Join me on an adventure … a virtual ride to downtown Chicago, often called the “Loop” because the train encircles it. Let’s hop on the “el,” the Lake Street elevated Green Line train, and away we go!
From my childhood to the present, it’s always been fascinating for me to see “the world” from a window seat of the train. The drumming wheel song plays as we rumble down the tracks to what was once the old Marshall Field building, now Macy’s; and the old Chicago Library, now the Cultural Center.
In truth, this outing is a study in sociology and urban development, or lack thereof. It is also a visual depiction of segregation. Within a mere dozen miles, there’s a discernible picture of societal and physical changes of life outside the el window. Leaving Oak Park, we see a variety of apartments, old and new. We see stores, restaurants, and some elegant old homes with trees and flower gardens. Also, the streets and sidewalks are well-kept, and we can catch a glimpse of Unity Temple, a Frank Lloyd Wright gem. There is an interesting intermingling of handsome churches and new high-rises in our little old Oak Park.
As we travel through the Austin community, we see older residences, some stores, and a few scattered restaurants. The older buildings show the wear and tear from years of neglect. Many of the buildings are abandoned and have advertisements slapped on their sides. Others are covered with graffiti, most of which is ugly, but also interspersed with community-generated artwork that is quite beautiful. If these dilapidated structures could emote, they would be crying, remembering their once-lovely construction … someone’s architectural dream, now shattered. We are approaching Garfield Park and the Conservatory where the scene improves markedly.
Next, from our train window we see the rebuilt United Center where nearby once stood the old Chicago Stadium. New buildings have been constructed along with a multitude of parking lots. Some of the 100-year-old+ stone homes remain, and are now refurbished. It is here that sweet nostalgia comes over me. The old fortress-like homes remind me of my grandmother’s apartment on Douglas Boulevard. “Bubby,” we called her, lived on the second floor of a 2-flat building that had an overhang covering the entrance. As kids, we’d crawl on our bellies out the living room window onto the creaky metal top of the overhang. It was dangerous, but we loved being in our “castle” lookout. Some of the refurbished buildings now have actual patios where our precious lookout once stood.
Next we see the University of Illinois Chicago, along with the sprawling medical campus. Rush Hospital, located on this campus and voted one of the 10 best hospitals in the country, is also known for its architectural uniqueness.
Soon we reach our destination in the entertainment and business area of downtown Chicago. After we leave the elevated platform and walk down the 29 steps to ground level at Macy’s entrance, the fun continues. Viewing each floor, we take the escalator to the 7th floor for lunch in the Walnut Room. Nostalgia hits me again as I devour the Marshall Field special sandwich and frango mint ice cream for dessert, fortunately still served by Macy’s.
The other destination of our outing is to visit the galleries at the Chicago Cultural Center and see the stunning Tiffany glass ceiling windows. We then stroll through the gardens and greenery of Millennium Park, having fully enjoyed our leisurely day. On the ride home, I feel pangs of guilt as I appreciate my good fortune to have such a pleasant afternoon. Our country claims to be the richest nation in the world. If this is true, then indeed there should be equal opportunity for all to have a day like we had today.
Poverty and racism are not partisan issues and, hopefully, wise leadership will guide us in a better direction.
Harriet Hausman, a longtime River Forest resident, is, at 99, likely the oldest weekly newspaper columnist in the U.S. if not the world.