Route 66 updates:  Berwyn’s Cigars & Stripes gets a new sign; some local Route 66 history

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.

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Route 66 update: Reintroducing Chicago’s Jewish West Side to today’s Lawndale

Ahhh, Ash Wednesday …  Dust smudged on your forehead.  The start of Lent, the season of grim pre-Easter diets and fish on Fridays for many Christians.  But wait:  we forgot to tell you yesterday about a truly fine fete that happened last Sunday.  And it’s related to our Route 66 book project (well, a spin-off of same, anyway).

During the course of writing this manuscript, we researched an awful lot about Chicago neighborhoods through which the route proceeds, and that includes Lawndale, the last part of Chicago before you hit the suburbs.  It turns out there’s a whole history of greater Lawndale – north and south Lawndale plus the southern end of Garfield Park – that people have forgotten … like what it was during 1926 when the route was brand new.  It was, in fact, the Jewish West Side (or the Great Vest Side, as your grandfolks might have said).  For nearly half a century, greater Lawndale had the largest and densest concentration of Jewish residents in the entire metro area – at its height, it was home to 40 percent of the Jews in Chicago – a Jewish community larger than in many other cities here or abroad.  This made for a very tight community, but the sheer density of people was murder on the housing stock by the time the Jews left.

Us making the film "Remebering Jewish Lawndale;" L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne.   (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

Us making the film “Remembering Jewish Lawndale;” L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne. (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

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Route 66 news notes: Steak N Egger, Hofmann Tower, doc film, Lagunitas Chicago and more

It’s 2014 and we’re baa-ack!  Yes, we know:  we’re a bit late in returning after the Thanksgiving-Hanukkah-solstice-Christmas-Kwanzaa-New Year-MLK-Super Bowl hiatus, but sue us, we were having a good time with family and friends during the seemingly neverending holiday extravaganza.  Got a bit snoozy after all those meat comas and hibernated, sort of.  Then we got popsicled by the Polar Vortex and had to break out the serious down – brrrrr!  What a rude awakening.  But hey, at least we woke up before Groundhog Day, right?  Blame it on the chilly season:  we’re finally having a Real Winter again in Chicagoland after, what, maybe four decades?  Sounds right.  I knew that 50-below Eddie Bauer Polar Parka fit for the Himalayas would come in handy some day.

‘Tis the season to stay indoors and warm yourself with Route 66 dreams, if not road trip plans for later in the year.  That makes this the perfect time for some Route 66 metro Chicago news updates.  We have some tidbits to tease you before we get back to the big stuff in our next post.

Video poker on Route 66; where will it end??  Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska

Video poker on Route 66; where will it end??  Photo copyright 2014 by M.R. Traska

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Route 66 events:  the Dog Days of Summer car-lover’s schedule

They don’t call August the dog days without cause:  it’s so hot that you pant and don’t want to do much, other than maybe listen to that great tune by the same name by Leigh ‘Lil Queenie’ Harris on her album Polychrome Junction.  By now, all of you are thanking your stars that your A/C still works.  Up here in northeastern Illinois, we haven’t had that awful a summer, generally speaking – but we have had a few outrageous days in the high-90-degree range and one 100-degree day (ouch).  Today was another one of those scorchers; even cruising with the top down doesn’t make you feel better midday.  But in the evening … ahhh, what a difference!

Joe, Keith and I are looking forward to A/C and a road trip this coming Sunday, August 25th, for the next screening of our documentary film Remembering Jewish Lawndale, a spin-off project that resulted from all the research we did on that neighborhood for our upcoming Route 66 book.  The screening will be for the Jewish Genealogical Society and will be held at Beth Israel Synagogue, 3601 Dempster in Skokie.  We’ll have a short introduction at 1:30 p.m., show the film at 2 p.m., then do a Q&A session with Dr. Irving Cutler, one of the people interviewed in the film.

erwyn Route 66 Car Show on Ogden Avenue

Hey, Route 66 roadies:  The annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show along Ogden Avenue is coming up soon on September 7th this year – be there, or be square!  Photo courtesy of Berwyn DevCorp.

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News about our Route 66-related doc film on Jewish Lawndale

Just a quick update about our film spin-off from the book project.  As you know, in the course of doing a lot of research about the Lawndale area, we made a documentary film about the Jewish West Side, which included North Lawndale.  It’s been out on DVD since mid-December (alas, not soon enough for Hanukkah gifts!!).  Since then, we’ve had a little trouble getting the distribution going over at the College of DuPage, whose Multimedia Department graciously lent us the resources to tape and produce the film, which was a co-venture between COD and the Illinois Geographical Society.  The COD media relations department, however, dropped the ball and never sent out the press releases.  Ouch.

We’re happy to report that although we’ve had to take on the publicity for the DVD ourselves, the distribution at least seems to be smoothed out now.  Anyone who wants to buy a copy of the DVD can get it in one of two ways:  you can either pick it up in person at COD and get it at the discounted price of $15 or arrange to have it mailed to you for $20, shipping included.  Either way, it’s a savings, as the initial price was $20 plus shipping and handling.  Contact Dave Gorski in Multimedia at 630-942-2468 or via e-mail at for further information or to make arrangements.  And please pass the word along to your friends and colleagues!  Thanks.

Us making the film "Remebering Jewish Lawndale;" L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne.   (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

Us making the film “Remembering Jewish Lawndale;” L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer;  foreground: videographer Luke Ronne   (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)

And here’s a big surprise (to me, anyway):  our colleague and contributor Keith Yearman, assistant professor of geography at COD, captured a photograph of us actually taping the film last summer on Douglas Boulevard in Lawndale, on what had to be the absolutely hottest day of the year in 2012.  We’re standing across the street from the former Jewish People’s Institute, now Lawndale Academy, a public school.  That’s me on the right, partially hidden by the video camera and tripod, with Dr. Irving Cutler on the left and our videographer and editor, the talented Luke Ronne.  That white blouse was the thinnest – yet still modest – shirt I had, which was why I wore it to stay cool; the plan was that only Dr. Cutler would be visible in the film.  Big mistake on my part.  Lesson learned!

Route 66-related film on Lawndale now for sale on DVD

Happy Hanukkah, y’all!

We mentioned in a previous post that as part of our spin-off activities, we recently produced a new Route 66-related documentary video film, Remembering Jewish Lawndale.   Well, that film is now available for purchase on DVD – just barely in time for Hanukkah (but certainly in time for Christmas).  The media relations and multimedia services departments at our production facility, College of DuPage, however, are a little behind in publicizing it – can you say turf confusion?  Nobody knows whose responsibility this baby is – so we have to publicize it as best we can.  The press release will be on our In the news page shortly.

Here’s the deal – it’s now available from CoD Multimedia Services for $20 plus shipping and handling – just  barely in time for Hanukkah (but certainly in time for Christmas, anyway).  To order a copy, contact David Gorski at CoD Multimedia Services at 630-942-2468 or via e-mail at  And blame that anonymous bunch at CoD media relations for dropping the ball and not publicizing this early enough for Hanukkah gifts.  Their bad.

hanukkah  candles

Hanukkah candles (Photo credit: woodleywonderworks)

My co-author Joe Kubal has more to say on this subject, so take it away, Joe …
As we may have mentioned earlier, Remembering Jewish Lawndale is out on DVD and was developed for the Illinois Geographical Society (IGS) with the assistance of the College of DuPage’s very helpful and generous multimedia department.  Conceived by me and our third co-author, CoD assistant professor of geography Keith Yearman, this film is the first in the “Giants in Geography” series, which highlights Illinois geographers and their passions.  This particular film, the first of the series, features Dr. Irving Cutler, professor emeritus of geography at Chicago State University (CSU) and a noted Chicago historian.  It’s a direct result of our research concerning Route 66, although Keith did envision its initial use in his geography classes at CoD, which explains how and why we got to use the multimedia department’s resources in the first place.  And since we used their resources, the college owns the film.  Fair enough.

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Route 66 book project leads to … a documentary about Jewish Lawndale – ? Who knew!

The former Reformed Jewish synagogue of north Lawndale; when Lawndale was the Jewish West Side, this was the only reformed shul among a host of Orthodox ones.  (Photo by M.R. Traska)

We just became video documentarians.  Yikes!  How did that happen??

There we were, just going about our business and doing research on Lawndale, where Ogden Avenue/historic Route 66 is one of the main streets, if not the main street.  Next thing you know, we had a video premiering last week at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn – a half-hour documentary film about the Jewish West Side called “Remembering Jewish Lawndale” – and an eager potential audience on our hands.    We’re so proud!!!  If I were Jewish, I’d be kvelling.  Oh, what the hell; I’ll kvell anyway.

We don’t have a PR or marketing plan for it yet, which we needed, like, yesterday.  I’m breathless from it all.  I already know at least four people who want to buy it, and COD hasn’t figured out a price for the DVD yet – !  (Just pick a price and SELL IT, already; sheesh.  Such yentas.) Continue reading