Hello again, fellow roadies! This weekend, route roadies in Chicago are blessed with a full two days’ worth of worthy events (that’s in addition to everything else going on in the immediate area, like the special exhibits at the Art Institute and the usual tours at the top of the Sears Tower, etc.). First up today is the annual Berwyn Route 66 Car Show, a don’t-miss, no-admission event in Illinois as it is second in size only to the Mother Road Festival in downstate Springfield. Flashy vehicles, food and fun, and did we mention it’s FREE? Yessir! Be there, or be square. Berwyn is the second suburb you encounter outside Chicago when traveling Route 66, one whose civic leaders very consciously promote Route 66 – and Berwyn’s history on the route – all year long. It’s also home to the Berwyn Route 66 Museum, which is one of the co-sponsors of the car show.
Then there’s the first annual CineFest in the Douglas Park area of Chicago, a weekend-long celebration of feature-length movies and TV series filmed in Chicago (many of which have been at least partially produced at fest sponsor Cinestage Chicago). And perhaps the best part of that festival is that the beverages of choice will be brewskis supplied by next-door neighbor Lagunitas-Chicago brewery, Chicago’s largest craft beer producer. Cinestage Chicago occupies the historic former Ryerson Steel campus, which is located between Western Avenue on the easternmost end and Washtenaw Avenue on the west, Route 66/Ogden Avenue on the north and the railroad viaduct that runs on an angle roughly between 17th to 18th Streets and parallel to Ogden. In fact, Lagunitas itself is in a former Ryerson warehouse that the brewery rents from Cinestage under a 99-year lease. So you have history all around you at both of these events this weekend.
In fact, our suggestion is that you attend the car show today and CineFest tomorrow – work them both in, if you can, then dine somewhere on the route afterwards.
Today is the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. If you haven’t already done or participated in something to celebrate, there’s a memorial concert tonight in downtown Chicago (see the end of this article) … or, if you’re not up for going out, you can read this blog post about an interesting side trip off of Route 66 that honors Dr. King.
The apartment building at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave. that Dr. and Mrs. King moved into in Chicago’s Lawndale area (photo circa January 1966).
Once upon a time back during the winter of 1966, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago to raise awareness of the appalling, restrictive housing situation of Chicago’s black residents. To do that, he moved that January into an apartment in North Lawndale on Chicago’s impoverished West Side. The apartment building he chose was located at 1550 S. Hamlin Ave., about four blocks north of U.S. Route 66.
Dr. and Mrs. King didn’t stay there long that cold January – only about eight months, staying there a few nights a week from winter through late summer – and all the furniture they used while they resided there was obtained from a Salvation Army second-hand store. The Kings’ rent on Hamlin Avenue was $90 a month – which was $10 more per month than what white residents paid for a comparable apartment in other areas of the city, yet the apartment and the building it was in were in much worse condition. In the end, Dr. King’s historic stay in Lawndale may have raised the profile of the housing problem and the nation’s consciousness, but it didn’t make any difference insofar as getting more affordable housing built in Chicago. That came much, much later.
In case you don’t follow Lagunitas Brewing Company’s CEO, the Chicago born-and-bred Tony Magee on Twitter, tonight is the new Douglas Park brewery’s grand opening for its tap room & beer sanctuary at 1843 S. Washtenaw Ave. in Chicago. The tap room entrance is through a cool high-tech, LED-lit tunnel that has programmable colors. Yowza! Should be quite a party — there’s a live band scheduled, but you never know: Magee’s own garage band, Alice Drinks The KoolAid, may jam as well (the group played one of the side stages during the recent Chicago Blues Festival). Tour hours for the new brewhouse, meanwhile, are Wednesdays through Sundays, 11am-9pm. Mondays and Tuesdays will be reserved for private parties, charity events, etc.
Lagunitas-Chicago has the largest brewery in the state now, which has resulted in the creation of thousands of local jobs, says a very happy Gov. Pat Quinn, who was at the chain-cutting ceremony last week. The brewery is over on the former Ryerson Steel campus, in a warehouse under long-term lease from Cinestage Chicago, a rentable film production facility that shares the campus.
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.
You think you’re heard everything, and then, whoa – a beer circus!?? Well, it appears to be an annual tradition for Lagunitas Brewing Company at its Petaluma, CA home base. But now that founder and CEO Tony Magee, better known to Twitterati as @LagunitasT, has opened a Chicago brewhouse down in Douglas Park, Lagunitas has finally come home to the Windy City where it belongs. And what better week for a grand opening than Craft Beer Week. Hey, you north side Goose Island guys, look out for the near SW side!
So, even though the Tap Room & Beer Sanctuary (read: brewpub) won’t be ready until some time in June, the grand opening celebrations are beginning already. The beer circus is this weekend, Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.. The $40 ticket price is because it’s a benefit for for Rock For Kids Chicago, which provides music education programs to poor public school children in underserved areas like Lawndale (which is right next door, though technically the park itself is in Lawndale). In addition to the ‘freaktacular’ circus performances will be lots of live music. All we need is cooperative weather. BTW, visitors are encouraged to come in costume (you always wanted to be the ringmaster or sword swallower, right?).
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 “Remembering Jewish Lawndale;” L: Dr. Irving Cutler, R: Maria R. Traska, interviewer; foreground: videographer Luke Ronne. (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman)
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