Z is for Zoo

I couldn’t blog on about Chicago without including one of my mother’s most favorite places in the city.  My mom, whose love of this city was as great as mine. Maybe that’s where I got it from?  That place is Lincoln Park Zoo.

It’s more than just a zoo. It’s a zoo and a conservatory within a park adjacent to a Great Lake with beaches and entertainment and all the stuff I’ve mentioned already in other posts. The park starts at one end where the Chicago History Museum is and as you proceed north you’ll find… well… the zoo, a farmers market, a nature museum, the conservatory, a (golf) driving range, restaurants, events like ZooLights (for the holidays), Super Zoo picnic (a family friendly evening event), yoga classes, wine festivals, concerts and any activities related to parks. Back to the zoo itself…..

It’s a free zoo. One of very few free ones left in the United States. When I was a child, I always had to start with either the farm-in-the-zoo or the seals then on to the lions and great ape house. Of course those are still some of my faves. But as an adult, I’ve really come to enjoy meerkats; cute funny little creatures they are. Oh, the bird house, the elephants and the zebras too. Mostly I love the grounds itself. I have some mixed feelings about zoos in general. It’s hard to see animals caged. When I was a child my mom said I was more interested in watching other people than I was the animals. Maybe I was thinking: why do they (people) get to roam free? I don’t know.  So I’m not sure I’d  enjoy other zoos as much (if it were strictly about the animals). But ours is an area with much more to offer. Like when I’m done walking the zoo grounds,  I go across the street to the rooftop of the Hotel Lincoln, to The J. Parker, for a drink and a little different perspective.


Y is for YMCA

The YMCA on Wabash Avenue is in an area that was known as Black Metropolis; more commonly referred to these days as Bronzeville. It was a social center for African Americans in the early 1900s. For those migrating from the south, the Y on Wabash provided job training and housing as well. It was there where a man named Carter Woodson and others would spend time discussing black history. In 1915, Woodson with his associates formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

In 1926, they designated a week to black history because it had otherwise been ignored or misrepresented.  The second week in February was chosen as it coincided with the birthdays of both abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former President Abraham Lincoln. The group still exists today as The Association for the Study of African American Life and History; and from what was once known as Negro History Week grew into Black History Month.

As for the YMCA on Wabash Avenue in Black Metropolis-Bronzeville, it is a Chicago landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Winning City. Windy City. White City. World Fair City.

Random thoughts on W. Chicago specific.

W: 2016  saw a lot of blue W’s in this city. Flying the W flag every time the Cubs won a game and eventually the World Series.


Hold onto your hats ladies and gents! The wind sure is whipping off the lake this morning. Looks like we’ll be living up to that “Windy City” moniker today!

says no real Chicagoan. Ever.

(Although we’ve embraced the nickname. We are not the windiest city in America).

Windy City they call us
Well it’s not due to the

Or, maybe it is? The earliest uses of  “Windy City” date back to the mid 1800’s;  Green Bay and Cincinnati used it in reference to our weather.  Cincinnati at the time was also a rival city. However, many believe the more popular story of the New York reporter who called us the windy city because our politicians were a bunch of blowhards. New York lost its bid to host the World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893.

It was also from New York around the time of the World Columbian Exposition that we got the name: Second City. Geez, NYC, sore losers much?  But Chicago is resilient. Perhaps our resiliency is another reason to refer to us as a second city. We were built twice; the first city  before the 1871 Chicago fire and second city after. The World Columbian Expo (aka World’s Fair) which happened 22 years later, played a key role. It changed the landscape of Chicago and put us on the map.

There were many firsts at the World Columbian Exposition: Cracker Jacks, The Ferris Wheel, Vienna Beef Hot Dogs and what they call America’s first serial killer (I’m guessing  first known serial killer) H.H. Holmes. Erik Larson has written a best selling novel about it: “The Devil In the White City”.

White city
was the name of the site,
buildings for the fair
all painted white.
The way it lit up!
especially at night.

Walking tours of the white city exist today but there are very few places left from this time: The Osaka Gardens and what was known then as The Palace of Fine Arts, now The Museum of Science and Industry, among them. After looking at all the old pics, I find it rather sad.

But I found this youtube video which I thought was interesting:

V is for Viaduct

Viaducts: the bridges that generally cross land, a road, etc. so that trains and the like can pass over without interrupting the flow of traffic. In a city like Chicago, where railroads were an essential part of our economic development and growth, viaducts are plenty.  More recently, the area under viaducts have become both a place to showcase art, with their murals and mosaics; and by contrast, where many Chicago homeless live.

July, 1977

We set out to walk around the neighborhood as young, bored teen girls sometimes do. “Let’s go find my brother and his friends” one of my girlfriend’s said.  We looked in the usual places: down the street, in the alley.  And just as we gave up on the idea of finding some boys to entertain us, there they were! fast-pitching under a viaduct; throwing balls against the walls. The guys sometimes practiced there, as we discovered, and played softball (invented in Chicago) in the area near the tracks, whenever they were looking for something to do and, I surmised, didn’t have girls around to entertain them?  I surmised wrong. In that moment at least, we were pretty much ignored. It was an early  lesson in boy/girl relationships:  when it comes to sports, you will likely come in second.  It was also the first time I’d seen anyone make use of the space under a viaduct.

July, 1877

One hundred years earlier at a viaduct on the other side of town: The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 that started in the east had gained momentum becoming the first national strike in the US.  In Chicago, crowds gathered by the thousands around the city and one place in particular…a viaduct on Halsted Street. The protestors were determined to get people from all industries to stop working and the city was determined to remove the crowd. Police came, violence erupted, the military was also called in.  Order was restored in about a day but not before the battle left many dead and many more injured.

September, 2007

One hundred and thirty years later at yet another viaduct further north: While strolling down Bryn Mawr on my way to one of the last beach days,  I couldn’t help but marvel at the newest public artwork: “Living 2007”.  Created by 400 people, many of them youth, using a bricolage ( whatever’s available) technique:  this 185 foot mosaic mural represents daily life in the Edgewater community where it resides. The beauty is in the details and each time I stroll down Bryn Mawr to the beach, I try to take in something new.

September, 2017

Ten years later at a viaduct just a little further south: Mike and dozens of his fellow tent city residents are concerned. As the city starts much needed renovations of the Lawrence and Wilson Avenue viaducts, where will they go?  Pacific Garden Missions? Mike says it’s worse;  more dangerous than the thought of  concrete falling on his head under the viaduct.  Some have set up in the park but police tell them if they’re out  after the parks close, they’ll be arrested.  Joe, another viaduct resident, says he’ll take his chances.  He’d rather have a bed and food in jail than spend the night at the Missions.  The city is trying to find permanent housing for the viaduct residents but the wider issue of homelessness still remains…. under many of the viaducts around the city.




S is for Seven (free things to do in Chicago)

1. Visit Millennium Park. They have free concerts of all music genres. Free movies.  Free yoga and Zumba classes.  Cloudgate aka the “bean”. Or cool off in the Crown fountain.

2. Hang out by the lake. Take a walk or run. Enjoy the boats and beaches. Go by the Buckingham Fountain. One of the world’s largest.

3.  The Cultural Center Chicago. Free concerts, cultural exhibits and more.  Visitor brochures.

4. Dance, dance, dance. At SummerDance in Grant Park. Take a different dance style lesson and practice your new moves when the band plays afterward. (Weekends, June – September).

5. Lincoln Park Zoo. One of the few free zoos left in the U.S.

6. Museums. Ed Paschke Art Center in Jeff Park on the northwest side. Polish-American artist born and raised in Chicago. National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen. Made In Chicago Museum through August 2018 at the Edgewater Historical Society (north side).

7. Take a little trip further south and visit Osaka Japanese Gardens in Jackson Park. Built during 1893 World Columbian Exposition. A gift to Chicago from Japan.


SEVEN. Because there’s seven days in a week.

River to Rooftops

What is it about a river?  Life-sustaining;  a way of travel; civilizations have grown around them.  Rivers are the inspiration for song.

If the lakefront is our heart, the river is our soul.  It runs through the city, through downtown and the neighborhoods, for 156 miles and it runs in reverse. It is the place to learn about Chicago history (the learning center to our lakefront playground) and take in spectacular views of the architecture. Watch a movie filmed in Chicago and chances are you’ve seen the river.

The Chicago river  sure has changed since I was a child (well, in the last century really, but I wasn’t there so I’ll leave history to the experts).  Unlike the lakefront walks I took with the family, except for the boat tours, and Riverview Amusement Park of which my memory is vague, I don’t recall much going on by the river. I do recall hearing back then, there was a vision: that one day the river would be a place for entertainment and bring many visitors here.  The day is here……

The Chicago river is pulsating with life:  music, entertainment, walking or boat, history or leisurely tours and the like. There’s an Irish pub, a tiki bar, a French café, steaks, brunch and blues. And a special event or two. You can get to Navy Pier from there and you could spend days exploring. One of my favorite things to do is take a water taxi to Ping Tom Park in Chinatown; have a picnic, walk around, grab some dim sum or a bubble (boba) tea or go during an event. Last year we saw a Polynesian themed show with hula and fire dancers. It’s also the site of the dragon boat races.  I don’t know exactly why but I feel a special connection to Chinatown. Perhaps it just seemed like different and exciting place to me when I was young and that memory stuck. I like it even more now that I found Ping Tom Park on the river.

If I were to change some words to the song God Bless America to be more Chicago specific,  instead of:

“from the mountains to the prairies…”

It might go something like:

“from the river to the rooftops….”

Rooftop establishments have really become quite the thing in this new millennium. It makes sense  in a big city when there’s so much congestion. Why grow out when you can grow up. Especially in a city with such spectacular views. Rooftop bars and restaurants are the fastest growing establishments it seems. I probably couldn’t name them all here, at the rate they’re opening, I’m not sure I can keep up.  But,  I will give a shoutout to two of my favorites thus far.

The J. Parker – located in a boutique hotel across from Lincoln Park. You get the view of the skyline, lake, park and zoo. I love going in early fall when the leaves on the trees are changing color and the little tableside fire pits are going.

London House Hotel – Named after the London House jazz club that used to occupy the ground floor.  It’s a historic building, a skyscraper from the 1920s with great views that overlook……

the river.

Can’t get any better.




Memories of Mom: Music along Michigan Avenue

Grant Park, Millennium Park, Art Institute are located at or adjacent to Michigan Avenue.

When it comes to entertainment, I inherited a love of two things from my mom: dance being one.

Chicago’s Summerdance, at The Spirit of Music Garden (south end of Grant Park), is held every weekend from June – September. I first started going  with my mom and sister.  They teach a different style of dance… salsa, swing, tango,  2 step,  folk dances from around the globe. Afterward,   one can practice or show off their new moves to live music.  When my mom was younger, she danced a lot of polka and swing.  At Summerdance, she always enjoyed watching the steppin’. She said it reminded her of the push/pull type dancing they did in the 50s.  In case you don’t know what steppin’ is… unlike the name sounds and not to be confused with step-dancing… it involves smooth, gliding footwork. Steppin’ is a dance that originated within the African American community in Chicago. Mom also got a great deal of joy watching square dancing.  Personally, I love and have taken lessons in all styles of dance at one point or another in my life.   I met my honey while salsa dancing at a club and several years later, ran into him at Summerdance, where we started a summer-romance. But that’s a different story.

The second thing was our love of jazz. In fact, it was she who, more or less, introduced me to it. Like my mom, I prefer the jazz of the big band, swing era. Give me Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Chet Baker, Freddy Cole (a Chicagoan and brother to Nat King) and the like.  In the 90s (or maybe it was the 80s?), the courtyard at the Art Institute would have a jazz band play on Tuesday nights. Rachel Lee usually performed and mom just loved her. It was sad to hear she passed away at the young age of 62.  We would have dinner, a cocktail and the white chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce. When the Art Institute stopped Tuesday night jazz, we, she in particular, truly missed it. Why do away with a good thing?  Not only was it great entertainment and a nice atmosphere; it was  mother/daughter bonding time. I think she still had a menu from the restaurant to commemorate our times there. Years and years later, we were elated to find out about another jazz program at the Art Institute. They called it Martini Mondays. Each Monday a jazz band played in a different area around the museum. Once in the courtyard. Once at the south garden. Once at the north garden. Of course, we preferred the courtyard.