Biking in the City of Neighborhoods

3200 block of N Natomah

Tudor styled Chicago Cape Cods on the 3200 block of N Natomah

We moved to Chicago from Ohio twenty years ago.  We came here to live, run a record store, play music and adopt a new city that our transplanted crew of band members, wives and significant others could all agree on.  For a while, that was what we did…we ran a record store, we played music, we lived.  Lives went on, bands broke up, people moved away, the record store fizzled and the city enveloped us.  New jobs were found, new bands were formed, new lives had begun.  During this time, I was suffering from chronic and severe carpal tunnel syndrome, remnant of the carpentry, furniture building and cabinetry jobs I had done before the move.  One of the casualties of this was the inability to ride a bike.  The pressure on the handlebars was enough to cause my hands to go numb in moments.  As a result, cycling, once a central part of my life, had faded away to nothing.  I would end up having multiple surgeries and physical therapy to relieve my condition, and to this day, all of the treatments have made life very much more manageable, but anyone that has done any training rides with me has seen me riding one handed, doing my flexor exercises to relieve the tingling.  Better, but still a bother.

I lived in the city for many years before I rediscovered cycling. Reclaiming my inner cyclist was a multi-year endeavor.  There were short rides, then longer ones. I experimented with different bikes, different handlebars and as I tended to the real issue with the carpal tunnel syndrome, I was able to endure longer and longer periods on the bike.  Straight bars gave way to bullhorns and eventually back to road bars. I began to bike to work, got a new bike, then another, then discovered various parks and the Forest Preserve system, but the real change began when I started to explore the neighborhoods.

Renewing my love of the bicycle occurred as another passion was discovered anew….my love of great architecture.  What a city to wind up in.  Cycling was a common way for my fellow citizens to transport themselves about the city.  There were a plethora of bike stores, bike rides, activities, and cyclists, but what there was beyond all of this, were great homes, amazing buildings, and vast relics of an age when building craft was an absolute art.  Using my bike, I could explore all of the places I saw on the map, read about in a story or heard about from others.  Soon, the bike became my exploration machine and I was able to redevelop two passions whose embers had cooled over many years, merging both into a single activity.

My father instilled in me a love of old architecture and the built environment.  It was his love of brilliantly designed buildings, and interesting details in brickwork, on bridges, in churches, schools, houses, synagogues and buildings great and small that came back to me as I biked the streets of Chicago.  Chicago was like Cleveland in building styles, variance and wonder, but far, far larger, greater….more. My dad was always able to appreciate the form of both the famous and pedestrian.  He spent years volunteering for the Cleveland Historical Society and for a time our attic, basement and garage were his hording places for a keystone here, an old door there.  We had piles of gorgeous face-brick next to the top tank of an overhead toilet. There were mildew-smelling mantels, stained glass windows and a variety of architectural details saved from the wrecking balls of Cleveland demolition companies only to meet the fate of entombment in the storage holes of our home.

As I pedaled through the streets, it was constantly a discovery of new that seemed already familiar.  There is great variety in the neighborhoods, even if at first glance it appears uniform and everyday.  Dunning and Montclare exemplify this Chicago trait.  Blocks and blocks of same-styled homes seem at first to blend together, before you start noticing the squatty fronts of a smooshed up bungaloid, followed by another and another.  Dutch Colonials with crazy hipped front roofs.  Chicago Cape Cods with shed dormers, ranches with columns and cottages with mission facades.  Nothing jumps out as one-of-a-kind, but it is all brilliant in its own right.

The streets of these two northwest communities helped remind me of why I do these tours.  I do them to explore the city, to become more attuned to the blocks, the houses, the people.  I do them to show this to my friends and fellow cyclists, Chicagoans, humans.  I do them because this city is awesome.  Its neighborhoods are incredible.  Its buildings and people and stories are worth sharing.  Both Dunning and Montclare have their share of sites that are stunning, but they are awash in everyday amazing.

And that is why I love Chicago.

Join us for the Tour of Dunning and Montclare this Saturday and rediscover the City of Neighborhoods.

What you won’t see on the Tour of Evanston

The much maligned Tour of Evanston has been a long time coming.  I have planned this tour for three years and have attempted to run it four times without success.  In the intervening time and repeated failures of actually holding a Tour of Evanston, I have completely redone the tour twice.  The three routes are all completely different.  I managed to keep each of them to under 18 miles, but barely, and each time, I have missed large volumes of must-see homes and sites.  It is pathetic.

Take this version for example.  Even one of the most topical, trending, in-the-news historical Evanston sites doesn’t make the tour.  On May 18, 2015, a contractor for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago was doing work by the CTA Yellow line trail at McCormick and Howard when the embankment supporting the tracks gave way.  This has led to a 5 month closing of the Skokie Swift and a major re-construction headache affecting thousands of people, all at the base of an historic industrial Gothic revival masterwork, that, is not on the tour.

Evanston Water Reclamation Plant

Not on the tour

Truth be told, Evanston is just too big and too full of amazing to get all into one tour.  The three routes have all been dense with stuff to cover.  They have all made it difficult to come up with a Greatest Hits record with such a large catalog of great stuff.  There are a wider variety of eras and styles than in most communities and Evanston’s footprint is quite large, even by suburban standards. It easily could have been divided into two or more tours.  A north and south Evanston Tour, or east and west perhaps.  Then perhaps we would at least be able to get on the Channel Trail.  Even for a mile.  Or dart to the other side of the Channel and enjoy some of the River side parks.  Or the Arboretum and Ecology Center.

Skokie Northshore Channel Park

Nope.

Skokie Northshore Channel Park 2

No and sorry.

The items that are NOT on this tour, would make a fine tour.  At least on the first go-around, I was able to capture a few lovely examples of the Oakton Historic District, bounded by Oakton on the North, Howard on the south, Ridge on the east and Asbury on the west.  Doing this, meant I had to cut out the two Frank Floyd Wright designed homes in the northeastern section of the city in order to get this far south.  So this time we see none of the historic district or even the area’s namesake school, where my daughter goes and that I go by nearly every day.  This school is designed by Dwight Perkins, a resident of Evanston, one of the founders of Prairie School architecture and one of my favorite architects of all times.

Oakton Middle School 2

Oakton Elementary School. Not on the tour.

Nuh-uh. Couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t even get south of Main Street without making this a 20 mile ride.

Instead, I basically pretend large parts of the west side of the city don’t exist.  I ignore a plethora of beautiful homes, churches, schools, businesses, industrial and commercial buildings in Greek Revival, Craftsmen, Italianate, Prairie, Gothic, Stick, International, Colonial Revival, Georgian, Dutch Colonial, Art Deco, Queen Anne, Shingle, Chateauesque and Romanesque styles to name a few.  There are dozens of homes built in the 1800s that I pay no mind to.  There are numerous landmark sites that we miss by blocks.

Saint Marks Episcopal Church at 1509 Ridge

We won’t see Saint Marks Episcopal Church.

Calvary Cemetery at 401 Chicago

We’ll miss Calvary Cemetery too.

Evanston US Post Office at 1101 Davis

We won’t check out this great Art Deco Post Office.

Harvey B Hurd Houses at 1570-74 Ashland

One of four amazing Harvey B. Hurd Houses on Ashland. We won’t see any of them.

Harvey B Hurd Houses at 1580 Ashland

No, not this one.

Harvey B Hurd Houses at 1600-1602 Ashland

Afraid not.

Harvey B. Hurd House at 1625 Ashland

And of course not this one either.

Worse yet, I have omitted completely great designs and amazing architecture by such names as Holabird and Roche, John Van Osdel, Daniel Burnham, Howard Van Doren Shaw, Tallmadge and Watson, Myron Hunt, and even the newly relocated John Shellette Van Bergen designed  Irving House that was saved from the wrecking ball and transported from its former home in Wilmette to a parking lot along Green Bay road where it sat for months until it was recently lifted onto a new foundation on Crawford.  Heck, we don’t even make it west of Dodge.

Irving House

They moved this whole freaking house to Evanston. We don’t see it on the tour.

To be sure, we miss an awful lot of stuff on this tour.

But I bet that you will be blown away by everything that we do get to see.  I hope you will join us this Saturday for the Tour of Evanston.

Here is the route:

 

 

Tour of Evanston moved to July 25

Tour of Evanston 2015

Tour of Evanston 2015

Hi everyone,

I have rescheduled the Tour of Evanston for July 25, 2015.  I apologize for any scheduling inconvenience.  The reason for the rescheduled date is my inattentiveness in noticing that the TOUR DE FAT was on the originally scheduled date.

I highly encourage all of you to attend Tour de Fat.  It is a blast of a time and helps to raise money for West Town Bikes.

I hope I will see you all on July 25 at the Tour of Evanston and enjoy Tour de Fat!

The South Loop and the Near South Side

Near South Side Mini-Tour

Near South Side Mini-Tour

There are some Chicago neighborhoods where the neighborhood and community boundaries are absolute.  These are defined by rivers, rail lines, Lake Michigan or other physically obvious borders.  Other neighborhoods are nebulous, varied, arguable, disputed, exaggerated, omitted and lied about.

The South Loop is a neighborhood where everyone agrees on three of the boundaries, and argues about the southern boundary.  Without question, the northern boundary is Congress, the western boundary is the Chicago River and the eastern boundary is Lake Michigan.  As to the southern edge of the South Loop, some will tell you it goes as far south as Roosevelt.  Others argue it ends at 15th Street.  The more logical end would be at 18th Street others argue, or Cermak, say a different contingent.  From Roosevelt to Cermak marks a total difference of a mile.

There is disagreement even between neighborhood associations, historians, local residents and businesses.   The greater Community Area south OF the Loop is known as the Near South Side, . Depending on your point of view, the South Loop barely enters the Near South Side, is partially in the Near South Side, or is almost completely in the Near South Side.

The Near South Side, Community Area #33 contains additional areas including Central Station, the Prairie Avenue Historic District and Motor Row District.  Together, these neighborhoods offer up amongst the greatest collection of buildings for Chicago architecture fans.  The most well known of the buildings are regularly presumed to sit within Chicago’s Loop, though they are all comfortably in the confines of the Near South Side such as Soldier Field and the monumental civic works that are the buildings of the Museum Campus, the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planaterium.  It is home to the oldest home in Chicago, the Clarke House, and to surviving reminders of the time when the city’s most famous and wealthy citizens lived along and around Prairie Avenue.  There are remnants of Chicago’s Musical past and the historic Motor Row District on South Michigan.

Free-Mini Tour of the South Loop and the Near South Side

On Monday June 15, I will host and lead a free tour for the City of Chicago’s Bike to Work Week touring the South Loop and the Near South Side.  We’ll get a chance to visit all of these great sites, all for free, after work, on your bike on Monday June 15.  Meet up with us at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

More details on the event are here.

The event is free, but is limited to 150 riders so

you need to register for the event which you can do here.

And, as much as I hate to Internet yell…..ALL RIDERS MUST WEAR A HELMET.  This is a city ride and our ride and we have to insist you wear a helmet on your head.  Please bring and expect to wear a helmet, loaners will NOT be available for this ride.

Night Tour of the Near South Side

Later that week on Friday June 19 at 8PM, we will meet at Buckingham Fountain once again for the Night Tour of the Near South Side.  The night tours allow riders to catch a unique view of the downtown areas with more reasonable amounts of traffic.  In areas of very dense concentrations of significant and impressive architecture, the night acts as a filter to help us focus on ones we can see best at night, offering a great way to experience the city.  Come join us for the Night Tour of the Near South Side.

 

The Rest of the Summer Tour Schedule

Summer 2015 Bike Tours

Summer 2015 Bike Tours

The summer should prove very fun indeed.  In addition to the two new Near South Side tours, we will also hold two tours for the first time ever for the remaining summer rides.  On Saturday July 11, our much delayed debut of the Tour of Evanston will be held beginning at Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston.  We will also debut our re-scheduled Tour of Dunning and Montclare on Saturday August 8 at Shabbona Park in Chicago.

The new Summer Tour Poster by Ross Felten is featured above and is available in our poster shop, or right here.  As usual, my man has outdone himself.

 

I  hope to see many of you this summer out and about, or at one of the tours.  Thanks for taking a moment to read.