Letters to the Editor

Condemning McMobil monstrosity

To the Editor:

This is to express my agreement with the opinion of the Hyde Park Herald, and of Franklin, Kaufman, Lipinski, Pamelas and White, and of Ratcliffe, as well as that of every Hyde Parker with whom I have spoken, condemning the planned McMobil monstrosity. I also express my dismay about the letter by Paul Marks.

It reads like a commercial advertisement, appealing to emotion. Consider Marks’ rhetorical superlatives: architecturally pleasing, well designed, higher quality, exceptional, impressive, legendary, hearty, vibrant and exciting.

Is Paul Marks a paid agent of the developers, or a naive person, completely unaware of, and unconcerned with, the values, comfort and health and safety of Hyde Parkers? He attempts to tempt and seduce us with retail items that are low on our priorities. How badly do you need a scarf or a tie? He tempts us with the very foods that all health and nutrition counselors condemn as the causes of the obesity epidemic, which leads to cardiovascular disease and diabetes. He specifically promotes cheeseburgers, ribs, and pastry.

In appealing to socially irresponsible people, he neglects the needs of seniors and the disabled, who must use a car to go shopping. Neglect is a form of abuse. The traffic congestion produced by the monstrosity will force such neighbors to travel to South Loop, which has huge parking lots and in-house garages. All this driving will further increase environmental pollution, traffic congestion, and harmful stress. He dismisses Chicago’s often deadly snow and cold as “a bit chilly.”

I urge you to write to Ald. Burns to halt the rezoning. A similar scheme for Lincoln Square was defeated by aldermanic action. We can do it here, but only if you take action.

Dr. George Kagan

Write a Letter

Send McMobil plan back to drawing board

To the Editor:

There is a plan before our political leaders to build a monstrous 13-story high-rise structure at the so-called McMobil site on 53rd Street across from Nichols Park. This building should not be built. The proposed structure is grossly out of proportion with its surroundings and would degrade the quality of life for everyone living, working and shopping within a wide radius around it. We add our voices to the growing chorus of Hyde Parkers who oppose the plan by Mesa Development LLC and call on Ald. Will Burns (4th) to prevent it from going any further.

Our reasons for opposing the plan are several and correspond closely with those raised in the Herald editorial of Feb 20:
The building would dwarf everything around it and destroy the view from Nichols Park. Today, people in the park gazing northward see sky; if this building goes up they’ll see only skyscraper.

The building would create added population density where we need it least, namely, several blocks from any public transportation. This is contrary to the sentiment expressed in many community meetings. Being far from buses and trains, residents of the building would have strong incentives to own cars, which would add to the traffic congestion on 53rd Street. It would also make it easy for these mobile Hyde Parkers to leave the neighborhood to shop, exactly the opposite of what we’re supposed to be trying to accomplish with neighborhood development.

Perhaps most ominous of all, it would set a new precedent for outsized structures on that stretch of 53rd Street, which was neither designed for nor can handle high-volume traffic. The result, down the line, could be not the density we desire but the congestion we can live without.

Before the Mesa plan can proceed, the site has to be rezoned, and the decision on this lies with Ald. Burns. For the good of the neighborhood, we urge him to halt the rezoning and bring all of the parties back to the table to design a sane alternative, this time with the community input and consensus the current proposal lacks.

Stephanie Franklin
Robin Kaufman
Marc Lipinski
Tom Panelas
David White

Write a Letter

McMobil plan is a needed development

To the Editor:

In response to Ms. Franklin’s “alternative to the McMobil plan” (letters, Feb. 27, p.4), it is equally important to hear the voices of those who support this architecturally pleasing and well-designed building on 53rd Street. This building will provide the most needed yet currently absent element to 53rd Street, additional market rate residents that will support the retail businesses and create greater demand for higher quality shops and restaurants that are badly needed in our wonderful neighborhood. The starting point is the University of Chicago’s exceptional investment in seeking to bring positive change to 53rd Street, with the rehabilitation of the movie theater, the catalyst for implementing the new development at Harper Court with pedestrian-friendly retail, hotel and an office building and now a bold new approach to bringing more residents to this ever-changing street. Safety of those who walk and shop on 53rd Street has historically been a major concern. Since the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, 53rd Street has seen many ebbs and flows in its perceived safety. Without a substantial density of residents living, shopping and strolling on the street, the retail corridor has struggled to define its position in the neighborhood. The last two shopping centers built on 53rd Street, Kimbark Plaza and Dorchester Commons, were designed to accommodate vehicles first, pedestrians second. It was a common design in the past, often mandated by local ordinances to require a minimum amount of parking to relieve the pressure on street parking and in Hyde Park’s case, to draw more shoppers further west along 53rd Street. Not only does this design provide convenience to the car shopper, it also offers a sense of security to shop only in the designated shopping center and not to stroll along 53rd Street. The result has been an inconsistent, often struggling mix of retail and dining options that have existed and changed over the years on 53rd Street since Kimbark Plaza was built. Yet, our community has always strived for better shopping options. We want places to buy clothing and small boutique shops. Might I remind Ms. Franklin that if she walks a short four blocks east from Nichols Park, she will be able to find “a scarf, a belt …” at the impressive new Akira shop? I’m not sure about finding a zipper or a tie, certainly two items that are not a top priority for shoppers in Hyde Park. We also want better dining choices, although a $3 cheeseburger at Nathans and the legendary “see your food” at Valois will hopefully remain as part of an eclectic mix of dining options. The Mesa development will be a long-needed plug in the western corridor of 53 Street. It smartly provides adequate parking inside the building and out of sight for its tenants and the public while presenting its street level retail directly in front of the pedestrian. With the increase in the number of residents at this location, Nichols Park will be active with more residents and more eyes for added safety and interest in maintaining the park and likely joining Ms. Franklin’s Nichols Park Advisory Council. More cars will add to the mix, however 53rd Street has never been a fast moving street such as the western section 55th Street past the train tracks. The benefit of already being a “slow moving street” is to discourage car use, and encourage pedestrian use. It is true the new residents might find a four-block (Ms. Franklin counts six blocks) walk along 53rd Street to the Metra train a bit chilly in the winter. However a nice walk encourages retail spending; a warm cup of coffee at Starbucks and hearty cheeseburger at Nathans or Five Guys or a slab of ribs at Ribs ‘n Bibs. It might also offer a fresh croissant or baguette at a future pastry shop. Or a place to pick up flowers on the way home from work. Ms. Franklin’s suggestion for a four-story retail complex would put far greater traffic pressure on the street, especially with the idea of an upper-level department store or mini Ikea. The last I checked, Ikea prefers about 350,000 square feet of space to operate their store successfully in the USA, far more space than any location for them in Hyde Park. Let’s not ignore the market reality of retail. Stores prefer to follow a community’s shopping needs and make certain the economic realities make sense. The Mesa development will clearly help define that goal and will assuredly bring more vibrant and exciting pedestrian retail to 53rd Street. Show your support and welcome this development.

Paul Marks

Write a Letter

Trauma center at U. of C. is a moral necessity

To the Editor:

Should not our self-interest, as well as our sense both of compassion and of honor, move us to make available, in all urban neighborhoods in this country, at least the level of medical services routinely provided throughout the larger cities in those European countries which are privileged to enjoy a level of economic development comparable to our own?

George Anastaplo

Taste of Hyde Park returns next month

To the Editor:

The annual Taste of Hyde Park will take place on Saturday, March 2, between 6 and 9 p.m. This year the location is Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, 4945 S. Dorchester Ave. The event is the major annual fundraiser for the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project. With food and drink donated by more than 20 Hyde Park and Kenwood restaurants and other food establishments, including some new ones, the evening is a great opportunity to sample food from a wide range of Hyde Park and Kenwood eating establishments in exchange for an admission contribution that goes to a great cause. Adult tickets cost $35, if ticket purchased in advance, or $40 at the door, with lower costs for students with ID and children. Attendees also get to listen to music from local jazz legend Willie Pickens while dining. In addition, there is a silent auction, where attendees can bid on professional services, tickets, gift certificates and more, with opening bids well below the value of the item and all funds going to the Hyde Park Transitional Housing Project. So readers can come to the Taste of Hyde Park and have fun doing good. For further information, folks may write to hpthp@yahoo.com or call Allan at 773-595-4921.

Allan Lindrup, Chair
Taste of Hyde Park

Bring Artisans 21 back to 53rd Street

To the Editor:

I think it would be great to have Artisans 21 on 53rd Street, as suggested by Rob Borja’s Feb. 6 letter. Artisans 21 has a wide variety of attractive, moderately priced items. It would add class to the retail shops in the hotel building in Harper Court. It could provide original, distinctive gifts for purchase by hotel guests. If space isn’t available there, it would also be appropriate to the McMobil location.

Ellie Hall

McMobil high-rise in the wrong location

To the Editor:

The well-known real estate mantra, “Location, Location, Location!” clearly applies to the potential new high-rise on the McMobil site. The proposed building, three floors higher than the University Apartments on 55th Street and almost as wide, would engulf the buildings on either side — and loom over Nichols Park — without achieving the desired goal of transit-oriented development favored by the participants in the various 53rd Street “planning” workshops. It is inaccurate to claim, as some have, that the consensus of the participants favored high-rises on 53rd Street without qualification. Every participant I know consistently added that the acceptance of high-rise development depended on its location.

What this community seriously needs, before any more mistakes are made, is comprehensive, overall neighborhood planning, to ensure desirable density in appropriate locations. “Appropriate locations” is the key to successful development. The previous lack of adequate planning resulted in 53rd Street’s current woes: large amounts of retail crowded onto a street ten feet narrower than 55th Street with no alleys for garbage pickup or merchandise deliveries.

An essential part of intelligent planning is the determination of desirable limits for density. If density measurements studies were ever done for Hyde Park, where is the report? How much density do we actually need and want to have a thriving retail sector? Achieving the density we want is not just a matter of building apartments: Location, location, location is of paramount importance to a successful neighborhood plan.

Additionally, the intensity of land use should not be so great as to cause congestion. High-rises within two blocks of transportation encourage walking to the bus or train rather than driving. The proposed McMobil structure, out of scale with all its surroundings, would be more than six blocks from Lake Park bus lines or the Metra, and almost eight blocks to Hyde Park Boulevard — an uncomfortable walk in the winter. This fact alone is reason enough to pause and reconsider whether putting this building somewhere else is actually more beneficial to Hyde Park’s development goals. The university already owns the former taxi garage at 56th Street and Stony Island Avenue. Why not build the huge building there, and a four-story apartment/retail building on the McMobil site? We would get more retail, more density, all of it in scale and all in sync with transit oriented development.

Stephanie Franklin

Concerns about the McMobil high-rise

To the Editor:

I am very concerned about the plan to build a high-rise where the Mobil station is now located on 53rd Street. Some of my reasons are as follows:

1. When open, and especially during the construction period, traffic on 53rd Street will have a serious effect on the children who attend Murray Language Academy, plus pedestrians and drivers on 53rd Street. Local businesses will suffer loss of revenue, similar to the loss now felt by places near 53rd Street and Harper Avenue. Those who work on the new building will take all available street parking, also hurting business in Kimbark Plaza where there will be no parking for customers because of construction workers.

2. If the new building will have 267 rental apartments and parking space for 218 cars, with only about half being for residents, where are the rest of the residents supposed to park? Also, it is possible that many of the apartments will be occupied by couples who own two cars. Again, Kimbark Plaza will suffer loss of business. Restaurants there will be unable to attract customers.

3. Residents of west Hyde Park will lose their only gas and car repair station. We will be forced to go to 51st Street and Cornell Avenue or 52nd Street and Lake Park Avenue, thus greatly increasing automobile congestion on the east end of Hyde Park. Watch out Kenwood Academy students.

I ask that others who are concerned speak up.

Judith Allen

New 53rd Street needs Artisans 21

To the Editor:

The planning for the McMobil plot is an important consideration for the future of our pedestrian shopping thoroughfare: 53rd Street.

The new glassy Harper Court development looms as a complement to this project.

We have not forgotten that Haper Court was created to compensate for the destruction of the 57th Street “art colony.” (Many of you bought bonds for its construction.) That is where Artisans 21 existed for all those many years as a vital part of Hyde Park.

As members of that venerable non-profit cooperative gallery (45+ years), located at 55th Street and Hyde Park Boulevard for the foreseeable future, we are determined to remain an integral part of the community as a source for crafts and art.

We at Artisans 21 are convinced that we belong on 53rd Street and that an affordable provision should be made for us in one of the two developments. What do you think?

Rob Borja

Thanks to supporters of oral history project

To the Editor:

On behalf of the Hyde Park Historical Society and the Oral History Committee, I wish to thank the Hyde Park Herald for highlighting the partnership that has been developed between the HPHS and the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference in the article that appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of the paper. The article noted the very generous grant that the HP-K CC made to the HPHS Oral History Project for helping with the cost of transcribing oral histories that will be conducted in 2013 of a substantial number of long time conference members who have made a difference in the history of our community.

The society and our committee are very grateful for the support that the conference is showing for this project and for the continued support that is being provided in part by the Hyde Park Bank which also gave us a grant in 2012.

I would like to point out that the direct quote in the article that was made about the “emergent” need to record these oral histories, because many of the people on the list to be interviewed are in their ’80s and ’90s, and their memories would otherwise be lost, was made by Lala Rodgers, who co-chairs the Oral History Committee with me. Lala and six other members of the committee — Bert Benade, Rita McCarthy, Cleveland Holden, Cordelia Benedict, Carol Bradford and Aileen Chenkeli — have been working hard for the last two years to help bring this project to fruition.

Another person whose name should be mentioned is Judy Roothaan, who along with Jane Ciacci, former president of the conference, came to us one year ago with the idea to record the memories of conference members before they meet their “mortality,” to use Judy’s word. Judy was first a staff member of the conference and was also active on their schools committee when her children were attending Kosminski Elemenary School, and she can recount some remarkable stories about the role that the Conference played in improving the schools in Hyde Park and their role in Urban Renewal.

I would like to close by thanking Jane Ciacci for making the initial proposal to the HP-K CC board and to Anita Hollins, the current president of the conference, for inviting Lala and me to make a presentation about the project to the conference. I also wish to thank Timuel Black, George Rumsey, Mary Ann Johnson, Jacqueline Dace, Victoria Haas, Judy Roothaan and the membership of the HPHS for lending their support for this project which will be a multi-year effort that will result in oral histories that will be eventually be available for all to research at the Special Collections Research Center in the Regenstein Library at the University of Chicago.

It has been a gratifying experience for me to work with this wonderful group of people who are dedicated to the mission of the Hyde Park Historical Society which is: To record and preserve the history of Hyde Park Township.

Kathy Huff, Co-Chair,
Oral History Committee
Hyde Park Historical Society

The truth behind the lagging latkes

To the Editor:

It is no wonder that faculty members did not want to participate in the Latke-Hamantash Debate as long as it continued to be sponsored by Hillel. The shabby way in which the Chicago Jewish Federation (Hillel’s corporate owner, as they made very clear last spring) summarily fired Hillel’s board — made up of many University of Chicago faculty members and Hyde Park community leaders —has led many in our community to want nothing further to do with Hillel until its local governance is restored.

In the meantime, why should the faculty and this community leave one of its beloved traditions in the hands of outsiders who have shown nothing but disdain for them? The Latke-Hamantash Debate was not canceled; rather, it’s been postponed in order to give time for students and faculty to reorganize it under local sponsorship. This will only strengthen the event.

I’ve been involved with the UChicago Hillel since 1980, including nine years (1999-2008) as a non-faculty member of its governing board and several as treasurer. Although I “timed out” as a board member some four years ago, I remain close to many who were on that board when it was unceremoniously fired by the Federation this spring.

The Hillel board had a long history of concern for the well-being of Jewish life on the University of Chicago campus; for connecting students to Jewish role models, mentors and activities in Hyde Park and beyond; and of effective organizational governance and leadership. The board does not have the reputation of a “rubber stamp” for any executive of the organization, let alone Dan Libenson. When the Federation fired both Libenson and the entire board, it came as a shock to all, especially with its bizarre claims of poor financial management, as those of us who have served on the Hillel board know how hard we have been fighting for so many years to address the Federation’s abysmal financial reporting and poor financial management in the form of cost-allocation, accounting and building management policies that made no sense for Hillel.

The board, which included University of Chicago professors and lay leaders with expertise in all the financial matters at hand, made a reasonable proposal to Federation that it “spin off” Hillel in order to restore its previous status as an independent self-governing organization that could manage its finances appropriately with no future Federation risk of unanticipated financial loss.

So, it is no shock if faculty involved with Hillel at the time felt broadly and deeply insulted when the board was precipitously dismissed by Federation, along with Hillel’s executive director. In my (informed!) view, it is much more likely to be reasonable response to insult, not any “blackmail by Libenson and his cronies” (as speculatively alleged by Dennis Miller in his Letter to the Editor on Dec. 5) that led to the widespread unwillingness among the faculty to participate in this year’s Latke-Hamantash debate. Since most faculty who have participated in the debate in recent decades have no prior history of Hillel involvement, and in fact many have not even been Jewish, it seems clear to me that “blackmail” on this topic, extending comprehensively throughout the faculty, would not be possible and thus cannot explain why Hillel was not able to find the three willing participants necessary to let the show go on.

But, all this focuses on one late detail — the absence of this year’s Latke-Hamantash debate — and leaves aside the more important issue for Hyde Park and the campus Jewish community. The real story is that our Hillel, formerly a local Hyde Park organization, this spring became, essentially, the victim of a hostile takeover by the Chicago Jewish Federation, which is now in control of Hillel’s assets and building (which were given to them a decade ago with the expectation — now breached — that the Federation would allow them to be locally governed through the local board) but lacks any connection to our community. In response, Dan Libenson along with the former (fired) members of the Hillel board, formed jU Chicago, a new, local, student-oriented Jewish organization. It should come as no surprise to anyone informed of the facts and in tune with Hyde Park’s general positive orientation toward locally determined priorities and locally run community organizations that many (faculty and others) find the new organization to have a greater claim to local legitimacy.

Matthew Klionsky, MD, MBA (Booth ’82)

Point letter misguided

To the Editor:

A recent letter to the editor calls for the replacement of the Point’s unique limestone buttresses with ugly poured cement revetments, “beautiful for a stroll” “look(s) quite nice”…yech! The already installed cement is unnatural, already crumbling, cracking & breaking in several places.

Meanwhile, our Promontory retains its rustic charm. If there is broken glass and trash, that is the fault of the visitors, not the site. I have loved, visited, picnicked, swam off and walked on the Point for a half century with nary an incident.

“SAVE THE POINT”

Bonnie Brende

It’s time to use concrete at the Point

To the Editor:

Hyde Park is a remarkable mix of liberal and conservative. Liberal in most things political but remarkably conservative when it comes time for any local changes. Consider the Point. In 2001 a vocal group protested the lakefront renovation and successfully blocked the Point’s renewal. Ten years later we have a Point that is the disgrace of Chicago’s lakefront. While almost the entire lakefront has been restored with concrete walkways and new landscaping, beautiful for a stroll, our Point continues to deteriorate, with broken old poured concrete, limestone, vines and broken glass. Walking on it is not only disheartening, but also unsafe. It is a disgrace. It is time for others to speak out and recognize that the rest of the lakefront in fact looks quite nice and we should allow the Point to follow suit. It is time for a local referendum so that the view of the majority are heard.

Scott Stern, MD

Purrington piece on Harold very moving

To the Editor:

I was really touched by Sue Purrington’s reminiscent piece, “Memories from a Friend of Harold,” in the Nov. 4, 2012, Hyde Park Herald. It brought tears to my eyes because she captured a time and place and particularly a vivid picture of Harold as she described her own interaction with him. I remember when he shopped in the old Walgreens smiling and speaking when necessary but mostly just trying to blend in.

My husband, Bob Mann, former State Representative from Hyde Park, was an early supporter of Harold in his bid for Congress like some others in Hyde Park. Rebecca Janowitz in the interview in the same edition of the Hyde Park Herald as above, so wisely cited Alan and Lois Dobry who worked endlessly for Harold, using all their incredible political acumen to get the job done.

Harold once sent me a lovely letter apologizing for not attending my birthday party and thanking me for being on his transition team. The letter was really for Bob, he was such a good pol. He also kept in touch with Bob when he was ill, a few others did too, but not many. Harold was one special man, very kind, compassionate, brilliant, a lover of life and Chicago.

Sylvia A. Mann