Letters to the Editor

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

Community left out of U. of C. planning

To the Editor:

I read about the incubator space that the University of Chicago announced on Friday, Oct. 11. I am writing in response to the announcement, and in the hopes that others will chime in; this is our community, our neighborhood, and our voices need to be heard.

I am life long Hyde Parker — born and raised here. I returned to Hyde Park to raise a family after a stint in the Northwest. I am an entrepreneur and lament the dearth of professional spaces to work in, meet at, park in, create in … so the possibility of a space that may be available to the community is exciting.

While I am also excited about the many changes taking place in Hyde Park, many in the community, including myself, are aghast at the lack of community involvement in the changes and development taking place. So, my excitement at the possibility is tempered by the reality of our present situation and the history of the university’s apparent unwillingness to work with the Hyde Park community to find development solutions that work for the U. of C. and for Hyde Parkers.

And if history is any lesson, there will be very little community members or businesses or entrepreneurs able/allowed to use this incubator space. Maybe that is OK — it’s their money, their idea, their space … it is their sandbox. However, Hyde Park is not their sandbox. And the way they approach development in this area is pretty old-style, Chicago “ganstah” for lack of a more descriptive word … They roll in, allege to ask for feedback (although not sure from whom), “listen” and then do what they were going to do in the first place.

Case in point – the McMobil development (site of the old Mobil gas station) further west on 53rd Street. Community members started a lawsuit on that matter in an effort to get the university and the developer to listen/negotiate. The lawsuit alleges illegality and willful ignoring of the community voice. In other lawsuits and public forums, it has been alleged, among other things, that there was duplicity on residents in zoning application/petition processes.

Whether the current McMobil suit prevails or not, and whether the allegations of duplicity are true or not, Hyde Parkers are tired of being treated like tenants in their own home. In many phases of this development process, and even in its current iteration, the university holds all the cards, and the community is left with unanswered questions and, often, development that suits only the transient student and employee population. For instance, it is still unclear whether the McMobil developers are being made to create enough parking or whether “affordable housing” will simply be reduced rents for “poor” B-school and other graduate students.

So while I applaud continued development, I am very cautious. And, I query why is the information kept away from Hyde Parkers? Can the university learn to be more collaborative with Hyde Parkers? Is there anyone who will stand up for the rights of the community? Where are our elected officials? Is there an independent voice for Hyde Park, Kenwood and Woodlawn?

I’m all for progress, but not at the cost of community.

Curtrice W. Scott, Esq.

Come and tend a memorial garden

To the Editor:

I am writing to invite readers of the Herald to participate in a workday at a special Hyde Park garden. Amanda’s Garden, at the corner of 56th Street and Kenwood Avenue, near Ray Elementary School, is a space dedicated to the memory of Amanda Carter, a Ray School second grader who was killed by a drunk driver in 1990. In May of 1990, Ray students, parents and community members started a wildflower garden in her memory, and over the years this garden has been a place of beauty that has provided Ray students the opportunity to observe and work in nature. The garden has evolved and flourished over the last 24 years because of the ongoing efforts of current Ray students, teachers, parents and community members.

Every fall we gather to put the garden to bed and have a workday to pull weeds, plant bulbs and spread wood chips on the garden paths. Please join us on Saturday, Oct. 19, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. to share in this rewarding work.

Andy Carter

Reviewer saw different play

To the Editor:

After reading Anne Spiselman’s review of “Pullman Porter Blues” it became glaringly clear to me why I don’t base my entertainment choices on the reviews of critics. Evidently Ms. Spiselman and I didn’t see the same play. I found “Pullman Porter Blues” highly entertaining and totally accurate. If Ms. Spiselman had an opportunity to speak to some of the Black men who served as Pullman porters she would have better insight into the mindset of the men of that period. The play was on point and I would recommend it to anyone.

Yvonne J. Pulliam

More crime reporting needed

In response to “Police search for assailant” at hpherald.com:

To the Editor:

Thank you for your timely post about this latest violence in our neighborhood. What mystifies me is how violence has become such a part of the Chicago lifestyle that often it is not highlighted front and center in our newspapers or by the media. I do not understand why our mayor, our aldermen, our media talk about anything else — until the out-of-control violence of our city stops! Every child in every neighborhood of Chicago should be safe to go out and enjoy these beautiful fall days. What does it matter what else Chicago has to offer, if we all cannot be safe to go out and enjoy it? Please continue keeping the violence problem front and center, as you do here. Thank you again.

Jennifer Bremer

Stony naming for Brazier has many flaws

Editor’s note: The following letter was sent to Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th)

Dear Alderman Hairston:
I will be unable to attend the community meeting mentioned in your newsletter about renaming S. Stony Island Avenue.

I am opposed to renaming it, for the late Bishop Arthur Brazier or for anyone else, however deserving.

My reasons are as follows:

1) We have many honorary street names for many deserving individuals. This is honor enough for Bishop Brazier and other such individuals. With all due respect to the late Bishop Arthur Brazier, he was no Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. That renaming (of Grand Boulevard/South Parkway) was appropriate; this is not.

2) Stony Island is a unique and interesting name, referring to a geographical feature recognized many years ago. Why should this aspect of Chicago history and uniqueness be lost?

3) As has been amply noted elsewhere, renaming the street entails substantial costs to the City of Chicago, which is flirting with bankruptcy, and to the Postal Service, which is also in financial chaos, to the financially strapped CTA, and to the many residents of this avenue, who would have to change everything related to their postal address. Would you personally want the street on which you live to be renamed? I would certainly not want this for myself.

4) If this foolishness prevails, i.e., renaming a street for the late Bishop Arthur Brazier, then why not rename one of our many numbered streets? An example is 63rd Street, which is a street more relevant to the late Bishop Arthur Brazier than Stony Island Ave is. Renaming a numbered street is what was done for Mayor Anton Cermak (22nd Street) and General John Pershing (39th Street). Whether these renaming were appropriate is moot, the point is that numbered streets have no uniqueness or appeal; they are placeholders. Note that the North Side has no numbered streets.

Thank you for your consideration.

Joshua Telser

McMobil project remains in shadow

To the Editor:

The McMobil proponents (the University of Chicago and Mesa Development) have deliberately misled the public on the shadows of McMobil. Ald. Will Burns (4th) has gone along with this and refused to get Mesa to produce a more complete and telling shadow study. Mesa produced a “shadow study” for the 53rd Street TIF advisory council meeting on May 7 and the Chicago Plan Commission on May 16. You can download this shadow study from the save53rdstreet.org website at save53rdstreet.org/ mcmobilevue53/shadow-study.

This “study” is an obvious piece of propaganda. They would have been better off coming out and admitting, “Yes McMobil will cast long shadows over many surrounding buildings at certain times of day and it will totally obscure many residents’ views every day of the year.” But instead their shadow study showed, on pages 20 through 25, shadow illustrations on a map at 9 in the morning, noon and 3 in the afternoon in the spring, summer and fall.

Excuse me Mesa (Jim Hanson), have you forgotten about winter and the late afternoon? The day does not end at 3 in the afternoon you know.
I wrote to Jim Hanson of Mesa Development on May 14 and 17 and asked him to produce a complete shadow study showing the shadows of McMobil at 4, 5 and 6 in the afternoon in the spring, summer and fall as well as 9 in the morning, noon, 3 and 6 in the afternoon in the winter. Mesa had conveniently omitted illustrations of the shadows of McMobil at these times and times of year because these are when the shadows of McMobil would be the longest and would shade the most neighboring houses and buildings. Not to mention that McMobil will completely block many residents’ views every single day of the year, including my tenants.

On May 22 Jim Hanson from Mesa wrote back to me:

Mr. Graham:
Thank you for your interest in Vue53. We will not be completing any additional shadow studies for the project.
Regards,
Jim

No transparency, no honesty, just propaganda. Thank you university, Mesa and Ald. Burns.

I asked the university and Burns to get Mesa to produce a complete shadow study. The university’s advocate for McMobil, Derek Douglas, told me he couldn’t get Mesa to produce one. Burns never returned my repeated phone calls on this matter. Burns continues to hide from the public, hide from the opposition and hide from the issues on McMobil. The shadows of McMobil are a “side effect” that the university, Mesa and Ald. Burns don’t want to acknowledge or talk about.

Mark Graham