Operation Crooked Code

EveryBlock is making a very cool news-related mapping project:

In May 2008, 15 people — including developers, contractors and city inspectors — were arrested on bribery charges as part of a federal probe called “Operation Crooked Code.” These people were involved with exchanging cash and other benefits in return for various Chicago permits and city services, acccording to U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Following our philosophy of identifying news near your block, we at EveryBlock have identified the specific addresses mentioned in Fitzgerald’s complaints and mapped them here, for your exploration. Included are the locations of the buildings in question and where alleged bribes occurred.

[From Special report: Operation Crooked Code | EveryBlock Chicago]

Side note: I strongly suspect our building also involved crooked City of Chicago Building Inspectors – too many non-compliant code items have been discovered (electrical conduit wrong size, unmarked electric boxes, non-compliant plumbing, air-conditioning not installed, roof installed sans insulation, yadda yadda) – unfortunately, our building was rehabbed in 1996, and I don’t know how to track down those kinds of historic city records.

Individual entries read like a bad movie

On the morning of June 6, 2007, CW1 met with agents at the briefing location. Agents gave $500 cash to CW1 to pay a bribe to VALENTINO for the Garfield project.5 The money was photocopied and placed in an envelope in the presence of agents. An audio recording device was placed on CW1. At approximately 9:30 am, CW1 was driven by agents to the Dunkin Donuts located at Washington and Wells to meet with VALENTINO. At approximately 9:35 am, surveillance agents videotaped VALENTINO entering the Dunkin Donuts. Due to the location of VALENTINO and CW1 inside of the store, surveillance agents were unable to observe CW1 and VALENTINO during the meeting. Surveillance agents were not able to videotape VALENTINO leaving the Dunkin Donuts following the meeting due to their position but did videotape VALENTINO walking down the street away from the Dunkin Donuts a short time after the meeting. At the conclusion of the meeting, CW1 was picked up by agents and taken to the briefing location. CW1 informed agents at the debriefing that CW1 had delivered the envelope containing $500 cash to VALENTINO for the favorable zoning inspection for the Garfield property. The meeting was audiorecorded, and I have reviewed the recording. The conversation was brief and primarily personal in nature.

My Pie to Close

or My ∏ as it says on the sign. When I lived on Belden, I ate at My Pie quite frequently. Not spectacular food, but good and cheap enough, with a decent salad bar, another vestige of a previous time. I probably have a photo somewhere, I’ll have to look.

My Pie, which has been a fixture in the Lincoln Park area (and a crucial part of my collegiate dining options) for 31 years, closed its Clark Street location over the weekend. Rich Aronson, part of the family that started the My Pie pizzeria mini-chain a generation ago, says the unavailability of an affordable lease led to the restaurant’s demise. “We knew it was coming,” he said. “They [the landlords] had different plans for the place, and the rent was skyrocketing by four, five times. We want to do something else in the neighborhood, but it’s just difficult to find anything.”

[From My Pie closes its Lincoln Park location, hopes to reopen]

Lincoln Park continues to transform into yuppie heaven. I’m sure the building owners want to sell to a condo developer – that’s where one gets enough money to retire to Florida.

Grapes of greed

Save Ten Percent with Pippin

The corrupt Illinois legislature is back in the news, with the out-of-state wine ban we’ve mentioned before about to take effect.

For some reason, the state legislature decided that Illinoisans should not be allowed to have wine shipped to them from Internet wine shops and out-of-state wine stores. On June 1, the law will strip Illinois wine lovers of the right to buy wine from out-of-state wine stores; that’s a right they’ve had for 15 years.

Why do such a silly thing? How about $6.3 million. This is how much Illinois liquor distributors have paid in campaign contributions to Illinois politicians since 2000. You see, liquor distributors don’t like it when they don’t get a cut of the sale. When you buy that special bottle of wine from an Internet retailer, the distributors don’t bring it into the state, so they don’t get a cut of the sale. So the liquor distributors wrote a law, found a few friends in the legislature to introduce it and voila . . . you lost your rights.

It turns out that in the course of losing your right to access the wines you want so distributors can have their profits protected, Illinois has given up millions of dollars in tax revenue that would have come from taxing Internet sales of wine. Hey, who needs a few roads fixed any way? And who needs more funding for schools? Priorities, you know?

[From Mmm, grapes of greed — — chicagotribune.com]

Here are the main villains in this tale:

According to FollowTheMoney.Org, a Web site that tracks state campaign contributions, this law’s lead sponsor, Rep. Edward Acevedo (D-Chicago), has received $32,000 from alcohol wholesalers since 2000, including $10,000 since the legislation was introduced last year. Senate sponsor James Clayborne Jr. (D-Belleville) has received $85,000 from alcohol wholesaler interests since 2000, including $15,000 since the legislation was introduced. Since 2002, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has received more than $500,000—just from alcohol wholesalers in Illinois, $50,000 of which was given to him since he signed the bill into law.

More on this topic here, and here (and my own pages, more, more, and probably elsewhere. )

Harry’s Hot Dogs in city’s meat grinder

Harrys Hot Dogs

Sounds like a politically motivated use of eminent domain to benefit a local developer to me.

Elephants at Showman's League

Hot dog joint in city’s meat grinder :: CHICAGO SUN-TIMES :: Metro & Tri-State:
It’s the City of Chicago vs. the hot dog vendor. And vs. the carnival workers. And a Giordano’s restaurant. And throw in a travel agency too.

All have operations in buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph that City Hall wants to see torn down. The Daley administration wants to replace the three low-rises with a small park that would enhance a 46-story office building the John Buck Co. will put up next door.

All have operations in buildings at 300-308 W. Randolph that City Hall wants to see torn down. The Daley administration wants to replace the three low-rises with a small park that would enhance a 46-story office building the John Buck Co. will put up next door.

Buck has tried to buy the Randolph properties but has been unable to reach a deal. Tuesday, the city’s Community Development Commission gave the Daley administration authority to acquire the properties by force.

The hit list includes an unusual sliver of a building at 300 W. Randolph owned by the Showmen’s League of America. Notable for the elephants on its facade, the building contains the league’s offices and has a ground-floor business that’s been around more than 50 years, Harry’s Hot Dogs.

All the businesses involved, including a Giordano’s and Greaves Travel LLC, would have to close or relocate to accommodate the city’s will.

Connie Buscemi, spokeswoman for the city’s Planning Department, said the Daley administration was acting on long-term plans to beautify Randolph Street. She denied the city was doing favors for the Buck firm

Uh, yeah, ok.

Jonathan Fine, president of the group Preservation Chicago, said protecting the businesses is the last thing on the city’s mind. Fine said the city is trying to force the creation of a plaza that benefits Buck.

Tearing down the Showmen’s League building destroys “a little piece of history at the same time,” Fine said.

A fraternal group for itinerant carnival workers, the league was founded in 1913 and chose William “Buffalo Bill” Cody as its first president. Executive Secretary Rick Haney did not return calls Tuesday.

Harry’s Hot Dogs is owned by Harry Heftman, who wouldn’t comment about the condemnation. Said by acquaintances to be “in the vicinity” of 98 years old, Heftman is a slightly built man who still comes to work every day, making sure the lunchtime rush gets moved along.

I’m all for the City of Chicago adding more green space, but this isn’t the right place to do so.

(h/t Phule)

Elephants detail at Showman's League

Harrys Hot Dogs Help Want Ed

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a quickr pickr post

Richard Linklater – Haymarket Riot

Yowsa! I’ve got to call in some chips from my Austex connections, and get a consultant job for the Haymarket Riot film. I’d love to work on it in some capacity. The LBJ movie might be interesting too: I did my senior paper on LBJ and the Rise of the Surveillance State (working with original documents at the LBJ library). But the Haymarket movie needs to be made.

Haymarket Touchup

Exclusive: Filmmaker Richard Linklater – ComingSoon.net : … [Interviewer] I would think that being from Austin, Texas would lend itself to an interesting movie, that being a very liberal city in the middle of a conservative state.

Linklater: Yeah, Texas politics itself is very fascinating. I’d love to do a film about LBJ’s early days. There’s some cases when he was Senator where he was extremely political, just to show a really crafty politician who really cares about the people. You can take a moment in time politically. I’d like to make a film about the Haymarket Riot, a political action moment in our country’s history. You just basically execute a bunch of people because you don’t like what they believe even if they didn’t do anything wrong.

I’d even be happy to sell a few photos of the memorial to Mr. Linklater…

such as from here, or Haymarket Riot memorial, or here, or this fave of the old memorial, yadda yadda.

History of the Riot in engravings

Harp Maker to the World

Interesting history of an instrument that I’m mostly indifferent to: the harp. However, Harpo Marx was a maestro, and Joanna Newsom’s new album is pretty good too (and she name checks Lyon and Healy on the liner notes). One of the few mass produced items assembled in America strictly by hand. I’d love to tour the factory.

Lyon Healy Harp

City shoulders the load as harpmaker for world | Chicago Tribune

In a dim warehouse on the city’s West Side, ragged bundles of German beech and splintery Midwestern maple quietly await their metamorphosis.

The hunks of raw wood are ugly now. But months in the hands of master builders will mold them into instruments of musical elegance.

Chicago, the city of heavy industry, is also, as it turns out, the world capital of harpmaking.

Lyon & Healy Harps, on Ogden Avenue, is the foremost producer of concert harps. It is also where the modern harp was invented in 1889 and the hub from where it has spread in the last century to concert halls from Taipei to Topeka, Cape Town to Cleveland.

… The worst of them are flawless, say the company’s marketers. Beginning pedal harps start at $9,950. For a concert grand, add $10,000 more. The Prince William used by the Chicago Symphony’s Sarah Bullen is worth the price of a nicer BMW coupe.

For $179,000, one could buy a one-bedroom pied-a-terre on North Lake Shore Drive with a view of Belmont Harbor. For the same price, it could be furnished with a Lyon & Healy Louis XV Special, and nothing else.


slightly more:

The pedal harp was born in France and patented by Sebastian Erard in 1810. It was embraced by European romanticism and surged over the Atlantic only to suffer in the American cultural wilderness.


The ocean crossing was bad enough, but North America’s weather extremes posed a still harsher challenge for the harps.

So many were repaired by Patrick J. Healy and George W. Lyon–young Boston instrument dealers who had come to Chicago in 1864–that they decided to build their own. The first took 10 years and was finished in 1889.

Lyon and Healy replaced fragile French plaster parts with rugged wood construction–a decided advantage–and Chicago harps quickly supplanted their dainty European cousins. From then on, their evolution came largely at the hands of Chicago harpmakers.

Because harpists wanted to travel, materials grew sturdier. As people grew taller, harps grew larger. While concert halls grew, harps grew louder. City noise intruded on the halls, the harps grew louder still in a co-evolution still proceeding, said Steve Fritzmann, a master harpmaker and Lyon & Healy’s national sales manager.

..It is wood chosen for strength and resonance, and perfection supplied by human hands. A modern harp’s 1,400 moving pieces are glued, clamped, spun, trimmed, bent, rasped, sanded, fit, finished, gilded, assembled, strung and tuned–all by hand.

At Lyon & Healy, 129 people do this. They tried using machines to assemble parts once, Fritzmann said. The process failed.

It is easy to imagine why they tried. Harps hide far more moving parts than meet the eye. … For 18 years, Maria Valadez has worked assembling the harps’ invisible metal musculature, fitting long strings of moving joints into the harp’s neck, each built by dozens of workers to smoothly convert a harpist’s pedal movements into a command for a harp to switch keys.

Sandwiching the workings between curving brass plates one day this week, Valadez tightened dozens of tiny black screws to finish one assembly–only to find a scratch on one brass plate. It had taken a day to assemble this single package of moving parts.

She reversed direction, taking it apart just as slowly. A tiny wrench to loosen each screw, a screwdriver to continue the work. A day to build. A day to undo. The complexity is hidden, but demanding. It is everywhere, even in the sturdiest pieces.

The entire body of a harp wants to implode. When tightened, the 47 strings of a concert harp create 2,000 pounds of tension between the neck and body, the 80-pound instrument straining against a ton of potential energy eager to destroy it.

To resist the forces as it was improved, the body of the modern harp underwent a vivid evolution. It had to grow a skeleton.

Upstairs from the drama playing out on Valadez’s desk, another worker picks up a block, measures and marks it into a thin, 4-inch piece, then sands it to size on a motorized belt. When the worker finishes, he has created the backing for a rib.

The four aluminum ribs hidden inside each harp make it exceptionally strong. They permit a thinner spruce body, which reverberates more, and thus is louder.

When finished, workers hang the bodies like sides of beef from overhead hooks. Others bring feminine curves out of blocky columns turning on lathes. On the third floor, master woodcarvers peck like birds at the designs on columns and bases.


Drill Bit Building

Not too sure if this proposed Big Screw building will ever even be built, but certainly is an unusual structure. Seems like it might unbalance the skyline, but the other proposal was for two bulky mid-rise buildings without much style. So, in a binary world, I’d choose the funky over the prosaic. If this were a binary decision, which I don’t think it is.

In Chicago, Plans for a High-Rise Raise Interest and Post-9/11 Security Concerns – New York Times:
In a city known for its skyscrapers, in an era when tall buildings have become targets, can the skyline handle one more that stretches the limit? In Chicago, it seems, the answer may be yes – if the architect is a “starchitect” like Santiago Calatrava.
…Living in the Calatrava tower would not come cheap, by Chicago standards. Mr. Carley said he expected one-bedroom units to sell initially for at least $600,000, with full-floor units of some 7,200-square-feet topping out at $5 million.

The twisting design, which was recently tested in a wind tunnel in Canada, would disperse Chicago’s gusting winds, Mr. Carley said. And Mr. Calatrava designed the interior so that posts and columns would be toward the structure’s center, to allow balconies on some floors and maximize the floor-to-ceiling views.

and the Tribune:

A far less well known developer, Chicago’s Christopher Carley, will unveil his proposal Wednesday for a slender, 115-story tower with a steel spire that could soar higher than 2,000 feet.

Designed by superstar Spanish-born architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, the skyscraper would rise next to Lake Shore Drive and near the entrance to Navy Pier. Its tapering glass facade would ripple like folds of drapery.

For Carley, the chairman of Fordham Co., the planned hotel and condo tower would be taller than the combined height of his last three previous projects: two towers of roughly 50 stories and an eight-story structure.

Financing for his latest project has not yet been arranged, and will largely depend on achieving prices rarely seen in a downtown market. “Is this going to get done?” Carley said. “It’ll be market-driven.”

But the ambitious proposal, to be called Fordham Spire, would dramatically shift the focus of Chicago’s skyline, and it likely faces community opposition and the challenge of obtaining financing in what some are calling an overheated real estate market.

The Tribune revealed in May that Carley was working with Calatrava–the architect of the bird-like Milwaukee Art Museum addition, the Athens Olympics sports complex and the planned transportation center at Ground Zero–to design a tower on at least one of two sites along the west side of Lake Shore Drive and the north bank of the Chicago River.

Under Carley’s plan, those sites would be combined into a single 2.2-acre parcel at 346 E. North Water St. The area is now an unruly patch, filled with overgrown grass, gravel, trees and a construction trailer.

From it would sprout a tower utterly different from the boxy forms found elsewhere on the Chicago skyline: A skyscraper with gently curving, concave outer walls attached to a massive reinforced concrete core.

Each floor would rotate a little more than 2 degrees from the one below. The floors would turn 270 degrees around the core as they rise, making the building appear to twist.
Carley and Calatrava noted that the skyscraper’s thin profile–it would have just 920,000 total square feet, compared with 4.5 million for Sears Tower–would make it a benign, not overbearing, presence along the city’s lakefront.

That is far better, they maintain, than two towers of roughly 50 and 35 stories, which current zoning allows. Towers of that size would be far more bulky and cast greater shadows, the developer and architect argue.

“The tower is without any doubt tall, but it is not big. It is very slender. It is extremely slender,” Calatrava said.

also Eric Zorn weighs in:

Our other major skyscrapers – the Hancock Center, the Sears Tower, the Aon Center and even the upcoming Trump Tower (see the Trib’s Trump Cam for progress) — have a sturdy quality that fits nicely with our town’s nickname, “The City of the Big Shoulders.”
Now what are we supposed to be? “The City of the Big Screw”?