In Memory of Maria Traska

Maria Traska passed away in October 2016 after a short battle with an aggressive form of lung cancer. She was the driver of this page and a forthcoming book on Route 66. Her ashes were spread at Schustek Pond (Route 66 and County Line Road in Burr Ridge).

We did not discover the username and password for this page until recently, which is why this notice is so delayed.

Dave Clark has signed on to try to bring the book to completion. As we have time, we’ll continue to update this blog.



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 update: day care program in Joliet’s historic KSKJ Building may close without ‘angel’ donors

Along Route 66 in Joliet just north of downtown sits a small architectural gem, the KSKJ Building at 351 N. Chicago St.  Built in 1939 as the headquarters of this Slovenian insurance and fraternal organization, it’s one of the very few Art Deco buildings in Joliet.  It was designed by a local architect, Charles Wallace, and was repurposed into a day care facility after KSKJ left for a newer, blander headquarters building on the far west side of town.  Now the Vilaseca Day Care Center, run in the building by Hispanic nuns since 1981, is in danger of shutting down — which also raises the question of what will happen to the historic building if the day care program collapses due to insufficient funding.

The Joliet Herald-News reported last week that the center is in deep trouble. The nuns are reaching out to the Hispanic community, their primary constituents as Slovenian Row hasn’t been Slovenian for at least 40 years.  The Diocese of Joliet has helped out the nuns before, but it doesn’t own the building:  the nuns were able to purchase it with a loan and moved their program over from Herkimer Street, where it had been operating since 1974.  Right now, the child care programs operate on the first floor of the building, and the nuns, who live there, occupy the upper floors.

Joliet's historic KSKJ Building (1939).  Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved.

Joliet’s historic KSKJ Building (1939). Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved.

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Route 66 Song Of The Week for Nov. 10:  bluesman Billy Branch

In our last post, we mentioned the Cigars and Stripes BBQ Lounge in Berwyn, which has been known to feature some hot local blues bands.  It seemed only appropriate that our Song Of The Week be a blues number.  To wit:  a true Chicago Blues version of our Bobby Troup favorite, featuring Chicago blues master Billy Branch, with assistance from fellow harp player Sugar Ray Norcia, who’s no slouch, either.

This track is from the 1999 Telarc album Superharps, featuring blues all stars James Cotton, Billy Branch, Charlie Musselwhite and Sugar Ray Norcia.  The popular blues album was reissued in 2009 in MP3 format.  Currently, it ranks #48 among Amazon’s top paid MP3 blues albums.  The Route 66 track is a very danceable rendition that swings without dampening any of its blues influence.  Very Chicago, that.  Give a listen:

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Route 66 music: here’s your 66 tune of the week from George Benson

Courtesy of Ron Warnick at the Route 66 News blog, we’ve just learned that jazz guitarist George Benson has a new album out called Inspiration, honoring the late great pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole.  This does, of course, include our favorite Bobby Troup song, which Cole made a hit in 1946 (shortly after Troup wrote and recorded it himself, in fact).  You can find a YouTube video of it here and can buy it at Amazon here.  Remarkably, Benson’s voice is reminiscent of Cole’s smooth warmth and is amiably suited to this.

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Route 66 update:  more on Rich & Creamy; we make the news (well, in Elmhurst, anyway)

So:  yours truly decided last week that the best way to figure out exactly what Joliet city manager Tom Thanas meant by that $30K figure for redoing the Rich & Creamy ice cream stand’s roof was to write to Thanas and ask.  What a novel idea, you say (no, not really; just comes from me being a journalist for lo, these many years).  I also mentioned to him that the Illinois Route 66 Scenic Byway Authority had a grant program, as does the National Park Service, for rehabbing historic sites and official roadside attractions along Route 66 (which information I received from Stacy Conn over at the byway; thank you, Stacy!).   And Mr. Thanas deigned to reply!!  Imagine that.

The historic Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway St. is an official Route 66 Historic Attraction in Joliet.   Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved

The historic Rich & Creamy ice cream stand on Broadway St. is an official Route 66 Historic Attraction in Joliet. Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved

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Route 66 news flash:  mysterious fire strikes Collins Street Prison, a local Joliet, IL landmark

A Joliet, IL local landmark is now prompting charges of poor security and neglect in the aftermath of a fire last night on the premises.  Originally known as the Illinois State Penitentiary, Joliet Penitentiary or Joliet Correctional Center, the Collins Street Prison has been closed since 2002 – and though Illinois Department of Corrections officials claim it’s “almost impossible” for anyone to get into the property, it now appears that squatters may have been responsible for the blaze.  A spokesman for the IDC said that the fire was limited to an empty warehouse that once stored mattresses made by the inmates.  The historic administration building and outer walls were unaffected.  Collins Street Prison can be seen from a scenic lookout in Route 66 Park on Broadway Street/IL 53 in Joliet.

It once served as a backdrop and location for the original Blues Brothers film and the recent movie Public Enemies as well as for TV shows like Prison Break.  But in the wee hours of last night, Joliet’s Collins Street Prison made the news all on its own when a fire broke out in a warehouse on the closed property.  The fire was discovered about 3 a.m. by a passer-by who saw smoke and alerted authorities. Local media reported that firemen were at the scene by 3:15 a.m.

Aerial view of Collins Street Prison in Joliet, IL; the warehouse that caught fire is located halfway up and near the eastern wall, just inside the property.

Aerial view of Collins Street Prison in Joliet, IL; the warehouse that caught fire early Thursday morning is the large shed located halfway up and near the eastern wall, just inside the property.

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