Surprise, surprise — while keeping up with our Route 66 tweets last week, we noticed via Ron Warnick’s Twitter feed that one of our fave Mother Road barbecue spots in the metro area, Cigars & Stripes BBQ Lounge in Berwyn, IL, got new signage. Have to say this: When Ronnie Lottz does something, he really goes BIG. So of course, yours truly had to stop by and take a gander.
I caught it on a rainy day (sigh …), but the shot still worked, thank heavens. It seems lately that any time I want to shoot something in the ‘burbs and try to schedule it in advance, hoping for sunshine, it rains or clouds over. You’d think Chicago had suddenly become Seattle or something (much rain in May and June here, but no flooding and better than drought, eh?). Nevertheless, Ronnie’s stuff stands out — and together with his Route 66-themed mural on the side of the building, it’s sure to be a hit.
When I stopped by that day, Ronnie was his genial, gregarious self. A visit with him was the second great thing that happened that day (the first was a visit to Old St. Pat’s Church and its magnificent stained glass windows and Celtic Revival stenciling, plus a visit with the head docent there; more on that soon in a future post). The cap-off was a stop to see Dick Dolejs (pronounced DO-lesh), one of our favorite Czech contacts in the ‘burbs and one of the people whom we interviewed two years ago for our documentary film on Chicago’s Jewish West Side, Remembering Jewish Lawndale. Who knew the day would be like winning a trifecta despite the drizzle?
Dick and his wife, Marie, BTW, were the ones responsible for renaming Chicago’s South Lawndale neighborhood “Little Village.” Those of you familiar with Chicago know that Ogden Avenue/Route 66 basically divides Lawndale into North and South — thus, both areas are on Route 66. This rechristening happened back during the late 1950s or early 1960s (Dick is no longer sure; besides, it took a while to stick), when the West Side Jews were relocating to the north and west and North Lawndale was being hit with inflated housing costs and predatory lending as the area changed racially. At the time, Dick was head of the South Lawndale Chamber of Commerce and trying to find a way to stabilize his neighborhood. He decided a name change to differentiate the area from North Lawndale was in order — but which name to choose?
As it happened, he was grousing one day to his wife about the difficulty of finding the right name, just as they were having lunch in a restaurant on Pulaski Road. His wife listened thoughtfully, then pointed to the restaurant’s sign and said, “How about Little Village?” Dick mulled it over and decided it was just right — most people who come to Chicago, he figured, don’t usually come from big cities, they come from little villages and towns. The new name would sound welcoming and familiar to them. Encouraging, even. And though it took some persuading of the local merchants, in time the name was adopted officially.
Today, Little Village is an overwhelmingly Mexican neighborhood that’s one of the fastest growing in the city, business-wise. And the locals call it “La Villita” or “Chiquita Villa” among themselves, both of which literally mean Little Village. However, as this neighborhood has expanded, Little Village is now one of two areas within the confines of South Lawndale (the other is Marshall Square, which is on the south end of the neighborhood and nowhere near Ogden/Route 66). And there’s your local Route 66 history lesson for the day.
Enjoy your weekend, and if you’re in town, don’t forget that the world’s largest free blues festival, the Chicago Blues Fest, is going on all weekend right on the route at the Petrillo Band Shell, Jackson and Columbus Drives in Grant Park. And as usual, if you enjoy our posts, please rate them with a Like at the end of the posts and the star-rating system on the home page, which is right under the headline for each individual post. Don’t forget to share your faves using Press This, Pinterest, Facebook or any other social media you use – and to keep up with us on Twitter. We appreciate the readership! And we thank you for your support.
Until next time,
Your Route 66 scrivener, Marie