Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't it always seem to go?

It's funny how the mind works; the recent demolition of a building in Chicago just reminded me of the 1969 World Series.

If you don't recall the Fall Classic of 45 years ago, it was a contest between the Baltimore Orioles and that year's Cinderella story, the New York Mets. If you were alive at the time and a baseball fan in Chicago, I don't need to tell you in that year, the Cubs were leading their division for 155 days and looked poised to be playing baseball in October for the first time since 1945. But a late summer Chicago losing spell, combined with a concurrent surge by the Mets, led to one of the most memorable disappointments in the history of a franchise that has seen many of them. As a young Cubs fan at the time, I was crushed and developed a profound hatred of the Mets which continues to this day. That hatred has outlasted my love of the Cubs by about 42 years.

Needless to say, I rooted for the Orioles that series; I even got an Orioles cap, purchased by my grandfather from a sporting goods store on Belmont Avenue in the Lincoln-Belmont shopping district. Back then my beloved grandpa (surrogate grandfather to be exact), and I had a Saturday morning ritual of heading to that area where he had a weekly doctor's appointment. Afterwords we'd have lunch, then go shopping for toys. It was probably at that time when I learned the discipline of self-restraint as my grandpa would have indulged me with the world, had I asked for it. Usually a plastic model would suffice.

That commercial district along with several others in the city was teaming with life back then boasting a variety of businesses catering to a wide cross-section of the city, including children. Today these little downtowns are but shadows of their former selves, victims of the ever changing world of shifting populations and the vagaries of the retail business. All we have left are the buildings which speak of a time when retailers spared little expense to create homes for their businesses whose style and quality of construction reflected the pride they had in their work. Sadly, those wonderful buildings are disappearing too.

Anyway, I particularly remember one Saturday afternoon in 1969, eating at the lunch counter of a drug store that was on Ashland Avenue just north of Belmont. On TV at the drug store was the first game of the World Series. That was back when they still played the World Series in daylight. Come to think of it, it was a time when no matter where you were, you simply couldn't escape World Series, even if you wanted to. Wearing my new cap and rooting for my new team, the Orioles' victory that day slightly eased the pain of the Cubs' recent demise. Unfortunately, that relief was short lived as New York swept the next four games and won the Series, giving birth to the legend of the "Amazin' Mets."

Making sure I wasn't dreaming this, I just looked up the series on the website Baseball and sure enough, the first game of that series took place on a Saturday, October 11 to be exact, at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. The Orioles did indeed win that game as I remembered, by the score of 4-1. In case you're interested, veteran Mike Cuellar got the win. Some guy who went on to have a pretty decent career of his own by the name of Tom Seaver got the loss. A visit to another baseball goto website. Retrosheet, confirmed that it was indeed a day game.

So why on earth am I bringing this up? Well it so happened that my wife and I were driving by the site of that former drug store the other day and sadly discovered that the building was recently torn down, along with the old La Salle Bank building, a prominent landmark of the Lincoln-Belmont-Ashland intersection. The 1920s era bank was renovated beyond recognition in the 70's, but the drug store building with the lovely Art Deco facade, was largely intact, until last month that is. That building was called the Medic Building and it made Preservation Chicago's 2013 "Chicago Seven" list of the most endangered buildings in Chicago. Here's a link to that list and accompanying article describing the building and photographs. From Curbed Chicago, here's a piece about the demolition.

The entire block is being leveled to make way for a mixed use, retail-housing development, designed in an eclectic style that defies description, other than it seems to be the most popular style for this type of development.

The Medic Building was a jewel in the landscape of that very interesting commercial district that sadly has seen better days. The new development will hopefully bring money and life into the area which was once such an important part of the city. For that reason alone we should applaud its creation.

Yet the architecture, at least from what I can tell from the renderings, leaves much to be desired. It perplexes me that the developers could not have somehow found a way to save or at least integrate the beautiful facade of the Medic Building which fronted both Ashland and Melrose Street into their otherwise ho hum design.

The Medic Building along with its contemporary neighbors, may not have been among the greatest works of architecture in Chicago. Still they created a sense of place which made their neighborhood distinct from similar commercial districts in Chicago.

The new buildings, inoffensive and bland, create a sense of every place and no place at the same time.

Forty five years from now, I wonder if the demolition of buildings built today will evoke memories for my kids of their own childhood.

Or will they even notice they're gone?

Postcard image of the Lincoln-Belmont district c. 1950. It still looked very much the same during my childhood twenty years later. The buildings currently being demolished are at the extreme right.

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