There’s not much to see. You’d drive right by the laundromat, right by the little Spanish grocery, right by the currency exchange. What? Another J.J. Peppers? You’d drive right by that too.
Realtors call me up, usually around dinnertime. “Have you ever thought about selling?” It’s a given that sooner or later people want to sell out, move on, get away from all that crime. Isn’t that the 20th-century dream?
Yes, the city is big, dirty, and dangerous, and some of it is getting awfully old, but this neighborhood has become what I call home. And home is not just a word you find in a Stephen Foster song. Home means the place where you live, all of it, inside and out and all around, up and down the block and across the streets and through the alleys and as far as you can stretch and still feel that you belong. Like it or not, there’s the rest of the world, and then there’s home.
Home includes parts of two Chicago neighborhoods, Logan Square and Avondale, starting at California Avenue, running west to Central Park, south to Logan Boulevard, with the big six-corner intersection at Diversey, Kimball, and Milwaukee at its hub. Home is 35 years on the same sidewalks, seeing the same houses, shopping the same streets, sending kids to the same schools, voting in the same precincts, and watching everything change and change again and evolve, as the world has always evolved, until finally I’m looking at something as familiar as my own hand, and yet once again it is new.
“Inglesia Evangeleo de Jesucristo, Primitiva Pentecostes,” the sign on the little storefront church on Diversey declares. Przeminelo Z Wlatrem by Margaret Mitchell (with Rhett Butler breathing over Scarlett’s naked shoulder) is for sale at the Polonia Book Store on Milwaukee Avenue. Arencibia Clothing has a sign “Precious Bajos. Se Necesitan Revendederes,” and Brzozowski Fashion Clothes next door is holding a “3 dni sale, Platek, Sob e Niedj.” At Diversey and Kedzie, posters wired to the light poles announce a Saint Patrick’s Day party where you could have danced to the music of Ismael Rosa, Jesus Enrique, and the Orquesta Sabori. At Central Park and Milwaukee, more posters, Pepe Wroc with Grzegorz Markowski, Spiew, Ryszard Sygitowicz and Andrez Urny, Gitary, Piotr Szkudelski and Andrezes Nowicki, Bebeny I Bas.
As a young man in south suburban Blue Island I knew nothing of Logan Square, never heard of Avondale. I imagined Chicago one huge city pretty much the same from end to end, a place to visit my father’s relatives, see the White Sox, and sometimes take in a movie at the Oriental. Then I bought a little variety store on Diversey and moved my family north, an enterprise that made nobody rich but lasted long enough for us to set down roots. Now it feels like we’ve been here forever.
Compared to people in London, Paris, and Rome, Chicagoans shouldn’t breathe the word “forever.” If this is something we all know, it’s also something that can sneak up on a citizen from time to time in a way it never could on a Londoner or Parisian or resident of Mexico City. You can be standing in the Loop watching construction crews scoop out the site of some new building and suddenly it comes to you, they’re not going to find the remains of any ancient civilization down there, our city doesn’t really go all that deep. Two hundred years ago brown-skinned people were paddling canoes on the Chicago River, which was probably clean and clear, and when the sun went down the only lights were the stars and a few smoky fires. That’s how fast things can change.
Logan Square wasn’t even part of Chicago until 1889. This is something I looked up. Lately I’ve been poking my nose into the Chicago Historical Society, the Chicago Public Library, and even a bookstore or two. What good is the present if we don’t have a past? Sometimes I walk down Diversey–a special street in my life–and pause outside that laundromat, wondering if out of the many busy people inside, washing and folding clothes, chasing children, chatting in Spanish, there is even one who knows of the small store that once existed in this location, and of the family who for ten full years worked behind its counter selling cigarettes, candy, newspapers, magazines, and toys. People move into a neighborhood, they sometimes cross oceans and borders to get there, and they just can’t help it, that feeling of everything having begun with them. How often do any of us think of those persons who once lived in our apartments, how often do any of us wonder what became of the past owners of our preowned cars, how often, in fact, do we even dwell upon those we ourselves have left behind, the old people of our youth, the aunts, the uncles, the cousins of cousins who exist now only in somebody’s photo album?
People lived in Logan Square before we got here, more people than do now: Swedes, Norwegians, Germans, Russian Jews, and Poles, to name a few. They came in waves, lived their lives, and their descendants have melted into that shapeless mass that is today’s middle America. Still the waves continue to arrive: of some 80,000 people in present Logan Square, more than two-thirds are said to be Hispanic; of 35,000 people in adjoining Avondale, almost half; and of those remaining, enough are Polish-born and Polish-speaking to make parts of Milwaukee Avenue an East European street.
Most of my neighbors spoke English when I first walked this neighborhood. They were white working-class people much like the people I grew up with in Blue Island, but somehow a bit more aggressive, a bit less neighborly, a bit more inclined to mind their own business. My new neighbors smoked cigarettes, followed the horses, and took the benefits of big-city life for granted. Buses that came by every 15 minutes seemed tardy to them, stores open till ten closed too early. They took for granted the 12-minute elevated ride into the Loop, the same as they did Riverview Park at Addison and Western Avenue, the same as the fine stores on Milwaukee Avenue, the same as the parks, the boulevards, and the neighborhood schools so close their kids walked home for lunch. Many of our new neighbors were old-timers who remembered the days when things were, of course, ever so much better, and some of them were very old-timers who claimed to remember open fields and farmland and streets without sidewalks. But most of the buildings in Logan Square were completed between 1880 and 1920–so much for the old-timers who claim to remember farms.
Those old-timers, whatever their experience of open fields, had certainly grown up in the shadow of the Eagle, Logan Square’s most visible landmark. The minute you step out of the Logan Square subway stop you see it, a 50-foot shaft of pure white marble set right in the middle of the Kedzie, Milwaukee, and Logan Boulevard intersection. People around here call it the Eagle because of the stone eagle mounted on its peak, or they call it the Monument, or simply the Statue, but you hardly ever hear anyone call it by its proper name: the Illinois Centennial Column. This intersection is Logan Square. For over 60 years the elevated line that now runs to O’Hare had its terminal here, and it is here that the present subway daily transfers hundreds of commuters to CTA buses. This is as far north as the Chicago boulevard system goes, although Logan Boulevard continues on east to Elston, and north of this intersection Kedzie continues on to the northern limits of the city as a regular street.
These wide, tree-lined boulevards with their broad, grassy medians must have been very grand places in their day, grand enough that Kedzie, south of the monument, was once known as the boulevard of millionaires, which may be why the eagle faces that direction. If the millionaires are gone, the mansions they built remain, and if your childhood dream was to own a Victorian mansion with stained glass windows, stone turrets, and classical towers, here is the place to come and get one, and if you do, you’ll be living on a street listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Chicago history buffs know, of course, that these boulevards, modeled after those of Paris, were part of Daniel Burnham’s plan to build a city as beautiful as any in the world, and on a good day when the trees and lawns and broad parklike medians are fresh and green and the old mansions are looking their best, you can see how close he came.
Modern Logan Square is bounded by Western, Diversey, Armitage, and Kimball, and not all of it is beautiful. Thoroughfares like Armitage, Fullerton, and Milwaukee are loud and dirty, the boulevards sometimes unclean, and on the side streets abandoned cars, graffiti, filthy little stores, run-down apartment buildings, burned-out houses, and uninviting cerveza taverns are all too common. Anything said about Logan Square could be said about Avondale. And yet, and yet, there are mornings when I step out on the front porch, and the bells of the historic old churches are sounding in the distance, and the vendors who sell the Spanish ices and the ears of corn and the tropical fruits on a stick are pushing their carts, and the bright red cardinal who visits my evergreens is singing to his mate, all of this a few short miles from the lakefront and the zoo and the museums and the ballpark and the symphony and everything that makes a big city great–there are these mornings, oh yes, when I feel a lump forming in my throat.
Only home can do that to you.
The land here is flat, true prairie. Those stories about farmland are really so. In 1843 a lawyer and politician by the name of Justin Butterfield bought 80 acres of what is now the heart of Logan Square from the government for $1.25 an acre. At the time most people figured the location was too far out from Chicago to ever amount to anything, but old Butterfield must have known. He was a shrewd lawyer/politician who once beat out Abraham Lincoln for a federal job by taking a shortcut to Washington. Little villages and hamlets took shape, places like Maplewood and Pennock and Avondale and Jefferson, all following the Northwest Plank Road, now Milwaukee Avenue. Most Chicago streets are laid out on a grid, of course, so when you see one like Milwaukee or Vincennes or Ogden running off at an angle there’s a good chance it may have been an Indian trail, and later one of the old plank roads. These roads, most of which charged tolls, were literally paved with planks, and sometimes people tore up the “pavement” for firewood. Tolls were still being collected on Milwaukee Avenue as late as 1899 when, in a show of good old American gumption, the citizens of Avondale disguised themselves as Indians and rioted, burning down the tollbooth and murdering the toll keeper. That was Amos Snell, and the least I can do is record his name here.
Looking down Milwaukee Avenue today, you can see the tall buildings of the Loop waiting at the other end. So it’s no surprise that the elevated tracks follow that same straight line, the shortest distance between two points. Just east of Kedzie the tracks rise out of the earth to run side by side with Milwaukee all the way to Division, where they sink below the ground again. Milwaukee is a street that will not die, probably could not die, but there’s no denying that much of the commercial property that made it a vital economic force has grown old, obsolete, and neglected. From the el, the backs of these stores and factories and the old wooden-porch apartments with junk-littered yards are what you see, every rooftop covered with graffiti, every blank wall tagged and tagged again. Meanwhile the side streets flash by, and the homes, and the parks, and the schools, and the churches–streets, neighborhoods, and houses much like my own. I have friends and relatives who refuse to visit me because they’re afraid to go into Chicago. “You should move out of that place,” they say in all innocence, not realizing that they’re talking about my home.
When I first moved into Chicago there were still loose ends dangling back in hometown Blue Island, and it was a long, long drive through a city that had not yet completed its expressway system. We took Sacramento Boulevard then and had good driving until we reached 55th Street. After that we had the dreaded south-side traffic. When I was a boy, before the Dan Ryan, choosing a route from Blue Island to the north side was a little like choosing a disease–with all the painless ones crossed off the list. I have yet to forget all those childhood visits to my father’s relatives and his inimitable navigation system, which was to take any street heading north and hope for the best. Nor have I forgotten the inevitable car sickness that always caught up with me just as we passed the stockyards.
When I speak of my home today, it is without denying that other home on the other end of Western Avenue. Here is the home of the man, and there was the home of the boy, a community that liked to imagine itself one of those Andy Hardy small towns Hollywood still tries to convince us are the heart of America. But Blue Island was a gritty-aired industrial town, all sliced up by railroad tracks with crossing gates that seemed to spend as much time down as up, the Sanitary Canal, where turds and used condoms floated obscenely along, a seven-block business district, and not much future for a young man like myself. Without a car, you had three choices to reach downtown Chicago: the Illinois Central Railroad, the Rock Island Railroad, and the Safeway bus, which would take you as far as 111th Street where you transferred to the Chicago transit lines to complete a journey so formidable people used to write newspaper articles about it.
Blue Island was the kind of town that had its own holiday parades, its own high school football team, its own newspaper, its own visiting carnivals, even a three-ring circus that showed up every year, much to the delight of Circus Freddy, Blue Island’s own town character who wandered up and down Western Avenue advising everyone that the circus was coming and there would be elephants. People in Blue Island felt themselves fortunate, even then, to be outside of the dark, wicked city.
But all was not innocent in my childhood home. My mother was once locked inside a restaurant refrigerator by holdup men. My father was assaulted outside a tavern on Western Avenue. The poolroom where he tried to make a living was burglarized regularly and methodically. Shadowy strangers followed women on our best residential streets and reached up their dresses. A peculiar man stood across from our Vermont Street apartment and demonstrated the art of masturbation. And this all happened in the good old days before there was crime.
Crime, it has always seemed to me, is something that can poison your life without actually even happening to you. I remember a Logan Square woman who was convinced she would someday be struck by an automobile. Almost any day, watching from my store, I could see her perched on the curb, waiting in terror for the right moment to cross the street. I kept wanting to call out to her, “Lady! Go on, you won’t get hit!” But you know, I couldn’t be sure, could I? It’s the same with crime and some people. I’d really like to reassure them, but . . . who knows what can happen when you step out on the street? Anyone who wants to dwell on this will see that the only safe thing is to move to Pitcairn Island.
Yes, we do have gangs in my neighborhood, mostly young men who paint pitchforks and overturned crowns on garages and keep a close eye on other young men who paint pitchforks and crowns on garages. Sometimes they even eye me peculiarly when I wear a certain black-and-white cap. Colors matter a lot to them. A few years ago someone got blown away down on Fullerton for tying his shoes with the wrong kind of laces, that’s how much they matter, but Fullerton really is just a little bit outside of what I call home. Here, I ran a store almost ten years and never once got held up, only once called the police on a rowdy customer; and here, well, I must confess I lost track of how many times my business was burglarized. But it was always by the same people, and they finally moved away.
The city changes. It grows, it shrinks, it gets hurt, it heals, it’s a living thing. When I take my walk I sometimes arrange to pass the house where I believe those burglars lived. I wonder what the present inhabitants would say if I were to tell them their home once housed thieves and felons.
I can’t escape it: after 35 years in the neighborhood, I still see the images of things past and persons departed locked, like unplacated spirits, beneath brick and concrete and the heavy fall of time. Year after year I stood in my store staring across Diversey. Year after year I watched the same little furniture store across the way doing business, mostly with German-speaking immigrants the owner attracted by advertising on a German-language radio program. Next door was a corner tavern of dubious reputation that kept trying to present itself as a cocktail lounge, and I watched it too, for many of my customers gathered outside before it opened, waiting for the first drink of the day. The tavern is still there, and still trying to be a cocktail lounge, but the furniture store is boarded over, nearly erased except for a faded advertisement painted on the wall.
Immediately adjoining my laundromat is all that remains of a house converted into a trendy restaurant called the Ragin’ Cajun, now apparently scheduled for demolition if no buyer is found to rescue it, and that would be a shame. Before the restaurant, this house was the home of one of the oldest residents of our neighborhood, a man named Charlie who spoke of horse trolleys, streets without sidewalks, and empty fields, and kept that house just as it was for all the years he lived in it. Now it is empty, boarded up, a shell.
At Sacramento and Diversey an auto-parts store occupies the old bakery, the supermarket across the street is still in business but now advertising in Spanish, and another little Spanish grocery is trying to make it in the storefront where Father and Son Pizza, long an American success story on Milwaukee Avenue, had its start. At Kedzie and Diversey the currency exchange looks as if it’s been here forever, but I remember it as a drugstore where the man behind the prescription counter was the owner and not a pharmacist for hire. Kitty-corner from here a little strip mall containing J.J. Peppers, a pizzeria, and a dry cleaner has replaced the independent Amoco station that finally died after running the course of numerous owners, one of whom installed a set of brakes backward for me.
Even the little hot dog counter next to the currency exchange is haunted. I know how it evolved out of a hot dog wagon that did business on a vacant lot a block away and how, in one of those attempts to do good, the neighbors allowed themselves to become involved in a petition against the owner because of the hot dog wrappers his customers supposedly and probably did toss on their lawns. I remember how I attended the meeting and argued on his behalf, for after all we were fellow businessmen, and how later my wife and I became friends with an older couple who argued for the other side, visiting more than once in their living room.
Home, that’s exactly my point, to walk these streets and to know that my memory of them is longer than the span of the life I lived before I came here, and that the home of the man has replaced the home of the boy and my heart is now in this place, perhaps forever.
On Social Security day I walk from my house to the Avondale Savings and Loan, a mile that I used to run, back and forth, several times a week, until at last it began to seem like too much effort, and of course there were all those snapping dogs. I walk straight down George Street, past the apartment building where we once lived and from which my sons and all the neighborhood teens pushed my wife’s baby grand piano down Troy to our present home, a sight I do not imagine the neighbors forgot quickly. I walk past Avondale School, which graduated both my sons and sent them on to Lane Technical High School, past my son’s house, and turn up Kimball, remembering how just about here I would be catching a second breath in my running days. But now, moving easily, I take the time to study the old homes which, in the Avondale half of my neighborhood, are not likely to make anyone think of millionaires past, present, or future but instead of generations of owners hammering on siding and additions and dormer rooms. There are a lot of frame houses in Avondale; supposedly one of the things that originally drew people to this area was the fact that the restrictions placed on frame buildings after the Chicago Fire did not extend here. How old some of these homes are is a mystery probably even to their owners, but occasionally you’ll see one where the siding has peeled away or a fire has opened things up, revealing some very old boards indeed.
Somewhere between Kimball and Milwaukee, the voices of children playing on the sidewalks switch from Spanish to Polish and the faces become those of middle Europe. The neighborhood has always had a large Polish population, but now, from Central Park to Belmont and beyond, Milwaukee Avenue almost feels like the Old World itself, with restaurants, sausage shops, bakeries, and groceries where customers get their change counted out in Polish, although at Bacik Delikatessen the clerks switch to English when they see my Irish face.
It was my intention to continue this walking tour straight down Milwaukee until I reached the Monument, but a last-minute errand at Walgreens forces me to turn back up Central Park to Belmont which, now that Dominick’s and Walgreens and Wendy’s have installed themselves in an open plaza, has become part of the place I call home.
Belmont is a hard-used commercial street for much of its length, and the stretch that runs through my home is no better than the rest, old stores, old houses, small factories and shops, auto-repair facilities, construction companies, and at Kedzie, the Kennedy Expressway overhead and under constant repair. How can they always be repairing this thing? It seems like only yesterday they built it.
Not quite. The final extension of the Kennedy, then known as the Northwest Expressway, opened for business in 1960, one year after I moved into the neighborhood. Before it opened, kids, including my own, rode their bicycles on the empty pavement, making better time than most drivers do today. The expressway cut the heart out of Avondale, made it into two neighborhoods, and then, as surely as if someone had given the order, began sucking the populations of both Logan Square and Avondale out to the suburbs.
Milwaukee Avenue–let me take you on a walk down it anyway–was a well-established business street focused upon the Diversey/Kimball intersection when we first moved here: “217 Stores to Serve You.” Naturally I viewed them all as my competition, though I smile at the thought today. It becomes a game with me, trying to figure out who was where, and exactly when they left, and what has replaced them. Today on Milwaukee I see Blockbuster Video, Dollar Bills, and the Gap; I do not see Kaufman’s or Klaus’s or Goldblatt’s. I see the Polonia Travel Agency, the Friendship Chinese Restaurant, and newspaper vending machines selling La Raza; I do not see Rosalie’s Corset Shop, Fordam’s Men’s Clothing, Beyda Bros., the Patek Music Company, the Kingburger Restaurant, Bron’s Department Store, Bass Furniture, Raj Appliance, Charles Domek and Sons, the Logan Bowl . . .
A few old names remain. Woolworth. Animal Kingdom, which keeps a full-grown black panther on display. Wernikoff’s Square Jewelers, where my wife and I bought gold baby rings for my sister’s grandchildren. But today so many of the businesses on Milwaukee Avenue have that underfinanced not-to-be-here-long look it hardly seems worth the trouble to record their names. Walking past one of them, I am leveled by a broken awning support hanging at exactly the right height to catch a six-foot man between the eyes. Dazed and angry, I simply sit on the sidewalk, trying to catch my breath. A gypsy woman–yes, she tells fortunes–charges out of the second-story entrance to the adjoining building and begins screaming at a homeless man who seems to have taken up housekeeping on her staircase. “He won’t go away!” she shouts to a man who hurries out of another nearby store. “I tell him to get out of here, this is my place, I pay the rent, I tell him to go somewhere else, he . . .” The homeless man says nothing, he may even be smiling, very obviously he means to go on using that staircase as his rightful home. Meanwhile, I sit on the sidewalk, a wounded pedestrian who finally must rise unaided, enter the establishment responsible for the defective awning, and make my complaint. A single look at the dusty shelves and sun-faded merchandise tells me this is no job for those lawyers who advertise on late-night TV. “Sorry, sorry,” the storekeeper says, blaming it all on his landlord in an accent I can’t quite place, neither Polish nor Spanish; sometimes the melting pot gets a bit confusing.
On this block or the next, perhaps only a few doors away from the broken awning and the gypsy woman, once stood Klaus’s Department Store, one of the neighborhood’s finest. Try as I might, even with the address in my hand, I can’t quite fix the location; the building has either been demolished or broken up into a number of individual businesses. At any rate, gone is a full department store with three floors stocked with fine merchandise and a jewelry counter where I once bought a gift for my wife.
On the next corner, set back on the lot strip-mall fashion, is a single-story L-shaped building containing Blockbuster Video, a pizza parlor, a LaSalle Talman bank, and a shipping company that seems to do business exclusively in Polish. The homeless man, I am told, works the parking lot, pretending to help people return their rented movies in exchange for “tips.” There is nothing at all here to mark the tragedy that took place one frigid morning in 1985.
Fires are not uncommon in Logan Square and Avondale, with their old houses, old wiring, space heaters, overcrowding; from my home I often hear sirens rushing up and down Diversey, Kedzie, and Kimball, and sometimes when I step out on the front porch I can smell wood burning. I think then of children and poor families, and my own frame building, and like everyone else I tend to take for granted the people who are racing to fight those fires for us. They have good jobs, we think, good pay, good hours, valuable insurance, and a fine pension. Sometimes we forget–they don’t always come back. On February 1, 1985, at this address, an arsonist set fire to one of those ubiquitous inner-city electronics stores that specialize in imported boom boxes, and this fire cost the lives of three members of the Chicago Fire Department’s Hook and Ladder Company no. 58. There were people, and I was one of them, who thought it impossible that anyone would ever rebuild on such a location.
But nothing is impossible in America.
A memorial of sorts does exist at the intersection of Diversey and Kimball. Next to the LaSalle/Cragin Bank the city has turned a tiny corner of vacant property into a park. Here, where people waiting for buses litter the ground with food wrappers and empty bottles, a metal plaque commemorates the fallen fire fighters, and a mural on the empty bank wall depicts them as angels, complete with large white wings. There was a certain amount of grumbling about this mural at first–too gaudy, some said; bad taste, said others–but time and familiarity have finally done what time and familiarity always do, and now, in a certain sense, it could be said that these brave men really do exist as angels. Their names were Captain Daniel Nockels, Michael Forchione, and Michael Talley.
South of the Diversey/Kimball intersection, Milwaukee Avenue becomes part of Logan Square. On the southwest corner, occupying the ground floor of a large triangular building (and looking as if it could, at the drop of a lease, be moved overnight to another location), is a Super Gap–an excellent place to buy jeans, I’m sure, but it will never take the place of Goldblatt’s. There are still a few Goldblatt’s stores operating in Chicago, but anyone unfamiliar with the Goldblatt’s of the past should know that they are not the real thing. The real Goldblatt’s stores, and there was one in this building, were more than stores, they were part of Chicago’s folklore. Long before there were shopping malls, discount stores, and those smarmy Wal-Mart television ads, women came to Goldblatt’s to try on dresses in the aisles while their husbands poked around in hardware downstairs and the kids ran off to tap at the goldfish. Whatever it was, clothing, hardware, appliances, home furnishings, toys, pet supplies, jewelry, you could not only find it at Goldblatt’s, it would be cheaper. People told jokes about Goldblatt’s (“What did the little bird say when he flew over Goldblatt’s?” Answer: “Cheap, cheap”) and pretended they were too proud to shop there, but eventually everyone did. And this Goldblatt’s, as an added feature, had something I have yet to find in any K mart or Venture–a first-rate deli that sold a hard salami my wife still talks about.
From here to Logan Boulevard, Milwaukee Avenue is a jumble of electronics stores, jewelers, shoe stores, clothing stores, markets, and restaurants, representing not so much Fortune 500 America as the sweat and industry of hundreds of lesser entrepreneurs. Just as Milwaukee turns Polish south of Central Park, here it turns Hispanic. There’s a McDonald’s, yes, but right next door is the elegant Tania’s, one of the city’s finest Cuban restaurants; there’s a Dean’s Market, but the big red and white posters in front of it advertise Chamarro de res (para caldo). If you look across the street, you’ll see that the National Food Store has been transformed into Los Caminos Super Mercado, and if you go inside you can buy all kinds of curiously shaped roots and tubers you have no idea how to prepare. (Hint: peel, cut into small pieces, boil, and don’t worry, they’re all good.)
The English language is still alive and active at the Logan Theatre, where second-run films are $2, or $1.50 for seniors. There used to be a Harding’s Theater around here somewhere, but I’ve given up trying to find out what happened to it; like Klaus’s, it simply vanished when I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe one of the neighborhood old-timers could help me out on this, except, as it turns out, I am one of the neighborhood old-timers.
I stand on Milwaukee Avenue just outside a music store called Disco City and try to put the past back together. Across the street, where Kedzie and Milwaukee make one of those triangular intersections, CTA buses are lined up waiting for passengers to climb out of the subway. This is the present Logan Square station, underground of course, opened in 1969 after Milwaukee had been closed off for several years by construction. Buildings were torn down then, businesses forced to move, and a lot of things around here have never been the same since. For more than 60 years Logan Square was as far as rapid transit went; now it’s just another stop on the way to the suburbs. People coming out of the station onto Kedzie are greeted by an amazing mural featuring a naked man holding the world on his shoulder, an assortment of jungle beasts, and another fire-fighting angel. Those choosing the Milwaukee exit come up next to the Lutheran Memorial Church, where descendants of original residents still hold services in Norwegian. From either exit, you cannot help but see the Logan Square Monument.
Everything circles the Monument. The Illinois Centennial Column–let’s call it by its correct name–does not stand naked in the intersection. It is set within a triangular park, possibly a city block in length, with stone benches and steps and slanting lawns that build up in the center to thrust the eagle another dozen feet into the sky. For those who care about these things, the column was designed by Henry Bacon, the same architect responsible for Washington’s Lincoln Memorial; and the sculptured reliefs that circle its base are by Evelyn Longman, a famous artist of the time. The graffiti on the concrete steps are by Goofy and Linda, Kim and Kelvin, Chatty and Shorty Ruff Nuts, Sin-dee, Christina, Philly, and Nick, none of whom has yet made it into the guidebooks.
From here to Fullerton you can walk the Avenue of the Millionaires. You can admire old mansions the likes of which you’ll never see built again, you can wonder at the lives lived in them, you can imagine the horse-drawn carriages and the hoop-skirted ladies with their parasols and the stiff-collared gentlemen wearing bowler hats, and how pleased and proud and modern and up-to-date they must have felt. And when you walk back north, take a good look at Pioneer Bank, south of the Monument on the east side of Kedzie; this building, with its bright, new brick facing, occupies the site of the old rapid-transit terminal where the elevated tracks came to an end.
A casual visitor would not guess how this place fits into the history of Logan Square. It’s easy to take an el platform for granted, you won’t find anything like it on the National Register of Historic Places, no battles fought here, no millionaires, just a place where uncounted thousands, most of whom have moved on in this world (or moved out of it altogether), boarded the CTA and went on about their business.
The platform is gone, of course. When you walk behind the bank building you’ll see the tracks now sink into the subway, but nothing to suggest where they once ended, and nothing to suggest the trains that once stood overhead, waiting to return to the Loop, and nothing to suggest the people who boarded here and settled into their seats and opened their newspapers.
Gone also is the Terminal Restaurant downstairs, a quiet, decent place where, after a long dreary day in our store, my wife and I would sometimes stop for a late-night drink and snack, and somehow feel a little bit at home in our strange new surroundings. “What was it you always ordered?” I asked her the other day, and she replied without hesitation, “The fried oysters.”
Home, home, home. What an awful long time 35 years is, and how rich it’s been spending them in this place. There are a few more blocks to navigate, a chance to admire the old graystone two-flats south of Diversey–I’m especially fond of the open upstairs porches where people set up their barbecues and put out their potted plants–and to stroll down Logan Boulevard and back, wondering what it would be like to live in one of these beautiful old mansions, preferably one with a stone turret where I could set up my writing desk and look out over the boulevard, pretending that I too am a millionaire. Finally I turn up Sacramento, reach Diversey, walk by that haunted laundromat one more time, and complete my circle. Home, all of it home.
Later I sit on the back porch and watch my dog sprinkle the gangway. Now that the next-door neighbors have moved with their dogs to California, he has it all to himself. He’s gotten old in this gangway, the fourth dog to live a complete life with us, and can hardly raise his leg. He probably doesn’t even notice that a cat has taken the place of his friends. We’ve had four sets of neighbors to the south, three on the north, new neighbors two and three times for almost every house on the block, among them people from Germany, Poland, India, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Far East, and the American south. A few years ago someone, I never learned who, kept a chicken, a rooster to be exact, and morning after morning people as far as a block away could hear it crowing in the alley, loudly, lustily, exactly as if it believed it was on a farm. It’s gone now, or the neighbor is gone, just as so many other people and places and things are gone.
Gone, and I’m still here. Damned if I don’t miss that chicken.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Paul Dolan.