Route 66 people:  Lou Mitchell’s Heleen Thanas remembered

Back after Thanksgiving while we were still partying with our friends and families over the long weekend, we were on holiday hiatus and missed something.  Mind you, it wasn’t at all well publicized; in fact, it happened in the background, under the radar.

Yesterday, I ran across the news while searching online for something else:  Heleen Thanas, doyenne of the famous Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant in Chicago, had died on Halloween last year of complications following a catastrophic stroke.  There hadn’t been a death notice under that name in the local papers, only a Chicago Tribune obituary in late November for a Heleen Thanasouras-Gillman, nearly a month after the private funeral.

Thanasouras-Gillman … That might be the reason I wasn’t the only one who missed it.

Heleen Thanas was her work name.  Even though Thanas is the surname her mother, Kathryn, and brother Nick use at the restaurant – the one on the deed and other legal documents – Thanasouras-Gillman was the name by which Heleen’s immediate family and close friends knew her.  She was proud of her heritage and her accomplishments.

Lou Mitchell's Restaurant on Jackson Boulevard (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman; all rights reserved)

Lou Mitchell’s on Jackson Blvd.  (Photo copyright 2012 by Keith Yearman; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 holiday tours, part 2: Chicago’s Union Station and the Fed

Last time:  holiday touring, part 1 – the Rookery Building

Happy sixth day of Christmas, fellow roadies!  Isn’t the fifth day really the best?  Five gold rings sure beats all those drummers, pipers, dancing maids and prancing lords, not to mention all the bickering poultry.  Did you have a lovely solstice?  Or did you try to duck all the misrule, uproar and unwelcome relatives that come with Saturnalia?  (Lindsey Davis’s novel Saturnalia in the Marcus Didius Falco historical mystery series will give you an excellent idea about that last bit, without having to endure the family politics yourselves.)  Well, we’re still putting away the wrapping paper and ribbons, eating leftovers, and writing thank-you notes ourselves, so it’s time for a diversion:  part two of our pre-holiday architectural building tours on Route 66 in Chicago.

If the Rookery Building represents early Daniel Burnham, Union Station is posthumous Daniel Burnham.  The station was a prominent part of Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, in which he and his assistant Edward H. Bennett laid out future plans for the reorganization and redesign of Chicago.  Nobody expected to accomplish all of this at once; the plan was intended to be a guide for the city’s redesign and development over many years.  Some of it was accomplished; much of it wasn’t, if only because Burnham died in 1912 during a European tour (seeing how inaccurate medicine was back then, the best guess is that it was either blood poisoning from an infection on his leg, possibly complicated by diabetes, or a heart attack that was a result of all of the above).  However, all of it has guided the city’s growth across the decades at least in spirit, even if the Chicago Plan Commission didn’t execute all of the details.  Still, Bennett used the Burnham plan to complete construction of our lengthy Lake Shore Drive and the Grant Park we know and love today – though not Millennium Park, the northwest corner of Grant Park that was redeveloped a century later – and plan commissioners have used it to guide further development of the lakefront in particular.


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Chicago’s Union Station from Adams Street  (photo ©2014 by M.R. Traska; all rights reserved)

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Route 66 visits:  Chicago’s Union Station and the Rookery Building

Happy holidays, fellow roadies!  How many of us here in Chicago do the home tourist thing over the holidays and take the opportunity to see our hometown the way other people do?  Since we live here, you’d think we’d know all the museums, galleries and event venues inside out … and yet, it sometimes takes a visit from out-of-town friends or relatives to prompt us.  We get busy with our lives, and we miss a lot.  Personally, if I don’t hit a museum or a lecture or an event in town at least once a month, I get antsy and need a fix.  But that’s me, a born and bred Chicagoan unwillingly living in the suburbs.  Besides, in our case, writing the Route 66 book has given us plenty of excuses for local travel, so I’ve been kind of spoiled for a while.

At this time of year, the local-tourist itch usually starts with going downtown to shop or see the decorated store windows as an excuse.  You’ve made reservations for lunch or brunch at the Walnut Room or some other place you only hit during the holidays.  Before you know it, you’ve finally decided to use those museum passes that have been burning a hole in your wallet all year or take a few building tours as long as you’re in the Loop.  You really meant to do this when the weather was better.  Yeah.  Uh-huh.  Sure you did.

The Walnut Room at Christmas in Marshall Field's, now Macy's

The Walnut Room at Christmas in Marshall Field’s, now Macy’s, Chicago

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