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Pleasanton Weekly

Column - April 11, 2014

Back to Chicago

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or the hundreds, probably thousands of us in the Tri-Valley who have lived, worked or have relatives in Chicago, I can report with enthusiasm that the Windy City is as robust as ever, although somewhat changed. My wife Jan and I were there last week to visit relatives and friends.

We found that State Street, "that Great Street," has lost its luster. Macy's acquired Marshall Field's, a Chicago landmark that opened in 1881. All that remains of the store Chicagoans cherished are bronze plaques outside with the Marshall Field & Company name and a pair of well-known outdoor clocks, which served as symbols of the store. Next door, the former Carson Pirie Scott store is a Target, about the same as those across the country. Also gone are Wieboldt's, Goldblatt's and the Fair department stores. Sears, which anchors the south end of downtown Chicago, plans to close this summer.

Fortunately, there's North Michigan Avenue, which is now Chicago's largest shopping district, with mid-range and high-end shops, restaurants and hotels, including several of the country's tallest buildings, such as Hancock Center and Trump Tower. This "Magnificent Mile" starts at Tribune Tower, a neo-Gothic building that's home to the Chicago Tribune, where I worked as a reporter and editor for 13 years, and extends north to the historic Drake Hotel, a Gold Coast landmark since 1920.

A bit less prestigious but a favorite hangout where I joined my colleagues on newsroom breaks (and reporters still do) is the legendary Billy Goat Tavern, a subterranean hangout on Lower Michigan Avenue at the basement level of the Wrigley Building. Immortalized by John Belushi on "Saturday Night Live," it's still the same as when it opened there in 1964. It's the place "to be seen" in Chicago, although perhaps not for long. Construction is expected to start soon on another huge, expensive new tower for Michigan Avenue that may displace Billy Goat's, so plan a visit the next time you're back in Chicago.

As part of last week's trip, we drove through Bridgeport, an aging blue collar neighborhood that once was home to recently arrived Irish Catholics on one side of 31st Street and German Lutherans on the other. Brick and frame homes there are mostly 100+ years old, some of them built close together with only a few feet in between.

One stop was at Holy Cross Evangelical Lutheran Church at 31st Place and Racine Avenue (pictured above), the church home to four generations of my wife's family. With its Gothic architecture similar to old big city cathedrals in the U.S. and Europe, it has a commanding presence on the neighborhood it has served since 1886. At one time, more than 3,000 worshipped at Holy Cross, which now, like so many churches in old city neighborhoods, has fewer than 50 at Sunday services.

In the church basement, we found records of parishioners dating back to the church's dedication with pictures of my wife's family from the 1880s forward. The church, its hand-carved altar and the meticulous record-keeping that continues today made history come alive for us, a visit we cherished at a parish that may be nearing the end of its mission.

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