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The [Thursday] Papers

When Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass learned recently that his favorite downtown lunch spot, The Cambridge House, was shutting down because the building owner was turning the spot into condos, he wrote a tough but elegantly mournful piece about the latest loss of another venerable--and affordable--part of authentic Chicago going by the wayside.

"There should be places in the middle, for people in the middle, places like The Cambridge House," Kass wrote. "They're not about atmosphere. You can't taste atmosphere, although speaking of atmosphere, Chicago is losing another restaurant, The Berghoff. It is a culinary landmark, and I'm sure it deserves the thousands of stories being written about it, now that it's closing, as a special place for memories of special occasions.

"But the great thing about The Cambridge House is that it wasn't for special occasions. You didn't walk through the doors to make a statement or a memory. You entered to have a decent meal.

"And so the loss of such places may even be more profound, because it signifies the loss of the everyday."

The Tribune's Blair Kamin followed a couple weeks later in a piece called "Urban Renewal and the Soul Index."

"There, in a nutshell, is the conflict that is wracking downtown Chicago: Call it gentrification, yuppification, corporatization, whatever," Kamin wrote. "Now that we've figured out how to get people to invest in downtown, how do we maintain its diversity and vitality so it doesn't become a sterile home for the super-rich? At issue is the survival of texture--the urban texture that makes cities endlessly fascinating, quirky, exotic and even a little wicked."

In the past week, both the Chicago Journal and the Inside community newspaper have reported on the demolition of the building that once housed the Artful Dodger, one of those "quirky, exotic, and even a little wicked" corner taverns that enriched the Bucktown neighborhood for 21 years.

A wrecking ball has been taken to the late 19th century, Queen Anne/Classical-style Dodger building, despite a 3,000-signature petition drive and an "orange" designation by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey stating that structure has local significance. Orange is the second-highest of color codes the survey uses.

Neither the Tribune nor the Chicago Sun-Times has written about the destruction of the Artful Dodger building, which isn't just remiss because the city is losing a treasure, but because of the identifiable politics behind the story. The Journal and Inside articles cast Ald. Ted Matlak as the villain; Inside reports that Matlak claims to have not known that the building was coded orange when he approved a zoning change that cleared the way for the structure's demolition. (Scroll past the April Fool's front page on the link to the real March 29-April 4 edition.)

There is the larger story, too, which Kass and Kamin write about but in a way that makes them seem oblivious to what has been going on in Chicago's neighborhoods for at least a decade (some would say forever, but the current mayor seems to be on an unrelenting rampage to replace every charm of the city with the boxiest, characterless, most out-of-scale condo complexes possible).

"A friend who studies such things tells me this is a metaphor for what Chicago has become, a place of extremes, for rich and poor, despite all the ink given to symbolic efforts venerating the middle-class bungalow," Kass wrote.

A big city columnist--one as talented as Kass--shouldn't need a friend who studies such things to tell him this.

And a big city architecture columnist--one as talented as Kamin--shouldn't fret more about how soulless downtown is becoming than about how Chicago's neighborhoods are being neutered for transient yuppies with no sense of community. An increasing number of people may now live downtown, but it's still largely a place to work and a theme park for tourists; downtown is not nearly as dear as the city's neighborhoods, no matter how the city's politics are aligned.

The Tribune, Kamin included, did produce a tremendous piece of journalism exploring this issue in 2003 called "A Squandered Heritage," a three-part series which reported in depth the way the city fails to protect its "hidden architectural gems."

One problem with big projects, however, is that they come and go. Sometimes it's the drip-drip of daily reporting that has real impact. (There is a reason why advertising is so repetitive.) Too much journalism is here today, gone tomorrow.

Moreover, on a daily basis the tremendous changes over much of the city during Mayor Daley's reign are usually described in the simplest, City Hall-friendly terms as "progress," without an independent journalistic definition of just what that means or an independent journalistic examination of the forces that are behind the changes (which some might define as "news") most visible and impactful in the lives of Chicagoans.

The destruction of buildings such as the one that housed the Artful Dodger all these years is so commonplace that perhaps we barely even recognize it as news anymore. But in reality that makes it all the more a story that ought to be told, even if it isn't located downtown.

Katie Cruises to CBS
What's all this about Katie Holmes anchoring the CBS Evening News?

Oh, Katie Couric.

Oh well. Same thing.

Burke Baloney
The big news in the papers today is the appointment of state appellate court judge Anne Burke to the Illinois Supreme Court.

"Being married to Ald. Edward Burke (14th) opened doors for her, but she had to succeed or fail on her own, she said," the Sun-Times reports.

I hear this from rich and/or connected people all the time. Someone got them the job interview, sure, but they had to actually get the job. So they really did earn their positions.

Getting the interview--getting doors opened in any number of ways--of course, is 90 percent of the battle. Are these people merely trying to delude the rest of us, or are they deluding themselves too?

"Burke's husband chairs the Democratic Party's subcommittee on slating candidates for judge. He was widely credited with orchestrating a clear path for his wife to win a seat on the appellate court unopposed," the Sun-Times notes.

At the time, the Chicago Council of Lawyers found Anne Burke to be "not qualified" for the seat.

Perhaps the council ought to adjust its criteria; it clearly doesn't understand what it takes to become a judge in this state.

Anne Burke is also likely a close friend of Mary Ann McMorrow, the judge whose retirement opened up the seat for Burke and who appears to have secretly chosen her successor.

I say "likely a close friend" because while I have no personal knowledge of such a friendship, McMorrow and Burke both meet at the nexus that is Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed.

And then there's this, also from the Sun-Times: "McMorrow got to know Burke when Burke volunteereed for McMorrow's first unsuccessful campaign for Supreme Court in 1990. Two years after being elected to the high court in 1992, McMorrow appointed Burke to the appellate court."

(Burke had to run for the seat in 1996--the campaign that her husband orchestrated and that reportedly featured two ghost candidates put on the ballot to scare off any other challengers. It's nice to have someone who won her judge's seat that way on the state Supreme Court, isn't it?)

Anne Burke will have to run in 2008 to win the seat for real. Ed Burke runs for re-election in 2007. It's never to early to think about sending them a message.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Opening doors since 2006.


Posted on April 6, 2006

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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