Route 66 events reminder:  April 19th public art slideshow and lecture at Chicago Cultural Center

Just a reminder:  my 90-minute lecture and slideshow about public art along Route 66 in metropolitan Chicago is at 1pm next Tuesday over at the Chicago Cultural Center in the first-floor Renaissance Court.  It’s the best way to familiarize yourself with some of the sights along the route, starting right at the eastern terminus and Gateway to Route 66 at Jackson Drive and Michigan Avenue, next to the world famous Art Institute of Chicago.

Just as important, this is one way to let the city know how many people love and maintain an interest in historic Route 66. The city has long undervalued the historic and tourism value of the route, so show your solidarity with the route and show up, right?  Right!

If you come in by the Randolph Street entrance just west of Michigan Avenue, the lecture room is immediately to your right once you’re inside.  Get there early to ensure a seat.  See you there, roadies!

your own Route 66 tour guide,

Fountain of the Great Lakes, South Garden, Art Institute of Chicago  (photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Fountain of the Great Lakes by sculptor Lorado Taft, located in the South Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago (photo copyright 2012 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)


Route 66 events:  Chicago talk April 19th on public art along Route 66

We’re in the news again – well, yours truly is.  I’ll be giving a lecture and slide presentation on Tuesday, April 19th in downtown Chicago at the Chicago Cultural Center on Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington Streets, right across from Millennium Park.  The topic will be “Public Art Along Route 66,” covering the route between its eastern terminus at Jackson Boulevard and Michigan (only a few blocks south of the lecture venue!) and downtown Joliet some 40 miles southwest.  The 90-minute presentation will begin at 1:00pm and will be held in the Renaissance Court, which is located in the northwest corner of the first (main) floor, right off the Randolph Street entrance.

Sponsored by the Geographic Society of Chicago, the free lecture is part of the society’s monthly travelogue series.  Registration is unnecessary, but show up at least 15-20 minutes in advance to get a good seat.  See you there, or be square!

Your own 66 roadiegal,


Yes, it's in the wrong place ... but you'll be in the right place if you come to my lecture!

Yes, it’s in the wrong place … but you’ll be in the right place if you come to my lecture!

Route 66 history: Frank T. Sheets made the route possible in Illinois

Happy Route 66 Birthday Week!  And happy birthday to Route 66:  today is the 89th anniversary of the day our favorite U.S. Route opened for business, providing all us roadies with that most iconic American road trip … but not right away.  It took years for the route to reach all the way to Los Angeles.  Illinois was the one place in which Route 66 was actually up, running and being driven on Day One.  In other states, the route was mostly theoretical, a line on a map and not much else.  Even two months later at year’s end, only about 800 miles of the route were paved, and half of those were here in Illinois. So it seems only fitting that we celebrate the man who made Route 66 possible in Illinois – and helped to bring the rest of the route system into being.

How is it that Illinois alone was 100-percent operational when the route came into existence on November 11, 1926?  It was largely one man’s doing:  state highway engineer Frank T. Sheets.  He had already been engaged in a very active program of road building within the state for several years by the time the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) asked the feds in late 1924 to help create a real network of interstate and transcontinental highways.  Sheets would be a key figure in that process, too.

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Route 66 update: pond dedication to a Route 66 hero a success

We did it.  At last!  Monday morning’s 10 a.m. dedication of Schustek Pond in Burr Ridge, IL came off without a hitch.  Even Mother Nature co-operated somewhat:  it was still a humid bad-hair day for some of us (yours truly included, no matter how much hair product I used), but the cool breeze off the pond took away from the growing heat of the day, making the morning quite pleasant.  Sitting on the west bank of the pond helped in that respect and gave us all a lovely view.

Schustek Pond with the new plaque, in all its glory (Photo copyright 2015 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

Schustek Pond with the new plaque  (Photo copyright 2015 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 history:  Open outcry and The Pits vanish at the Chicago Board of Trade

Open outcry is dead, and the Chicago Board of Trade will never be the same.  Long live the CBOT.

Well, that ‘s what you might say, anyway, if you were a fan of that deafening roar that was once the trading floor.  All of that has been silenced by computers, which is where most of the trading has gone now for agricultural and other commodities.  This recent article buried on the New York Times’s Dealbook web page tells the story, which is also part of Chicago history and Route 66 history, as the CBOT has been located on Route 66 for decades before the route existed.

CBOT is also important to the nation’s economic history.  To quote Wikipedia:  “In 1864, the CBOT listed the first ever standardized ‘exchange traded’ forward contracts, which were called futures contracts.  In 1919, the Chicago Butter and Egg Board, a spin-off of the CBOT, was reorganized to enable member traders to allow futures trading, and its name was changed to Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME).”  Ever since its founding, CBOT has been an economic innovator.  To Route 66 fans, however, the end of the open outcry system at CBOT means visitors will never again get to see actual trading being conducted – trading that means billions upon billions of dollars to the world economy.  We, the public, will no longer get to see in action what it is that CBOT does.  And I’ll miss that.

Personal observation:  Once again, I wonder why I have to read the New York Times rather than the local papers if I want to get a thoughtful perspective on a local event or phenomenon.  Reuters weighed in with a story nearly two years ago when someone filed suit to keep open-outcry prices as the benchmark for end-of-day settlement prices instead of capitulating to electronic trading prices.  Modern Farmer ran a well done story three months later, and The Western Producer caught up in February 2015 after CBOT finally decided to close most of the pits; but the constantly shrinking Chicago Tribune merely ran the Reuters piece in 2013, then forgot about how CBOT was changing.  Typical.  And if there was any coverage of it by the Chicago Sun-Times, it didn’t show up in the search results.  Sigh …

Yours truly remembers a very different CBOT, one that reigned for 165 years under open  outcry (a system it developed, just as it did futures contracts) and will never return.  I saw it for myself, every working day for a year.

Trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade in 1993  (photo courtesy of Jeremy Kemp via Wikimedia Commons)

The trading floor at the Chicago Board of Trade in 1993; note the brokers standing on the steps of the octagonal commodity pits.  (Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kemp via Wikimedia Commons)

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Route 66 history:  West Side Park, long-vanished home of the Chicago Cubs

A mere two blocks east of Ogden Avenue and historic Route 66, there is a square block of buildings along Polk Street in the Illinois Medical District that is a forgotten site of baseball history:  it was once the home of the Chicago Cubs and the place where the team got that name.  Had its then owner not been possibly the most hated man in pro baseball at the time and a complete cheapskate, as in too stingy to maintain that ballpark or build a new one (setting a precedent for later tightfisted Chicago team owners), that spot might still be home to the Cubs today.  Instead, it’s home to the University of Illinois Medical School and the UIC College of Nursing.

A ring of faculty office and classroom buildings lines the periphery of the block.  A small, cramped open space in the middle, serving as a rudimentary quadrangle, is crisscrossed with sidewalks threading through the space, from east to west.  That small open space is all that’s left of the old baseball field.  Only a barely noticed, weathered bronze plaque on Wood Street remains as a reminder for anyone who cares to look.

2nd West Side Park (IMD) - commem plaqueThat baseball field was known as West Side Park, aka the West Side Grounds  It seems highly appropriate to discuss it now because although the Chicago Cubs supposedly celebrated their 100th anniversary as a ball club last year, in fact April 2016 will be their 100th anniversary at Wrigley Field.

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Route 66 history:  Lawndale’s Dr. M. L. King Legacy Apartments

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 in January 1966.

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.

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