Route 66 people:  Lou Mitchell’s Heleen Thanas remembered


Back after Thanksgiving while we were still partying with our friends and families over the long weekend, we were on holiday hiatus and missed something.  Mind you, it wasn’t at all well publicized; in fact, it happened in the background, under the radar.

Yesterday, I ran across the news while searching online for something else:  Heleen Thanas, doyenne of the famous Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant in Chicago, had died on Halloween last year of complications following a catastrophic stroke.  There hadn’t been a death notice under that name in the local papers, only a Chicago Tribune obituary in late November for a Heleen Thanasouras-Gillman, nearly a month after the private funeral.

Thanasouras-Gillman … That might be the reason I wasn’t the only one who missed it.

Heleen Thanas was her work name.  Even though Thanas is the surname her mother, Kathryn, and brother Nick use at the restaurant – the one on the deed and other legal documents – Thanasouras-Gillman was the name by which Heleen’s immediate family and close friends knew her.  She was proud of her heritage and her accomplishments.

Lou Mitchell's Restaurant on Jackson Boulevard (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman; all rights reserved)

Lou Mitchell’s on Jackson Blvd.  (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 news flash:  The Berghoff will be sold — but it’s staying in the family


Before you could say “Oh no, Mr. Bill!” momentary panic broke out when the Chicago Tribune announced yesterday that the Berghoff Restaurant and Café, a Chicago landmark, was to be sold – but then relief hit once we realized that it’s staying in the family.

Carlyn Berghoff, great-granddaughter of founder Herman Berghoff and CEO of the company that operates both the restaurant and Berghoff Catering, is retiring at age 55.  Although she started out as a caterer, Ms. Berghoff bought the restaurant a few months after her parents had closed it (again, they were retiring) and intended to use it as a space for private events – but former customers kept asking her if the restaurant had reopened.  Eventually, bowing to customer demand, she reopened the restaurant/bar and downstairs café in 2006.

Berghoff's neon sign (MRTraska) - 600px, 150dpi - blog

The Berghoff’s trademark neon sign (Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 update: Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge to be dedicated next week


It’s happening:  Schustek Pond will be officially dedicated to a hero of Route 66 next Monday, July 6, 2015, on the 85th anniversary of the selfless act during which Bruno Schustek lost his life.  The pond was named by the USGS’s Bureau on Geographic Names in April (that’s when we received the notification).  There are so many wonderful stories that have happened along Route 66 over the years, and it’s time for this one to be told to the larger world.

Starting at 10am, we and the staff of the North American Spine Society (NASS) will remember and honor this fallen pilot on the western shore of the pond.  The NASS headquarters stands next to the pond, about two miles northeast of another Route 66 point of interest, the historic Dell Rhea’s Chicken Basket on Joliet Road/N. Frontage Road in nearby Willowbrook.

Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge, IL from Joliet Road/N. Frontage Road (Google street view)

Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge, seen from Joliet Road/N. Frontage Road  (Google street view)

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Route 66 news:  Hero of Stinson Airport tragedy honored by USGS


Hey roadies, remember several months ago when we got previously unrecognized little Canyon Creek in Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve an official name?  Well (blush!), we’ve done it again.  And now we’re trying to organize a dedication ceremony early next month for the newly named Schustek Pond on Route 66.

Bruno Schustek, hero and victim of the Stinson Airport tragedy, Route 66, July 1930, McCook IL

Aviator and hero Bruno F. Schustek

For nearly two years, we’ve been looking for a way to honor a hero of Route 66:  aviator, parachute jumper and World War I pilot Bruno Frank Schustek (1899-1930).  Next month is the 85th anniversary of his death.  Schustek died on July 6, 1930 in what is known as the Stinson Airport tragedy, while trying to save the life of a novice parachute jumper.  Her chute had been caught on the wing of her plane as it circled 1,000 feet above Stinson Airport on Route 66, in what is now McCook, IL.  For two hours, several other pilots attempted rescue with rope ladders and failed, while the girl dangled in midair above and horrified people watched below.  Then Schustek got into a plane with his fellow pilot Charles ‘Bud’ Geiger to make yet another attempt.  As Geiger maneuvered his craft above the other plane, Schustek climbed down a knotted rope to try to free the girl.  The novice made it safely to the ground, but the weary Schustek – an experienced parachute instructor who, ironically, was wearing neither a safety harness (they didn’t exist yet) nor a chute at the time – lost his grip on the rope before he could climb back up and fell 600 feet to his death.  (Listen to our podcast about the tragedy here.)

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Route 66 roadies:  indoor tours this Thursday on the route, thanks to CAF


Greetings, Route 66 roadies!  Whatcha doin’ this coming Thursday??  That would be December 11th.  Really:  aren’t you tired of people whining about how you can only see the northern end of Route 66 in the summer?  SO untrue!!  Everyone complains about the weather, but you can still tour the route if you’re clever.  “Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men’s blood,” as the great Daniel Burnham said, and work in two or three the same day.  And stay nice and dry, too, for the most part.  Genius!

If you’re in Chicago, there are FOUR Route 66 landmarks you can tour indoors this week on Thursday (one at a time!), two of them thanks to the lovely docents of the Chicago Architecture Foundation.  These individual building tours take you places that the general tours (and the general public) don’t get to visit.  Most CAF walking tours run about $15, unless you’re a CAF member (then they’re free; it’s well worth becoming a member if you plan to do more than two tours a year.  Tell Santa you want a membership for Christmas or Hanukkah!).  We hasten to add that we will be starting up CuriousTraveler Tours in 2015, and we’ll be doing all these Route 66 buildings in custom tours as well — but if you’re in town now or coming for the holidays, CAF is your default choice at the moment.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago  (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago at Jackson boulevard and LaSalle Street welcomes your visit to its Money Museum between 8:30am and 5:00pm Mondays through Fridays — except, of course, on bank holidays (heehee!).  It’s free, and you can get a photo of yourself with:

1. With your face as the center of a bill,
2. With a $1M briefcase, or
3. With the display case of $1M in $1 bills (that’s a lot of bills), as opposed to the $1 million piles of $20s and $100s.

Next, just down LaSalle Street, is the Rookery Building, aka just The Rookery, designed by Burnham & Root; according to a Chicago magazine poll a few years ago, it’s Chicagoans’ favorite building in our fair city.  Where  else do you get a combo of Burnham, John W. Root and Frank Lloyd Wright??  Nowhere!!!

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Route 66 update:  Mysterious, odd and historic, Chicago’s tiny Pickwick Stable lives and shines again


Do you know the story of the sweet, overlooked antique just off Jackson Boulevard called Pickwick Stable?  No??  Well!  Do let us acquaint you.  Like many an antique, this little charmer has a questionable provenance with a gap or two in it; but like a rediscovered gem placed in a new setting, it’s been brought to life again and is enjoying a resurgent popularity it hasn’t had in 140 years.

The address is 22 E. Jackson Blvd., not that you could tell.  It’s one of the oldest buildings in the Loop – and one of the hardest to find, or was until recently.  Moreover, it’s a real architectural curiosity, not the dead end it seemed for decades.  If you live or work in Chicago, you’ve probably gone right past it dozens of time, if not hundreds, and never noticed.  The reason is because it’s severely recessed and looks like the end of an alley instead of a building.  But it is a building (honest!), and the rest of the neighborhood grew up around it.

The main reason Pickwick Stable isn’t readily visible is because it’s been encased over time by the much taller buildings that grew up around it.  The Steger Building (1911) stands in front of the Pickwick’s southern side and largely blocks the view.  It’s also blocked on the east by the 228 S. Wabash building (1927), hemmed in on the north by the back end of the 226 S. Wabash Ave. building (1932), and bordered on the west by the alley that runs between the Steger and the Gibbons Building (1912), which sidles up against the former Lytton Store Building (1913) at the NE corner of Jackson and State Street.

Pickwick Stable can be hard to find -- even when you heoretically know where it is.  (Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

The tiny but historic Pickwick Stable can be hard to find, even when you know where it is: in Pickwick Court, 20 E. Jackson Blvd. (Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 history: welcoming Standard Time and time zones


Greetings, fellow roadies!  If you, like we, got an extra hour of sleep in the wee hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning when the clock was officially turned back, then you might want to celebrate the creation of the U.S. Standard Time System.  It happened right on Route 66, though it wasn’t going to be Route 66 yet for another 43 years.  There’s even a marker at Jackson Boulevard and LaSalle Street to commemorate this.

In the aftermath of the destruction of downtown Chicago by the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871, all of the central city was rebuilt, and pretty quickly, too.  One of the architects in the city who got nearly more work than he could handle was W.W. Boyington, whose Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station at Chicago Avenue and Michigan Avenue (then Pine Street) were among the very few structures that survived the fire.  Among Boyington’s commissions after the fire were two on Jackson Boulevard at LaSalle Street – a prestigious address as the financial district was being rebuilt in that area, and being on a boulevard assured that no commercial traffic or trolley cars would clog the artery.  On the northeast corner of the intersection was the Grand Pacific Hotel, a very swanky hostelry that stood across the street from the newly rebuilt Chicago Board of Trade Building, also designed by Boyington (it was a replacement for an earlier hotel that had burned during the fire).  Then as now, the CBOT Building had a large town clock by which many in the financial district set their pocket watches.  But how was the rest of the city – or, for that matter, the rest of the state or the region – to agree upon the time?

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, 1887

The Grand Pacific Hotel, Chicago, 1887, four years after the General Time Convention met

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