Monday, May 25, 2020

Chicago in the Early 1800s.

An Area in Transition.
Chicago's early history, consecutive movements of population, the encroachment of commerce and industry as the settlement crossed the north branch of the river and sprawled northward, have all left their impressions.

Indians camped along the river where great factories smoked and thousands of vehicles clamor at the bridges. Indeed, it is just over two hundred and forty years ago, as tradition has it, since a black man from San Marc, Haiti, bearing the ornate name of Jean Baptiste Point de Sable (the "du" of Point du Sable is a misnomer. It is an American corruption of "de" as pronounced in French. "Jean Baptiste Point du Sable" first appears long after his death), built the first log cabin in 1779 of what was to be the settlement called Chécagou, on the north bank of the river.

Antoine Ouilmette was the first permanent white settler of Chicago building a cabin at the mouth of the Chicago River near du Sable's cabin in July of 1790 (see illustration below)

Du Sable's cabin was later acquired by John Kinzie in 1804. Kinzie's cabin became the center of a little settlement near the stockade of the long-vanished Fort Dearborn
Jean Baptiste Point du Sable built a cabin just north of the Chicago River near Lake Michigan in 1779 (approximately where the Tribune Tower is today) where he established a trading post. (claimed to be the first house build in Chicago). Du Sable sold his property to Jean Baptiste La Lime, who in turn sold it to William Burnett, John Kinzie's business partner. In 1804 Kinzie buys the house and property from Burnett and keeps the property until 1828. The house of Antoine Ouilmette is seen in the background. Illustration from 1827.
After the War of 1812 and the Fort Dearborn Massacre, a village grew up between the northern and southern branches of the river and Lake Michigan. 
With the dredging of the harbor, in 1833, the village became a town. Wharves were built along both banks of the river. Chicago's first packing house was built at this time. Immigrants from the East came crowding in, and by 1837, the year in which Chicago was incorporated as a city, it had become a community of several thousand and had pushed northward to North Avenue and Lincoln Park. It was expected that Kinzie Street would be the business street of the new city, and Chicago's first railroad, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, was brought down the center of Kinzie Street in 1847. The lumber business was then located along the river, and things were in a state of the boom. But Chicago was still a frontier town. 

In 1845 there were only about 5,000 people between Chicago and the Pacific Ocean. 
Note: There was no census in California in 1840 even though 2 U.S. Representatives were assigned. The 1st census was in 1850 and reported 92,597 after the California Gold Rush in 1848 until 1855.
On the northwest corner of Michigan Boulevard and Lake Street was a very large, vacant field, which was usually filled with camping parties; whole communities migrating from the East to the West. It was a common sight to see a long line of prairie-schooners drive into this field, with cows tied behind the covered wagons. There they would unload for the night. There was always mystery and charm about their evening campfires.

The greatest excitement was the arrival of the weekly boat from Buffalo, New York. These boats brought many supplies and our only news from the outside world. In those days the great West Side, as we know it now, did not exist; and even the North Side seemed like a separate town because there were only one or two bridges connecting the two sides of town.

In the decade and a half before the Civil War the city grew rapidly, and by 1860 there were 29,922 people living north of the river. During the years between 1850 and 1860 nearly half of Chicago's increase in population was by foreign immigration; as it was, also, between 1860 and 1870. 

And while previous to 1860 the population of the North Side was mainly Indians, the first statistics available on the composition of Chicago's population by wards, those for 1866, show that there were then a considerable number of Irish and Germans living in the North Division. The Irish, the first of five waves of immigration that were to sweep over the Near North Side, began coming soon after the Irish.

The commercial importance of the North Branch continued to grow. The tanning and meat-packing industries were located along the river. The lumber business was rapidly increasing; warehouses were rapidly being built. In 1857 Chicago's first iron and steel industry began on the banks of the Chicago River with the opening of the North Chicago Rolling Mills Company, about two and a half miles northwest of the city's center

Later, as railroads came into the city, a number of machine shops were built on Clark, Wells, State, Erie, Kinzie and Division streets, and on Chicago and North avenues, thus binding the North Side more closely to the activities of the city as a whole. 

Starting in 1858, horse-drawn streetcars began to run lines on Clark, Wells, and Larrabee streets, and across Chicago Avenue and Division Street run by the Chicago City Railway Company and the North Chicago City Railway Company.
Although the Chicago Surface Lines built some replica vehicles in the 1930s, North Chicago City Railway Company's Street Railroad car № 8 is not among them. The original, built in 1859, we see it here in demonstration service during the 1948 and 1949 Chicago Railroad Fair (link includes both years Official Guide Books in PDF) on the lakefront. This car № 8 is preserved at the Illinois Railway Museum.
Meanwhile some small retail businesses were springing up on the streets near the river. 
From Schiller Street North to 12th Street (Roosevelt Road) South Side. 1868
The tendency to the segregation of population on the basis of race, nationality, and economic status, which is an inevitable accompaniment of the growth of the city, was becoming evident at this early date. The more well-to-do and fashionable element, and the Irish and German immigrants, as well as the laboring population and a small group of riff-raff and transients, were beginning to live in groups to themselves and to characterize certain streets, sections, and divisions of the North Side. 

The Near North Side has always been, more or less, the fashionable residence district. In the 1860s the fashionable and aristocratic residence section of Chicago on the North Side was in the district from Chicago Avenue south to Michigan Street (Hubbard Street), and from Clark Street east to Cass Street (Wabash Avenue). Residences on Ohio, Ontario, Erie, Superior, Rush, Cass, Pine (Michigan Avenue), Dearborn, and North State streets appear frequently in the "society columns" and Chicago directories of the 1860s. It was on these streets that the leading families of the early settlers and the early aristocracy lived and with South Michigan Boulevard, were the fashionable streets of the day. It was not until the 1890s that Lake Shore Drive became 'the' place to live.

One of these early aristocracy writes:

The North Side was "home," and a lovely, homelike place it was. The large grounds and beautiful shade-trees about so many residences gave a sense of space, rest, flowers, sunshine and shadows, that hardly belongs nowadays to the idea of a city. There was great friendliness, and much simple, charming living.
 Over between Clark, Illinois, Dearborn, and Indiana streets stood the old North Side Market, where the men of the families often took their market-baskets in the morning, while the "virtuous woman" stayed at home "and looked well to the ways of her household." 

Another institution of our day was the custom of sitting on the front steps though even then there were those who rather scorned that democratic meeting place. But for those of us who did not rejoice in porches and large grounds, they had their joys…. In fact, it was even possible for unconventional people like ourselves to carry out chairs and sit on the board platforms built across the ditches that ran along each side of the street, and on which carriages drove up to the sidewalks. 

Of course there were "high teas," when our mothers and fathers were regaled with "pound to a pound" preserves, chicken salad, escalloped oysters, pound-cake, fruit-cake, and all other cakes known to womankind; and where they played old-fashioned whist and chess. 

...Parties usually began about half-past seven or eight o'clock, and "the ball broke" generally about eleven or twelve o'clock; where there was no dancing it ended at ten or eleven o'clock.
 Of course there was no "organized charity," as we know it nowadays, but there was much of that now despised "basket charity," when friendships were formed between rich and poor.
Between Clark and Wells Streets, south of Chicago Avenue, was a neighborhood of storekeepers and merchants; while west of Wells lived the laboring people. In this area there were a number of laborers' boarding-houses and cheap saloons. At this time there was nothing but a sandy waste between Cass Street (Wabash Avenue) and the lakefront.

And there was an unsavory population on the sand flats at the mouth of the river and immediately along its banks, known as “Shanty Town,” and ruled over by the “Queen of the Sands,” Emma "Ma" Streeter. A memorable event of the decade was the raid on the “Sands” led by “Long John” Wentworth, then-mayor when the police razed the Sands brothels amid the mingled cheers and hisses of the populace. 

The Irish had settled along the river, to the south and west. The settlement extended as far east as State Street immediately along the river, but most of the Irish lived between Kinzie and Erie, in the vicinity of old Market Street. 

In 1853, William B. Ogden, a Chicago real estate developer, built a channel to provide a more straightforward alternative to Chicago River’s winding North Branch. The result was an island, the only island in Chicago. This river settlement along the North Branch was known as "Kilgubbin," or more often, as "the Patch". It quickly became a haven for Irish immigrants who were so poor they couldn’t afford proper housing. The island was dubbed Kilgubbin, after the area most of them were originally from. Taking a cue from the life they left behind in Europe, they built flimsy wooden homes with gardens and farms where they raised cabbage and vegetables and livestock. As the city grew around them, the island got a few factories, but other than that, it barely changed. Chicagoans came to see the residents as backward, treating them with a mixture of pity and mockery so they called Kilgubbin “Goose Island.” 

The Irish were then mostly laborers, not having been in America long enough to have exploited their flair for politics. They were already displaying their love of a fight, however, and a solidly Irish regiment was recruited from Kilgubbin during the Civil War. Kilgubbin was in reality a squatters’ village, and contained within it a lawless element. In an article printed in the Chicago Times, in August of 1865, some account is given of Kilgubbin and its population:
At the head of the list of the squatter villages of Chicago stands "Kilgubbin," the largest settlement within its limits. It has a varied history, having been the terror of constables, sheriffs, and policemen. It numbered several years ago many thousand inhabitants of all ages and habits, besides large droves of geese, goslings, pigs, and rats. It was a safe retreat for criminals, policemen not venturing to invade its precincts, or even cross the border, without having a strong reserve force.
The Germans, on the other hand, were gardeners rather than laborers. Very few went into business, though there were three breweries owned by Germans where the Chicago Water Tower's pumping station now stands. But the majority of the Germans lived north of Chicago Avenue and east of Clark Street, in cottages on small farms or gardens, and did truck farming. There were German families scattered along Clark, La Salle, and Wells streets. And the German element for a time found the center of its social activities in the vicinity of the German Theater, at the corner of Wells and Indiana Streets (Franklin Boulevard). This theater was supported by a German musical society, offered "the first purely musical entertainment ever presented in Chicago," and for years continued to present dramatic sketches in the German language.

The city limits extended at this time, 1860-70, to North Avenue. But until after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, the area north of Division Street, and even north of Chicago Avenue to the west, was practically still the "country."

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Real Story of Minky's Bicycle Shops in Chicago.

Seymour (Shimky; Shim to friends & family) Nimerov opened Minky's Hobby & Sports Store at 3330-32 West Roosevelt Road in 1938. Shimky incorporated as "Seymour Nimerov & Company," but he did business (dba) as "Minky's Hobby & Sports Store." 

Milton (Minky) Nimerov was Shimky's older brother and he thought the name was catchy and would be easy to remember. Besides bicycles, they sold sporting goods, hobby crafts, toys, and were a Lionel train dealer too.
Oil painting of Minky's Hobby & Sports Store at 3330-32 W. Roosevelt Road, Chicago.
Sent to me by Shimky's Granddaughter, Denise Kase-Nabat.
Shimky was the business owner, Minky took care of new bicycle assembly and mechanical repairs, and Charley Nimerov assisted Shimky in the sales and management of the Roosevelt Road store.
Minky's Hobby & Sports Store, 3330-32 West Roosevelt Road, Chicago, Illinois
Left to right: Unknown, Minky, Shimky, Charley (the brother who helped Minky run the Roosevelt Road store).
Shimky advertised to purchase stamps collections.
Minky advertised to purchase stamps collections.
Chicago Tribune, January 16, 1944.
Shimky opened a second store, Minky's Bicycles & Toy Store at 2834 West Devon Avenue around 1954.
Minky's Bicycles, 2834 West Devon Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Tribune Ad, February 24, 1958.
Bicycles were shipped in boxes and assembled at the dealerships. Many bike shops around the country had their own head badges and would replace the manufacturers head badge with their own.
Chicago Tribune Ad, May 29, 1958.
Minky's on Roosevelt Road was burned to the ground during the Chicago riots in 1968. On April 5, 1968, violence sparked because of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., on the West side of Chicago, gradually expanding to consume a 28-block stretch of West Madison Street and leading to additional fire damage on Roosevelt Road. The riot was finally contained on April 7, 1968.
Chicago Tribune Ad, June 9, 1968
Chicago Tribune Ad October 7, 1972.
Minky's Devon Avenue store was closed in 1983.

NOTE: Minky's son, David Nimerov has maliciously lied about his dad Milton, being the owner of Minky's and has done so for years, as he must have thought there was no proof of ownership still in existence. But after talking to some of Shimky's family, I did a deep dive to find out the truth.

During my written conversations with David Nimerov, he made these statements to me: "My Dad Milton Minky Nimerov [was the owner]. Shimky was his younger brother and the salesperson." "There’s a reason the stores were named Minky’s Bicycles." "If I recall, my dad did give Eve [Shimky's wife] $3,000 to walk away."

I don't know why he felt it necessary to propagate these lies for years, perhaps just to be spiteful. In my book it's just like someone claiming to have been in the military but never served. It's called "stolen valor!" I ousted David because what he is doing is just plain wrong and hurtful to his own family.

I don't allow anyone to besmirch someone's reputation, dead or alive, for anybody, with unsubstantiated accusations, hear-say, or rumors. 

If you don't have PROOF — Don't say it! 

How would you like it if false accusations about one of your parents, aunts, uncles, brothers, or sisters were perpetuated, as a fact, over and over, from people that never even stepped foot in their business or met them? I thought so! You'd make every attempt to knock-down those lies!

Secondly, most of you that had actually been inside Minky's didn't know who was who and believed you were speaking to Minky when you were really talking to his brother Shimky (Seymour Nimerov) who wore a toupee you couldn't help but notice. Minky worked in the back of the shop, assembling new bicycles and repairing customer's bikes. Shimky, a hefty man, worked in the front of the store in sales and service. So you probably never saw Minky.

Not just any Bicycle shop could sell Schwinn bicycles. Schwinn vetted every dealership for their financial standing, sales, reputation, and mechanical abilities. 

Moreover, the nickname "Stinky Minky" — was because Minky smoked big, fat, smelly cigars in the store and not because of all the "crook" rumors.


There is enough crap, enough misinformation, and enough lies on Facebook already. My folks knew Minkey and Shimky. My Dad and Minky were in the same graduating class in Marshall High School. My Dad, an Optometrist, was Minky's eye doctor.

I've heard so many "hear-say" stories since the 1960s, but NOBODY has ever had any proof... no police reports... why? Because it's B.S., that's why!

Okay, folks, now it time for a TRUE story...
In my history group, the post about Minky's got a member all riled up. He claimed, and swore to it, that Minky stole his bike, and he saw it in Minky's Bicycle shop, himself, with the stickers he put on the frame still on the bike that was upfront for sale. I asked him why his parents didn't call the police to report his stolen bike? After being pressed for an answer, by me and some other members, he couldn't figure out a good answer, and thus, being embarrassed, he left the group. 

Think about this; If Minky's was trafficking in stolen merchandise, do you really think he would just put it in his shop as is, without cleaning it up first? Really? Even thieves with an IQ as low as 30, knows they need to fence their merchandise to a third party so they don't get caught.

By Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

1893 World's Columbian Exposition - Intramural Railway.

The Intramural Railway, which carried without serious hitch or accident nearly 6,000,000 passengers during the term of the Exposition. This is an elevated structure, the motive power of which is electricity. Its length, from end to end, is three and one-eighth miles, and its track is double all the way.
There are ten stations at convenient points. The road begins with a loop that encircles the Indian School. It runs southeast, encircling the Anthropological Building, and then turns northwest. Passing between the colonnade and the Stock Pavilion, the road skirts the south side of the Machinery Building and Annex and then turns northward past its west end. It next crosses over the roof of the Perron of the Terminal Station, where the connection is made with all out-of-town railways.
The next station is on the roof of the Annex to the Transportation Building, which is called Chicago Junction. Here the connection is made on a level with the trains of the Elevated Railway which run to the city. From here, turning to the western edge of the grounds, the road extends directly north to the northwest corner, passing Midway Plaisance, the California Building, and through the Esquimaux Village.

Here a turn is made east along the north fence, and upon reaching the Iowa Building a curving course among some of the other State structures carries the tracks between the French  Building and the East Annex to the Art Gallery, through the Foreign Buildings, and past the Fisheries Building. Its terminus here is at the United States Government Building, where it makes a loop over the waters of the lagoon and turns back on its course to retrace its way on the other track to the starting point.
The road is unique and substantial in construction, and in all its details is a triumph of electrical engineering. Its use is indispensable to the visitor who desires to see the great Exposition quickly and with comfort. Each train makes the round trip in thirty-five minutes, attaining a speed of from twenty to thirty miles per hour between stations.
From ten to fifteen trains are in operation every hour. Injury to passengers by accident has never occurred. The trains cannot be derailed, and the block signal system makes collisions impossible. One fare of ten cents entitles the passenger to transportation to either terminus of the road, from the station where the train is taken. The Intramural Railway is in itself one of the greatest exhibits of the Exposition. The enormous dynamo, or electrical generator, which furnishes the power for operating the road, is the largest machine of its kind in the world, and the largest piece of machinery on exhibition at the Fair. It supplies three thousand horse-power; it cost $100,000 ($2,880,750 today) and weighed 192 tons. It was on exhibition in the powerhouse of the road near the Forestry Building.
Chicago's elevated tracks appeared to be the right choice, as subways were too expensive to consider. The first 'L' train (then Chicago and South Side Rapid Transit Railroad) was built in 1892, and its inaugural journey took place on June 6, 1892, spanning 3.6 miles in 14 minutes. Up until that point, the ‘L’ was just an ordinary steam-powered train on raised tracks.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

How an 'Ugly Law' stayed on Chicago's books for 93 years.

In 1881, Chicago Ald. James Peevey had a mission: to rid the city of "all street obstructions."

By street obstructions, Peevey didn't mean food carts, construction materials, roadblocks, or potholes.

He meant beggars, such as the ones described in the Tribune as "the one-legged individual who, with drooping eye and painfully lugubrious countenance, holds forth his hat for pennies" or "the fellows who yell 'ba-na-naas'" and "the woman with two sick children who were drawn through the carding-machine in a woolen mill, and who grinds 'Mollie Darling' incessantly on a hurdy-gurdy on a street corner."

The alderman took issue with people displaying their disabilities on the street for alms or change — so he took action. In May of that year, Peevey pushed an ordinance through the City Council that banned anyone who was "diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object" from being in the "public view." Beggars were fined $1 to $50 — a hefty sum in the 1880s — or shipped off to the Cook County Poorhouse.

Peevey wasn't completely heartless, though: He tried to carve out an exemption for a one-legged, one-armed soldier. But overall, his ordinance made the streets of Chicago unfriendly to those who were blind, deaf, or disfigured.

Chicago was just one of several cities to pass an "unsightly beggar" ordinance — what came to be dubbed an "ugly law." The trend started in San Francisco in 1867, only two years after the end of the Civil War, and spread throughout cities in the West and Midwest from 1870 to 1880.

At the time, reformers viewed these laws as ways to better their communities. In his book "The Welfare Debate," Illinois Wesleyan University professor Greg Shaw explains that the county poorhouse model (think: Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist") that was supposed to keep the poor off the streets and in work turned out to be too expensive and too corrupt to maintain.

In fact, in 1872, the Cook County Poorhouse — which shared land with Dunning Insane Asylum, the county's psychiatric hospital — was dysfunctional enough to warrant a complete overhaul. Within 20 years, the place was labeled a "festering mass of moral corruption and official fraud" — again.

It isn't a surprise that the poor sometimes preferred the streets.

But fear spurred civic leaders to keep the streets clear. They worried that disfigured beggars would scare women. They were wary of the tensions between the lower and upper classes. They felt a sense of religious obligation to help the poor. Community leaders settled on an idiomatic solution: out of sight, out of mind.

The ugliest part of these laws came from the underlying mistrust of those who were poor and disabled. Throughout the 19th century, there was an ongoing debate over who was worthy of charity. According to Shaw, most felt that widows and orphans — victims of circumstances — warranted help from the state and the wealthy, while able-bodied paupers "were seen as chronically irresponsible and thus much less deserving of assistance."
Those with disabilities, however, were caught between "worthy" and "unworthy," and news stories gave people little reason to trust them. During an interview from 1880, the general superintendent of the Relief and Aid Society offered this advice to Tribune readers: "The fact is that nine out of ten of these street-beggars are either impostors or thieves, who come to spy out the houses and give 'pointers' to burglars. Unless the applicant is known to be worthy of relief, nobody ought to give it."

When the ugly law was in its heyday, the Tribune featured reports of blind beggars who, when brought to court, could suddenly see, and deaf beggars who could hear. Case in point, this snippet from a 1908 Tribune story about a deaf and blind beggar who had a hearing before a judge: "As if by magic the man's hearing and eyesight were restored, and he took $80 from one of his pockets and counted out the amount of his fine."

There were stories like the one of a blind organ grinder who, when arrested, was found with $710 on him and was said to treat his "lady friends" to car rides and cafe luncheons. Or the double-jointed 18-year-old who was put on probation for pretending to be disabled and begging for money. In 1902, the Tribune reported that the Chicago Police Department even declared war against a "beggar fraternity" that poured acid on their bodies so they'd cut a more pitiful figure.

Then came the first World War. Soldiers came home from battle, their bodies torn, limbs missing, minds addled. Attitudes toward people who were disabled started to change. In 1911, the CPD had issued its own edict "prohibiting blind mendicants, legless unfortunates and other seekers of alms from exhibiting their misfortunes to the public view," but after World War I ended in 1918, no new ugly laws were passed. Instead, plans were made to help manage veterans' physical and mental care.

It was a slow process. The end of each subsequent war — World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War — and the work of activists on behalf of all people with disabilities shifted sentiments. Bans on jobs that were previously barred to disabled people — such as hotel clerk — were lifted. Mentions of Chicago police officers fining and arresting "ugly" beggars dropped off in the 1950s. The 1960s and 1970s saw laws drafted to protect the rights of the disabled and cities remade to be more accessible — and in 1990 the federal Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
Policeman Stephen Schumack, left, leads a crippled man to a police wagon on July 22, 1954, from the skid row area in Chicago. (Photo: Luigi Mendicino / Chicago Tribune)
Somehow, Peevey's 1881 ordinance stayed on the books through most of that history. When the City Council finally voted to repeal it in 1974, a co-sponsor of the repeal, Ald. Paul T. Wigoda, said simply, "It is cruel and insensitive. It is a throwback to the Dark Ages."

Chicago Tribune June 23, 2016
By Elizabeth Greiwe
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The History of the Springfield Tank Natatorium at Beilfuss Park in Chicago.

The West Chicago Park Commission laid out Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas Parks in 1869.

In the early 1900s, some of the independent Chicago Park Districts began building natatorium facilities with showers, indoor swimming pools, and gyms, to provide public bathing (Bath Houses) and recreational opportunities to the city's community parks with the quickly increasing number of residents. 

By 1915, Mayor Carter H. Harrison II and the West Chicago Park Commission had hit upon the idea of building natatoriums adjacent to city water pumping stations to take advantage of the excess steam generated there. The Springfield Avenue natatorium, nicknamed "The Springfield Tank" was adjacent to the pumping station in the Humboldt Park Community. It was one of three such facilities under construction that year. The others were the Roseland Natatorium (later Griffith Natatorium, in Block Park) and the Central Park Avenue (Jackson) Natatorium. 
The Springfield Tank at Beilfuss Park in Chicago
On March 29, 1915, at the suggestion of Mayor Harrison, the Special Park Commission named the new Humboldt Park facility in honor of late ten-term Republican Alderman, A.W. Beilfuss (1854-1914). A native of Germany and a printer by trade, Beilfuss was serving as Special Park Commission Chairman at the time of his death.

The current "Chicago Park District" was created in 1934 by the Illinois Legislature under the Park Consolidation Act. By provisions of that act, the Chicago Park District consolidated and superseded the then-existing 22 separate park districts in Chicago, the largest three of which were the Lincoln Park, West Park, and South Park Districts, all of which had been established in 1869.
Beilfuss Park, 1725 North Springfield Avenue, Chicago.
The Beilfuss Natatorium, located at 1725 North Springfield Avenue, was so popular that by 1935 it drew more than 300,000 patrons. During World War II, boys from Beilfuss Park began to publish a local-interest newsletter that was circulated to former patrons serving in the military around the world. During the same period, the Chicago Park District installed a playground adjacent to the natatorium, as well as an athletic field, that during the winter months, was flooded for ice skating.

The park district replaced the original play equipment with a new soft surface playground in 1992. In 1998, the out of date, 1915 natatorium was razed. 

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The History of the Relic House in Chicago.

At the rear of the Chicago History Museum (formerly the Chicago Historical Society) within a clearing in the bushes, lie unmarked chunks of is molten masses of metal. The foliage is pruned just enough to allow the informed person the ability to see the objects hidden within the leaves if they know where to look. Knowing what these objects are is a different issue: no signage or other markers alert the viewer to their provenance. Many people learned of these mysterious artifacts by word of mouth. The reconstituted objects were created by the extreme heat from the 1871 Great Chicago Fire.

The Chicago Historical Society acquired these pieces of fire-altered iron, brick, and stone in 1921 as part of a large donation by Chicago candy magnet, Charles Frederick Gunther. Gunther, a former director of the Chicago Historical Society, made his fortune from his popular caramel candies and used it to purchase art and historic materials, especially those relating to the Civil War (1861-1865).
The remains from a hardware store, after the 1871 Great Chicago Fire, fused into a metal bolder that used to sit outside the main entrance of the Chicago Historical Society.
Perhaps because his own business was destroyed in the Chicago Fire, Gunther also extended his collecting interests to fire materials. In 1890 the estimated twenty-ton chunk of fire debris, eventually owned and donated by Gunther, was uncovered during excavations fo the footings of the Masonic Temple at State and Randolph Streets, along with a melted pair of steel scissors and part of a silver watch. Why these fragments are so hard to visually locate today—buried in the shrubbery on the east side of the museum—is not made clear by the Chicago History Museum. Although currently hidden, the fragments were intentionally preserved for some time after the Fire.

The "Relic House" was created to display and preserve the remnants of the Chicago Fire, to remember, to fascinate, and, at a base level, to serve as a construction material that purposely maintains a material connection to the initial event. In 1872, a man only recorded as "Rettig" constructed a cottage-sized structure from 'a melted mixture of stone, iron, and other metals' at the corner of North Park Avenue (Lincoln Park West) and Clark Street. 
Relic House at Clark and Lincoln Park West. Robinson Fire Map 1886.
Further accounts state that the structure had walls made from melted globules of metal, masonry, sewing machines, and china doll parts, with an interior decorated with pre-1871-style furnishings.
Original Relic House, Before the Refreshment and Music Hall, Was Added—1872.
An 1878 advertising card shows the Relic House surrounded by streetcars, pedestrians, and prancing horses, and it lists Hermann Klanowsky as proprietor, whose father supposedly took over the establishment in the early twentieth century.
The Relic House—At the Entrance of Lincoln Park.
A popular account from the Chicago Tribune claims that around 1882, Phillip Vinter (or Winter) took over the Relic House and moved it to North Park Avenue (Lincoln Park West) at 900 North Clark Street (2021 North Clark Street today). However, an Albert Rettig—likely the same Rettig who built the Relic House in 1872—is listed as a saloon-keeper living at 900 North Clark Street in the 1880 Census, casting doubt on the Vinter attribution.

William Lindemann bought the Relic House sometime before 1890 and established a 'refreshment parlor' in the saloon. By 1890 its importance had risen to a point that a Chicago Tribune editorial called for the entire structure to be temporarily moved to Jackson Park to display the city's history, specifically the 'fantastic freaks of the flames' from the 1871 Fire, to tourists at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Such an exhibit was a fit medium to position the fair planners' narrative of Chicago's rebirth from the flame. Lindemann agreed: "It would make a good American curiosity," but only if he was paid enough for his efforts. This plan did not come to fruition, nor did Lindemann's proposed six-story revamp of the Relic House of 1896. Lindemann purportedly continued to add 'relics' to his establishment as new construction projects continued to unearth them, although precisely what these items may have been, has not been located in any documentation.

The Relic House served as a saloon into the twentieth century, and a speakeasy during Prohibition (1920-1933) and its ownership continued to change hands during this period. 

Legal Alcohol was available during the prohibition years in Illinois and America.

By 1906 John Weis had become the proprietor, spending time and money to improve his establishment. With 'the most tempting dishes... served in real German-style' in a setting newly decorated with stuffed moose and deer heads, stuffed sharks, engravings of German arts, and a large oil painting of the Chicago Fire, Weis encouraged visitors to his 'quaint monument and rustic resort.' 
In 1914 an advertisement shows it as one of the seven saloons in Chicago to have Munich's St. Benno Bier on tap. It's location, directly across from Lincoln Park, made it a prime spot for thirsty tourists traveling the Clark Street cable cars.
During Prohibition, the space continued to serve alcohol as a speakeasy, as did other Chicago saloons. The Relic House continued to serve liquor until Mr. Volstead turned the place into a restaurant serving beer, although it had served food from around 1900 as the "Familien Lokal," or family-style German restaurant, as well as during the Weis years.
The "Dil Pickle Club" (yes... only one 'L')  added a bohemian chapter to the Relic House story. The club started in 1914 as a cultural center by Archibald 'Jack' Jones, an organizer for the Industrial Workers of the World found a decrepit barn on Tooker Alley, off of (867½) North Dearborn Street in downtown Chicago.

In 1920, having been kicked out of their previous address, anarchist Dr. Ben L. Reitman arranged for the Club to meet at the Relic house for the first of many poetry nights. The Club members renamed their venue the 'House of Blazes,' reaffirming its link to the 1871 Fire. Considered an offshoot of the Dil Pickle Club proper, Reitman leased it for two years. Other artistic uses for the Relic House included as a home for Meyer Levin's experimental Marionette Theater in 1926.

The Relic House was razed in 1926, only 57 years after it was built, replaced by a 210-unit apartment building at 2000 Lincoln Park West.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

Monday, May 11, 2020

The History of Rich Melman's "Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc." Chicagoland Restaurants.

When Richard Melman began to get famous because of his restaurant success, he told several interviewers that he used to work for his father, Maurie, at a delicatessen. Rich Melman was the guy at the cash register. He was the ''Ricky'' in Mr. Ricky's. ''Yeah, my dad named the place after me,'' he said. ''The funny thing was, I hated to be called 'Ricky.' My friends all called me 'Rich.' But the place was Mr. Ricky's."

Mr. Ricky's Restaurant was on Skokie Boulevard and Gross Point Road, in Skokie, Illinois, in a nondescript shopping strip mall on the north-west corner. 

For years Melman did not get along with his father. ''I would have worked somewhere else, but I didn't feel I had a lot going for me,'' he said. ''I flunked out of college — well, I would have flunked out if I hadn't quit first — so I worked for my dad, behind that cash register.''

He had one dream: He wanted to be a partner in Mr. Ricky's. ''That would have been it for me,'' Melman said. ''That's all I wanted out of life.''

He managed to save some money, and one day he asked his father and his father's partner if he could speak with them. He said that he would like to join them — if only in the most minor way — as a partner in Mr. Ricky's. He was, after all, Ricky.

''My father told me no,'' Melman said. ''He said that I was welcome to continue working there, but that I wasn't ready to help run the place.

''Come to think of it, even though I worked the cash register, my dad would never let me total it up at the end of the day. He just wouldn't let me do it.

''So Melman quit, and with his friend, Jerry A. Orzoff, he opened R.J. Grunts (Rich - Jerry Grunts), in 1971. Then Melman started the "Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Inc." (LEYE) with Orzoff. The success of R.J. Grunts marked the beginning, and things built on that. 
In 1973 new ideas and concepts were created, including the debut of Fritz That's It! 

Fritz That's It! was located at 1615 Chicago Avenue which was next door to the North Shore Hotel which was located at 1611 Chicago Avenue. There was no hotel access between Fritz That's It! and the North Shore Hotel, nor any affiliation. 
Click Menu Cover for a Full-Size Image
Click Lunch Menu for a Full-Size Image
Click Dinner Menu for a Full-Size Image
Fritz That's It! was followed by the Great Gritzbe's Flying Food Show in 1974; Jonathan Livingston Seafood in 1975; and Lawrence of Oregano in 1976. With each new restaurant, Melman's style evolved as he welcomed new challenges.
Having mastered the off-beat casual restaurant-style, Melman directed his attention and energy toward the world of fine cuisine when he reopened the famous Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel in Chicago's Gold Coast in 1976 which originally opened in 1938.
The force behind the original Pump Room was Ernest Byfield, right, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. The Bogarts were regulars of the Ambassador East Hotel and Booth One, even honeymooning in an upstairs suite.
In 1979, Melman decided to expand to the Chicago suburbs and opened Bones in Lincolnwood, Illinois. In 1980, LEYE took the popular R.J. Grunts, added a more contemporary look, and opened a second location in Glenview, Illinois.

In 1980, Melman with Chef Gabino Sotelino traveled together to France where they insisted on bringing contemporary French cuisine to Chicago. This lead to the opening of Ambria in the Belden-Stratford at 2300 North Lincoln Park West in Chicago. The success of Ambria inspired additional trips to Europe in order to study food and style. 
As a result of such visits, LEYE opened Un Grand Café, a French-styled bistro at 2300 N Lincoln Park West in Chicago, and the sophisticated Italian restaurant, Avanzare. In 1983 Melman opened Gino’s franchise unit in Rolling Meadows.

Then came the Shaw's Crab House/Blue Crab Lounge in 1984-85, the Spanish tapas and small plate restaurant Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! in 1986 and upscale dining at Everest in 1986, the innovative Mexican creations at Hat Dance in1988, Tucci Benucch in 1988 and its cousin Tucci Milan in1989, and the southern Italian trattoria, Scoozi! in 1986.
In the 1990s LEYE opened Maggiano's Little Italy in Chicago in1991 and Oak Brook in 1992. Papagus Greek Taverna in Oak Brook in1991 featured Grecian delights and Mezedes amidst the friendly surroundings of a rustic taverna, and Big Bowl in Chicago's River North district in 1992 an Asian cafe featuring simple, fresh dishes under $10. Melman opened the Corner Bakery, a quick, casual restaurant chain geared towards downtown lunches and M Burger, a gourmet burger stand.
In the spring of l993, Melman introduced to the public two new innovative dining concepts with the opening of foodlife and MityNice Grill, located in Chicago’s Water Tower Place. foodlife, a revolutionary food hall, offering an abundant choice among 13 kiosks while MityNice Grill which was located at the east end of foodlife, was a comfortable, neighborhood grill that had the decor and feel of the 1940s, accompanied by a diverse yet simple menu.
At the end of 1995, LEYE opened two new distinctive restaurants. Brasserie Jo, at 59 West Hubbard Street, Chicago, was an authentic, lively French brasserie offering traditional French cuisine and an extensive selection of European cocktails, opened in September. 
Wildfire, which features quality steaks, chops, and seafood in a warm and stylish environment opened in December of 1995. 

In 1996 Melman opened its first Chinese restaurant in January, Ben Pao, which loosely translated means firecracker. In December of 1998, Wildfire opened in Oak Brook and a Wildfire in Lincolnshire in 1999.

In March of 1999, Bones Restaurant in Lincolnwood was reopened and rebranded as L. Woods Tap & Pine Lodge, a nostalgic Northwoods Supper Club with a log cabin feel. 
Several exciting new concepts opened in 1999 including a fine-dining restaurant, Tru, with Chef Partners Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, and Vong with partner Jean-Georges Vongerichten. 

In April of 1999, Rich Melman and Gerard Centioli announced the formation of ICON, LLC, (ICON) which was formed to establish partnerships with established restaurant icons for the expressed purpose of multi-unit expansion and development. 

In 2000 LEYE opened Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab which was a Miami restaurant icon, in Chicago. Mon Ami Gabi opened its third location in the Oakbrook Mall. 
Shaw’s expanded to the Streets of Woodfield in Schaumburg with Shaw’s Crab House and Red Shell. In early 2001, LEYE expanded into Chicago’s Loop area with a brand new restaurant concept called Petterino’s, located in the Goodman Theater building featuring prime steaks, fresh seafood, and classic specialties in a 1940s atmosphere. 
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong-Chicago was revamped into Vong’s Thai Kitchen with a lower-priced menu and a vibrant atmosphere.
As the success of Wildfire continued, in June 2003 a new location was opened in Schaumburg, Illinois. Later that summer, LEYE developed a new fast, casual concept called Wow Bao, located in the entrance of Chicago’s Water Tower Place shopping center. Wow Bao, specialized in Asian influenced savory steamed buns, nourishing broths, crunchy salads, and specialty sodas, and teas. At the end of the year in December, Wildfire opened its sixth location in Glenview.
The second Wow Bao in the new Chicago Loop location started off 2007. In March, Wow Bao opened for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, offering breakfast bao, entrée salads, dumplings, and potstickers. Frankie’s Fifth Floor Pizzeria opened in the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops offering Sardinian and Tavern Pizzas to order.
In 2008, Frankie’s Scaloppine opened next to Frankie’s Fifth Floor Pizzeria, a neighborhood Italian restaurant with style featuring chicken, veal, and vegetable scaloppini.
In the summer of 2008, Rich Melman’s sons, R.J. and Jerrod, opened Hub 51, an American concept located in River North. Hub 51 duals as a restaurant/bar skewed to the young and hip with great food, drinks, and music. Hub 51 also opened in O'Hare Terminal 5.
Today, LEYE has 84 restaurants in Chicagoland. Current Restaurant names and locations. 
  • NOTE: This article does not include LEYE other U.S. or European restaurants. 
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.