarten recess, the last week of school. My…… how they have grown physically. The difference from the start of the year is uncanny. They have learned how to use their words and handle issues between them….less tears. Though sometimes the girls emotions are triggered out of nowhere, at a Grandma or Grandpa passing away over a year ago or losing their favorite pet. Some days are still just too long for those in kindergarten. However, they have learned about hands to self and not walking up the slide. Sometimes they fall with minor injury and dirty clothes, but they get back up, brush the dirt off and move on. Overall, they have come a long way.

One spring day at the school playground for me in the early sixties during second grade was not fun. A bully from our school was trapping some of the girls, including me, on a school step in front of our door outside that lead to the playground. I took a run for it and he began pulling on my skirt to stop me and it fell to my knees. A teacher at Buckingham school did see the event and he was taken to the Principal. His parents were called and I didn’t go to school for several days out of embarrassment. Finally, someone convinced me that the girls on the step wanted to be my best friend forever. I saved them, thus, becoming popular overnight.

My opinion of boys did improve for me on the sixth grade playground at Warren Junior High School when I was asked to go steady and wear his gold id bracelet. The bracelet was beautiful with his name elegantly engraved. This was a first and I was more interested in wearing the bracelet than the boy himself. I was popular, once again, among the girls and the boyfriend lasted two weeks.

For my children growing up in the 1990s, I don’t recall any significant events happening to them on the playground. Then again who knows? What I still don’t know may not hurt me or them. Maybe, I will ask them when I am in a silly mood.

I watch the girls on the swings now…five or six in a row…some trying to pump as high as the one next to them, surpassing others. Then I see her. I have written about the little one before. She was very tiny and younger than most with less experience in kindergarten when she began the school year. I pushed her most days on the swing or a friend in class helped. We tried to teach to her to push,many, many times, but no luck for months.

I looked at her face and I caught glimpses of what she would look like when she grew up…confident and breathtaking. This young woman smiled at me and her legs were pumping on the swing. Slowly, at first and then she began to swing. A look of surprise completed her features as she swung higher and higher; knowing her best was yet to come.

And so it ends…….. a wonderful year for me. Consequently, trusting in the true magic beginnings of growth, possibility and fulfillment for all of them. Will they remember? Probably not, but I will, right here in the written word especially if age-related problems take over. That is all that matters!

 

 

Ice skates, roller blades and roller skates

The second graders talk of ice skating as they come through the door. Indoor ice skating especially and they really, really like it. When I was their age, I was told by a friend of my Moms that my ankles were too weak for ice skating. Not sure how and why that conversation took place but my Mom never took me ice skating. In fact, I never put a pair of ice skates on because of it.

When the weather is nice and tarmac is dry, I will sit outside to this day and watch my 30 year old daughter roller blade. Both son and daughter as kids learned roller blading but I did not try that either. Weak ankles??? In 1980, Scott and Brennan Olsen, two Minnesota brothers, discovered an older in-line skate in a sporting goods store and thought the design would be perfect for off-season hockey training. They improved the skate on their own and soon were manufacturing the first Rollerblade in-line skates in their parents’ basement.

No, I did not roller blade or ice skate but I did get to roller skate. Eventually, though, it did break up a friendship. Dad’s old 8 millimeter movies are the first recollection of roller skating down the neighborhood street with my best friend. Those were the skates that clamped over your shoes and you adjusted with a skate key to tighten or loosen though the discovery of shoe skates were not far behind. Especially those that you could rent at the the nearest roller rink.

In the early 1970’s, one of my close friends was an amazing skater. We had moved to the south/ southwest suburbs and together we discovered the Oaklawn Roller Rink. Oak Lawn Roller Rink was a popular rink where Chicagoan’s skated for over 40 years and was located at 91st and Cicero avenue. My friend was attractive and knew how to cross one foot over the other as well as spin to any song. I tended to let her go and hang by the rail. I was an awkward skater as well as awkward in appearance. And, of course, I was jealous at the males being more interested in her than me. I finally stopped going to the rink. She stopped asking and somehow we grew apart. However, she did meet her husband of many years at the rink.

One day I finally learned to cross one foot over the other without falling. That was enough for me. Just tell me your stories of rollar blades, roller skates and ice skates. I will be happy to come, sit and watch.