Letters to the Editor

U. of C. owes schools for Harper Court TIF $

To the Editor:

Now that the University of Chicago has taken direct ownership of the Harper Court project structures (it has owned the land, through its real estate development arm, for some time), we are faced with the undeniable fact that the $23.4 million TIF subsidy for this development was for the university’s benefit.

Half of the TIF subsidy — $11.7 million — came at the expense of the Chicago Public Schools. So, millions were taken from our cash-strapped school system to subsidize a private institution with a multi-billion dollar endowment. The subsidy was given by the 53rd Street TIF.

The 53rd Street TIF was supposed to be different from the many TIFs that cover much of our city. At its founding, the 53rd Street TIF was intended to pay for: (a) local schools; (b) street improvements (such as Cleanslate); and (c) parking, in our already congested neighborhood.

All of these objectives have been abandoned. The 53rd Street TIF is now no different from the other TIFs.

The university, as part of its civic engagement, played a role in the debasement of the 53rd Street TIF. It promoted the development of the Harper Court project — on its land — without any consideration of the TIF objectives.

The university ought consider a constructive act of civic engagement — and restore public confidence in the 53rd Street TIF — by making grants to our local schools, for at least half of the TIF subsidy it received. This would help the schools meet infrastructure needs that the CPS has been neglecting due to its lack of funds. It would also help fund the hiring of the teaching personnel CPS needs to give our neighborhood children the “longer, better school day” they have been promised, but have yet to receive.

Marc Lipinski

Happy to see changes on 53rd Street

To the Editor:

At 69 years of age, I’m happy to see improvements to our shopping options. Without a car, I am frequently on 53rd Street visiting my old favorites Kimberly Lee and Supreme. Recently I’ve added Comfort Me to my list of places to shop. My cousin and I visit the theater once a week and we change up our restaurant visits to include newcomers and reliable old standbys.

Progress is good as long as we still maintain that friendly feeling of visiting a merchant who treats you like a friend. Having moved to Hyde Park out of choice at the age of 21, I sought a community with young and old, integrated and with a social conscience. I think I got exactly what I was looking for.

There are some things I would love to see happen to help our retail area. Since the University of Chicago will be running a shuttle between Harper Court and the university, why not operate a shuttle that would take residents from Harper Court down 53rd Street to the shopping area that contains Hyde Park Produce and is across the street from [Freehling Pot and Pan Company]. This would encourage more business and soften the blow of TIF funds used, in effect, by the university. Residents would feel they are getting something in return. Imagine something attractive like the red tour buses making their way down 53rd Street.

Next, I think as a community we have to remember our ongoing commitment to the arts. Why can’t one of the Harper spaces go to Artisans 21 perhaps shared with Fair Trade? The Arts Council received $6 million from the university. I’m sure they have spent some of that money wisely, however, as a resident, I have never seen an accounting of that money in the Herald. Why couldn’t the Arts Council underwrite the rent for two years for these establishments?

Finally, great care needs to go into the blocks of storefronts starting at Harper and going west. For 40 years we had a gallery on 53rd Street. The Waller gallery was as comfortable as [57th Street Books]. To this day I have a wonderful piece of art Mr. Waller gave to me when I was in my 20s — Other pieces went on a lay-a-way plan. Then came Joe Smith’s gallery and his wonderful work he did with the teens in the area. Why is that location being utilized as a residence? Is the zoning not for retail? Do we have no control over our retail corridor? Can the chamber of commerce issue recommendations for retail windows?

We have not lost our small town community — we need only to care for it like an old friend.

Karen Phillips

57th Street Books a book lover’s paradise

To the Editor:

I moved to Hyde Park and told a North Side book-loving friend that I could now live happily ever after, for there was hardly a direction I could walk without encountering a bookstore. He looked at me solemnly and said, “Why, it’s like an alcoholic moving in above a tavern.”

Part of that happiness has been walking down to 57th Street Books which, I learned recently, is celebrating its 30th anniversary at that location. I may not have visited the bookstore quite as often as the hypothetical alcoholic has dropped in to the hypothetical tavern down below – while I don’t have an accurate count, my visits could be conservatively estimated to be somewhere in the four-digit range. It was also nice that our children, as they were growing up, could stroll down to 57th Street Books and charge (or even order) any book their little hearts desired (within reason, of course).

It goes without saying that I like the place.

57th Street Books is sometimes called the “popular” branch of the Seminary Co-op (now at 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave.), but it continues the tradition of Staver’s Books, the previous occupant of the basement store at 57th Street and Kimbark Avenue, by offering books that the mega bookstores would never dream of carrying.

A friend told me she once called Walden Books, logically it seemed, to see if the store had any editions of Thoreau’s “Walden.” The clerk responded, “Is that a book?” I can’t imagine ever getting such a response at 57th Street Books.

Going to 57th Street Books, in fact, is like walking into the pages of “Times Literary Supplement” or “The New York Review of Books”: always a pleasure, always a delight, always worth returning to again and again.

Barry Kritzberg

Tornadoes remind us of need for trauma center

To the Editor:

During Sunday, Oct. 23’s storm, tornado warnings appeared on our television screens, and sirens that people were telling each other were new tornado warning sirens sounded loudly in Hyde Park. Fortunately, we missed the worst of the storm, which hit downstate, where at least five people died. In Peoria, a spokesperson for St. Francis Medical Center was reported to have said that the hospital treated victims with head injuries, broken bones, cuts and bruises and that eight were sent to the trauma unit. If the threat of a tornado here in Chicago this week was considered serious enough to evacuate Soldier Field, wouldn’t you think that the threat of future tornados would be regarded as serious enough to make provisions for opening a trauma center on the South Side to provide for prompt and effective treatment of the victims?

Caroline Herzenberg

Happy birthday to 57th Street Books

To the Editor:

Congratulations to the Seminary Co-op Bookstores on the 30th anniversary of its 57th Street Books last month. 57th Street Books fills a place in the literary life of my family and the community that is very special. From its very beginning, my family and I would go to the store most weekends, whether on a lazy summer afternoon or dark, wintry day. Each of us would seek out our special place in the store. My son to the children’s books, my husband to the front table for history and politics and I to literature. All of us content, we might not find each other again for an hour or more, and, when we did, it was always to buy good books, promising homebound pleasure. It’s been the place where I ordered the syllabus titles for my son’s high school reading classes, where I buy most of my birthday and holiday gifts, attend favorite author events and have gotten to know and appreciate its marvelous staff over the years. I believe that the niche 57th Street Books has filled for the past 30 years for my family and me represents its broader importance as the neighborhood bookstore for the Hyde Park community. Here’s to another 30!

Debra Hammond

A final farewell from Artisans 21

To the Editor:

This is the last opportunity for Artisans 21 to invite all faithful friends of the arts and crafts to its annual Open House Dec. 7 and 8, from noon to 4 p.m.

After more than 45 years of providing Hyde Park and Kenwood (actually, all of Chicago) with original ceramics, jewelry, clothing, photography, mosaics, calligraphy, paintings, blown glass, quilting, etc., we will close on Dec. 24.

We thank everyone for supporting the arts through good times and bad. We will never forget your warm, perceptive enthusiasm.

Rob Borja for Artisans 21

Welcome to Lake Forest

To the Editor:

A century ago, Kenwood was an ultra-elite neighborhood with the cream of Chicago’s wealthiest families living in the most extravagant houses in town. A week ago Monday night’s Kenwood community meeting about the conversion of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Blossom and McArthur houses to bed and breakfast establishments marked the return of Kenwood to its former and rightful glory.

The neighbors proudly and gallantly rejected a billionaire’s offer to carefully restore two of the most important examples of Prairie School interior design in the world. Not for any amount of silver would the community compromise its principles and risk the intrusion of the undesirable lower classes. Packer fans down for the big Bears game might show up and tailgate-party in the street. Deliveries of desired luxury goods might be delayed by taxi cabs idling at the curb. And, of course, there’s always the danger of strangers stealing scarce public parking places. One couldn’t expect one’s family and important friends to stay in a “commercial” establishment like a mere bed and breakfast when they could lodge at a new, second-rate Hyatt a few blocks away. We certainly wouldn’t want the kind of commercialization where families illegally rent rooms to students or professionals illegally see clients in their homes. To the unsophisticated, this may sound like self-indulgent whining from a Republican suburb, but, when you pay big money for a big house, you should get to have things just the way you want them. What a relief that the barbarian invasion has been thwarted. (By the way, the proposed total cost to said billionaire would have been $7 million for a total of ten guest rooms at $300 to $500 per night —well within the price range of the hoi polloi.)

Although the exteriors of the Blossom and MacArthur houses are protected by the Kenwood Landmark District ordinance, unfortunately the interiors are not. The interiors are works of the highest art even if from the outside one looks like another classic revival house and the other like a big, lost barn. In both houses, Frank Lloyd Wright created a revolutionary way of organizing interior space. There are few doors separating rooms but the interlocking domestic areas unfold in a way that provides a sense of warm intimacy. He pulls off this miracle with the use of restrained finishes, the inspired placement of windows and the most remarkable wood moldings and cabinetry you may ever see. Wright hadn’t yet learned how to make his exteriors express his revolutionary interiors, as he did spectacularly at the Robie House 16 years later.

Although both houses are in absolutely terrible shape, the Landmark designation allows us to hope they won’t be torn down. But nothing can prevent new owners from butchering the interiors. Do yourself a favor. Call your favorite real estate broker. Pretend you’re interested in buying them. Your walk-through may be your last chance to see these world-class, local works of art.

Jack Spicer

Thanks to the Herald for new series

To the Editor:

We look forward to the Herald’s new series on “Lost Hyde Park.”

I liked the observation in the announcement that “Hyde Park today is one of the best places in America to view the rich complexity of urban architecture, where history reflects the spirit of ever-changing eras.” Anyone who has lived here for a few decades can only think “Oh yes — How true.” Thanks to the Herald, as always, for reflecting and sharing.

Charles Custer

University concern about input hollow

To the Editor:

So the South East Chicago Commission is now conducting a traffic study “as a result of the 53rd Street Visioning Workshops.” I applaud the volunteer spirit of the community members who will serve on the committee. But the concerns about traffic were raised at the first Visioning Workshop in 2007, so why wait six years for this study? We should be skeptical of the argument that the delay occurred because “funding was available now.”

Why did the university not seek such a comprehensive study before moving forward with the huge Vue53 development at the McMobil site? Such a study might have produced a recommendation that development at McMobil be kept in scale. The SECC website, however, states that the current study seeks “recommendations relating to bus shelters, sidewalks and crosswalks, signage, biking facilities, streetscape improvements, shared or consolidated parking, ‘control of parking demand through pricing’ and parking requirements that will encourage pedestrian-friendly development.” It pointedly does NOT seek any recommendations related to the scale of potential developments. Community input is welcome up to a point.

At the first Visioning Workshop in 2007, the university and the SECC showed that they had an agenda to seek community acceptance of an out-of-scale building at the McMobil site. (The details are too long for this letter, but can be read on the website save53rdstreet.org.) At the end of the workshop, which had focused on issues around Harper Court, we were asked out of the blue to vote on whether we would accept a mid-rise (3-12 story) building “somewhere in the 53rd St. TIF district.” It was obvious to many of us that this was a transparent attempt to be able to spin the workshop results as community support for a tall building at the McMobil site.

My friends and fellow citizens on the committee should be mindful that the SECC and the university have an agenda here: they want to be able to claim that they sought community input and got community buy-in, but they also want to dictate what the questions are, just as in 2007 they refused to let the workshop participants take a separate vote on whether we would support a mid-rise building at the McMobil site. They have never asked that question, because they do not want to hear the answer. I call upon the Parking and Transit Committee to make sure that the right questions are asked.

Michael Scott

Save the 47th Street fitness complex

To the Editor:

Hyde Park has a wonderful asset which we might lose.

For the past several months, rumors have spread about the property at 47th Street and Lake Park Avenue. Currently, it houses the following facilities: XS Tennis, an indoor tennis club, LA fitness and the University of Chicago Physical Therapy and Advocate Health Outpatient Center. The rumor mill contends that the site will no longer exist housing the above. Instead, it will be a retail business.

The site as it currently exists is truly an asset to this community: Individual players who practice here come from all over the city: as far north as the Ravenswood neighborhood to Museum Park, to the near North Side to Chatham on the Southern perimeters. It is the only indoor tennis court facility between East Bank to the North and Evergreen Park at 95th Street. The University of Illinois Women’s Tennis Team and the USTA and Illiana teams use it as their home training base. (The USTA 3.0 Women’s team is the current regional champion).

In its present location, the physical therapy center is attractive to its customers as it offers free parking and short walking distances. It is imperative to patients’ compliance to have highly trained professionals and easy accessibility in the vicinity (four CTA bus lines — No. 2, 6, 28 and 47 — and an exit/entrance ramp at 47th Street to Lake Shore Drive) as it means continuing quality in care. The staff at this facility is outstanding. The site is close to the parking. Its proximity to parking, walking and public transportation makes it the ideal facility for therapy. 

When approached about the possibility of staying, the providers of these facilities have all offered to continue their services at the above site. How can we — as a community — ensure that the site will continue functioning in its present form?

We, the undersigned, are willing — as a community — to support any efforts undertaken to the continuation of this site in its present form as indoor tennis courts, a fitness center and a physical therapy and outpatient care facility.

Carol Gittler
Christing Uhlig
Barbara Asner
Rita Glass
Pat Hollingsworth
Judith Shuldiner
Margaret Saphir
David Appel
John Coleman Jr.
Tim Moore
Ed Taylor
Sabina Charles
Bob Hartfield
Brad Lyttle
Russell Ray
Vivian Tillman

“… and they put up a parking lot”

To the Editor:

It’s certainly been a bad year for old Hyde Park buildings. First, the University of Chicago’s Ingleside Hall went down and now MAC is planning to bulldoze three luxury 1892 rowhouses from the Columbian Exposition era now standing on the 5100 block of Harper. All fine buildings, one sacrificed to a big new lawn and the others to put up a parking lot. It all sounds kind of post-war ‘50’s, doesn’t it?

Hard to know which is more ridiculous — the wanton smashing of the buildings or the self-serving rhetoric employed to rationalize the demolitions. The “rat infested” epithet on MAC spokesman’s part was a nice touch, bringing back fond memories of the previous U. of C. wave of “progress” known as Urban Renewal. Back then “rats” were code for any building that was in the South East Chicago Commission’s way and for the kinds of people that supposedly went right along with the rats. Those nasty rats just make one shiver, don’t they?

It’s quite fascinating how our existing, functional community gets portrayed as an obsolete, menacing shantytown. And apparently we’re desperate for rescue. “This Is What Hyde Park Has Been Waiting For” and “A Better Vision for Hyde Park.” What could be more timely and welcome than physical expansion by the university and commercial exploitation by outside corporations. This soft version of colonialism is ideal for helping us backward Hyde Parkers learn the new and enlightened ways to live. We can happily leave our native, indigenous customs and practices behind in the good old dustbin of history. Who wouldn’t want to be part of this glorious revolution?       Well, the big boys are getting their narrow, short-sighted, small-minded way once again. It seems almost inevitable now that the university, with help from its friends, will re-make the neighborhood in its own image every 50 years or so. One can only hope when they get done this time, when the dust settles and we are fully Zimmerized and MACified, there will be at least a few scraps of our unique, wonderful, humane community left dangling from the edges of their over-capitalized, over-grown campus and their photogenic new shopping districts.

Jack Spicer   

Efficiency Isn’t Everything

To the Editor:

Somewhere in the more efficient, income-producing, planned further construction for 53rd Street there must be accommodation for the arts and crafts displaced by the razing of Harper Court.

This special arrangement there made for Artisans 21, in part accounts for its longevity (45-plus years); until now.

Will this aspect of Hyde Park vanish at the end of this year? This integral creative side of our community deserves better.

Efficiency isn’t everything. It should not be the only thing that matters to us.

Rob Borja
for Artisans 21

Lab’s new building a danger to birds

To the Editor:

The new Laboratory School annex on Stony Island Avenue, celebrated in your Oct. 16 article, sits across the street from one of the most celebrated spots for viewing migratory birds in Chicago, namely Jackson Park and the Wooded Isle, where tens of thousands of warblers, orioles, tanagers, thrushes, thrashers, vireos and other species stop over in the spring and fall as they travel along the shore of Lake Michigan.

In recent years, many articles have appeared in the popular press, discussing the distressing news that bird collisions with architectural glass in see-through building features are now a leading cause of migratory bird fatalities. Unfortunately, the new Lab school buildings appear to have been designed without any consideration for bird safety, with the predictable outcome: its windows are now a hotspot for bird collisions, and will likely be directly responsible for dozens to hundreds of bird injuries and deaths each coming year. Some of the danger to birds could potentially be mitigated by adding features to the windows, such as reflective films. Such retrofitting would obviously be much less appealing, from many perspectives, than to have designed the building more sensitively in the beginning.

It’s wonderful that the school will offer such a good environment for children, but human activities affect more than just humans. The need for a bird-safe design in a building that sits across from a park that is famous for migratory bird stopovers, should have been a no brainer. The absurd thing about this current sad situation is that it could so easily have been avoided, had the building design been informed by published guidelines for how to avoid the kind of glass surfaces that are so deadly to birds.

Aaron Turkewitz

Kudos to plaintiffs in Vue53 lawsuit

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to the Herald as a public acknowledgement of the lawsuit filed by Michael Scott and three other Hyde Park residents in response to the Vue53 development, as reported in the Oct. 2 issue of the newspaper.

Dear Michael:

As president of the Winston Court Condominium Association (WCCA), I would like to thank you for an excellent presentation on these issues: McMobil-Vue53 zoning violations and the ownership of the land property by the University of Chicago at our last meeting. Our members expressed concerns at that meeting about parking, traffic, air pollution the fact that the design of the building is ugly.

I will present a resolution at the November meeting of the WCCA board to support your efforts to halt the construction of this building until there is a return to original zoning laws. I personally call upon our alderman and the University of Chicago to halt the construction of this controversial building until all zoning issues are resolved.

Thank you also for your work as our community representative and as the secretary of the Murray School local school council. We consider the Murray School community to be our neighbor and will continue to maintain communication with the LSC.

Ed Sehr

Hyde Park is awash in dinosaurs

To the Editor:

I wonder if Dr. Paul Soreno is aware of the remarkable group of dinosaurs that have been active in Hyde Park this past summer and early autumn? All seem to fall under the genus, Chicago Water Management. On Dorchester Avenue, where I live, there has been a large creature with a white body and long, orange, neck of the species Link-Belt. At the end of its neck is a bucket-like feature with formidable teeth with which the creature bites trenches in the ground, and gulps great mouthfuls of dirt. Another large animal, is yellow, and has the figures JCB on its sides. It seems to consort with Link-Belt, pushing around piles of dirt and gravel, sometimes filling up the trenches. Both Link-Belt and JCB have a technique of wrapping straps around long, hollow, cylinders and lowering them into the trenches (egg laying?) There is a giant, blue, slug-like creature named MAC Freightliner that tends to position itself just in front of Link-Belt, apparently in order to be fed massive amounts of sand and dirt. How it digests these meals I do not know. A few days ago, Link-Belt, possibly in a rage, violently and noisily attacked a fire hydrant in front of my neighbor’s house. It banged the hydrant about, and eventually plucked it out of the ground, demonstrating tremendous strength. A much smaller creature is Bobcat, which has four round feet, and darts about like a raptor. It pushes dirt and gravel here and there, and sometimes picks up and moves large steel plates over the trenches (nest building?) All of these creatures seem out of their paleontological time-period, and deserving of careful, scientific, study. Dr. Soreno might make a film about them, titling it, “The Dinosaurs of Hyde Park.”

Bradford Lyttle