Route 66 heroes:  Joliet’s native son John Houbolt, whose big idea got us to the moon and back


Unless you’re from Joliet, IL or are a big fan of the space program, you may never have heard of John C. Houbolt.  He was a man with a Big Idea, and without it – and him – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might never have stepped on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

Engineers are perhaps the least glamorous of all the techies and ‘geeks.’  The public sees them as the most narrowly focused, least creative of the STEM professionals, but that need not be the case.  Houbolt was certainly imaginative enough.  When President John F. Kennedy told the world that we were engaged in the feat of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s and returning him safely to earth, JFK took his space program people by surprise.  Nobody in NASA knew by which mechanism that was to be accomplished. There was no plan; no process had been discussed.  They had no idea what kind of spacecraft was needed or even where to start.

John_Houbolt_and_LOR2 (NASA photo)

The late John C. Houbolt explaining his big idea, the lunar orbit rendezvous, which the Apollo moon landing program eventually adopted.  (Photo courtesy of NASA via Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 road music:  Duke Ellington on the road and Joliet’s Polka Mass-ters


Hello again, fellow roadies!  It’s time for the Route 66 Song Of The Week, but we have an unusual entry for you this weekend, plus a recommendation for you jazz roadies out there. Let’s get to the second part first.

Tuesday, April 29th was the 115th anniversary of Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington’s birthday, and in honor of that celebration, I offer you an appropriately named a double-album set that I think you’ll love: All Star Road Band, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, originally recorded on the road (Volume 1 in Carrolltown, PA in June 1957 and Volume 2 in Chicago at the Holiday Ballroom on May 31, 1964) and released in 1964 on CBS Records.  Included here are particularly swinging versions of “Satin Doll” and “Take The A-Train” plus a spirited performance of “Such Sweet Thunder” that makes you think of Othello (from Duke’s 1957 album of tunes inspired by Shakespeare) and what must be the loveliest recording of the ballad “Isfahan” from Ellington’s The Far East Suite.  I first purchased this set some time during the 1970s or ’80s on vinyl as a Columbia double-album reissue, but it’s been reissued since on CD.  This set is enduring proof that Duke Ellington never forgot that his orchestra was first and foremost a dance band.  These road performances have given yours truly many years of listening pleasure, and I hope they do the same for you.

Here’s a clip with the track of “A Train” from Volume 1, guaranteed to keep you rocking and smiling even in the worst traffic jam.  Continue reading

Romeo & Juliet on Route 66, or: Don’t blame the Bard


 

That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

Brush up your Shakespeare, and they’ll all kowtow. – Kiss Me Kate, Act II, by Cole Porter

Happy Shakespeare Week!  It was Will Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) 450th birthday on Wednesday, April 23rd (also known as the Feast of St. George or St. George’s Day, after the patron saint of England).  That birthday’s a biggie.  So now you’re wondering if there’s any connection between our favorite highway and the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon.  Oho, but there is!

As the playwright asked:  What’s in a name?  Almost everything, apparently – if you’re talking about a town.  Some names just don’t fit or encourage development as much as others.  Take Romeoville and Joliet, two municipalities on Route 66 that are not so far apart in metro Chicago.  One was favored with a better location than the other, even though their beginnings as settlements happened at about the same time, for the same reasons (they sprang up as canal towns from land surveyed for the canal commissioners of the Illinois & Michigan Canal); and yet, they developed so differently.  Moreover, both ended up changing their names before they saw any real progress.  Perhaps that was a cosmic hint.

Louis Jolliet statue, Joliet (IL) Public Library  (copyright 2014 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved)

Louis Jolliet statue, Joliet (IL) Public Library (copyright 2014 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 news:  bicyclists pedal down the Mother Road for charity


In case you hadn’t noticed them earlier today, bicyclists participating in Stop The Cycle left the Will County Courthouse in Joliet, IL this morning in the light rain, headed downstate on Route 66 toward Springfield and, by the end of the trip, to St. Louis.   The six-day trip will raise money to combat child sexual abuse and is the bicycle equivalent of a charity marathon.   Stop The Cycle is short for the slogan Stop the Cycle of Abuse.  The organizer is the Children’s Advocacy Center of North & Northwest Cook County, the local chapter of the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Illinois.

cac stop cycle logo - med

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Route 66 news update:  more on the pending demise of St. Mary Carmelite Church in Joliet


If you’ve been reading this blog faithfully, by now you know that the historic former St. Mary Carmelite Catholic Church in downtown Joliet, IL is up for auction later this month – at a bottom-of-the-barrel price that the Diocese of Joliet would never have sold it for a few years ago … which means that the 1882 Gothic Revival church building is once again imperiled and in danger of being demolished.  We posted that about a week ago.

The church was already headed for demolition a few years ago when developer Scott Henry of Northbrook, IL-based Celadon Holdings, LLC acquired the property from the diocese, with the intent of turning the building and the 1960s-built priory next door into senior housing for people 55 and older.  Almost everyone was thrilled with that prospect.

The former St. Mary Carmelite Catholic Church could be torn down by year end.   Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved.

The former St. Mary Carmelite Catholic Church could be torn down by year end, unless someone saves the historic structure by Oct. 23.   Photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved.

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Route 66 news bulletin:  Barring a miracle, Joliet’s St. Mary Carmelite Church goes on the auction block October 23rd


The former St. Mary Carmelite Church property at 101 N. Ottawa St. in downtown Joliet is in immediate peril – it’s scheduled to go to auction on October 23rd, less than a month from now.  Although developer Scott Henry of Celadon Holdings, Northbrook, IL, and his Joliet NFP agency partner, Better Tomorrows, have been trying to turn this property into senior housing that would preserve this historic building and Route 66 landmark in Joliet, a number of factors have forced the sale of the property – and not all of the factors or the motivation behind them are clear, at this point.  St. Mary Carmelite needs an angel investor or rescuer to act quickly if this priceless historic building is to be saved from the auction block. Time to act.

The severely endangered St. Mary Carmelite Church on Route 66 in Joliet, IL.  Photo copyright 2013 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved

The severely endangered St. Mary Carmelite Church on Route 66 in Joliet, IL is in peril of being sold and demolished. Photo copyright 2013 by K. Yearman; all rights reserved

St. Mary Carmelite is landmark worthy:  it is the second oldest surviving church building in Joliet. designed by the same architect who designed Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral, Patrick C. Keeley, and completed in 1882.  Henry and Celadon had applied for local and state landmark status and had submitted a request for preliminary determination of eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.  The church was closed in 1991, and the attached priory, Fiat House, closed in 2009.

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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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