Bridge to Somewhere, Sometime

Bridges are falling down, or nearly, and nothing is being done about it.

Division Street Bridge
[Division Street Bridge]

A troubling report indicates the state has found little progress on “urgent” repairs for some of the most heavily-traveled bridges in the Chicago area.

As CBS 2’s Joanie Lum reports, Illinois is in better shape than most states. But the Associated Press found that of the 20 busiest bridges in the state, only six have undergone necessary repairs, and funds are short.

The findings come as the one-year anniversary of the tragic Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis approaches. Thirteen people died when the bridge caved in and sent cars plunging into the Mississippi River.

In Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and state engineers have said the Minneapolis bridge collapse should have been a wakeup call, but few bridges have actually been repaired.

Overall, the vast majority of Illinois’ 26,000 bridges have been deemed safe. But a review of records last year by The Associated Press found more than 1,500 Illinois bridges had worse structural ratings than the Minnesota bridge collapse.

[From – Report: Little Progress On ‘Urgent’ Bridge Repairs ]

Federal dollars are being wasted in the sands of Iraq, state dollars being wasted on trifles, city dollars being squandered on baubles: meanwhile the nation’s infrastructure continues to decay. How much longer can it be ignored before a tragedy occurs?

One structural engineer argued Wednesday that while insufficient funds is part of the problem, it also provides an “easy excuse” for inaction.

“The Minnesota collapse doesn’t appear to have been the wake-up call it should have been,” said John Frauenhoffer, head of a Champaign engineering firm and past president of the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers. “If anything ever happened at one of those bridges, it’d be impossible to explain to the public why those repairs hadn’t been made.”

Enchanted Sky Machine
[Enchanted Sky Machine, Evanston]

Of course, if all the bridges suddenly got repaired, I’d lose a favorite photo subject, but I’d rather deal with finding some other metaphor of decay than have another bridge collapse.

Lost Causeways
[Lost Causeways, Ogden Avenue]

July Fourth Massacre

Killing People Is Rude

Since Valentines Day has already passed.

Just hours after the court’s decision on Thursday, gun rights groups sued the City of Chicago, seeking to invalidate several municipal codes, including a 1982 ordinance that effectively barred handguns by forbidding their registration in the city.

Chicago officials were also steadfast in saying they believed that the court’s decision, which left open possibilities for local gun ordinances, would have little immediate effect.

“We feel we will be able to continue enforcing those ordinances very aggressively,” Jenny Hoyle, a spokeswoman for Chicago law department, said of the codes challenged by the N.R.A.

[From Challenges to Bans on Handguns Begin –]

Just what every urban environment needs, more guns!

Chicago Center for Green Technology

Took a trek out to the very cool Chicago Center for Green Technology at 445 N. Sacramento Boulevard yesterday to inquire about green roofs and to solicit advice re: Neighbor Space parks.

Chicago Green Tech’s building was originally constructed in 1952. Since then a number of different companies have owned the building. When it came to the attention of the Chicago Department of Environment (DOE) in 1995, the building and its 17 acres were owned by Sacramento Crushing, a company which had a permit to collect limited construction and demolition debris. The Department of Environment became involved because Sacramento Crushing had gone far beyond the scope of its permit and had filled all 17-acres with illegally dumped debris. The site was littered with 70-foot high piles of rubble, one of which was so dense it sank 15 feet into the ground.

The Department of Environment successfully fought Sacramento Crushing in court and not only closed down their operation but also became the owner of the site itself. It was then DOE’s job to clean up this Brownfield. The clean up took 18 months to complete and cost about $9 million. In this process, the site was cleared of over 600,000 tons of concrete, which took 45,000 truck loads to remove. The city recouped some of the clean up cost by selling the concrete and other materials to recycling firms and to other city departments for use in their projects. For example, some of the crushed concrete was used by the Chicago Department of Transportation to lay the foundation of the parking garage at the new Millennium Park.

In 1999, DOE was the proud owner of a cleaned site and vacant building. Rather than simply renovating the building using traditional methods, DOE seized the opportunity to create an energy efficient building using the highest standards of green technology available. The Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment formed a design team for the project. This team of local architects, led by Farr Associates, designed the building using a set of guidelines established by the US Green Building Council called LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design).

[From Chicago Center for Green Technology – History]

Apparently, some of the mounds of debris were over 70 feet tall, and compressed the ground below another 15 feet. Anyway, the building is worth a visit if you are into such things. Plus they gave us each 2 LED light bulbs.

Vegetative Green Roof – Chicago Center for Green Technology. Wild chives, succulents, and clover, I believe.
Vegetative Green Roof - Chicago Center for Green Technology

Vegetative Green Roof closeup- Chicago Center for Green Technology
Vegetative Green Roof closeup- Chicago Center for Green Technology

We didn’t get much help regarding Neighbor Space parks and City of Chicago plant and soil resources, but we learned a lot about green roofs. I’d love to be able to install a meadow on our roof like this one, but the roof would need to be able to support 40 lbs/sq. foot, which might not be easily accomplished. Maybe, though, so a next step would be to ask a structural engineer to investigate. There are also the smaller modular vegetative green roof options: a box about 12 inches by 12 inches, filled with a few inches of soil and covered with succulents. You would use as many as you needed, they weigh less, and are easier to remove if necessary. The meadow concept is more fun though – I’d be napping up there right now if I could.

Another thought would be to install a rain water cistern and drain system, so as to utilize the water to keep plants moist at the street level (where our Neighbor Space park allegedly will be located).

Solar Panels – Chicago Center for Green Technology
Solar Panels - Chicago Center for Green Technology

Solar panels would be cool, even if the technology isn’t advanced enough to supply all of our electric needs, we still could ameliorate some of our electric costs (and have backup power if ComEd has problems as they so often do).

Money to pay for it all? Ha, that’s what home equity loans are for. There are a few tax credits available (Federal, some state programs, even less at the City level) for installing solar and green roofs, but the national demand is much greater than the supply of money available, so one’s application has to be blessed with the support of somebody politically connected to get approval. Got to fund wars in the desert, don’t you know; we as a country don’t really want to encourage sustainable living. Unfortunately.

Death at Blommer Chocolate

The ABCs of Chocolate
[The ABCs of Chocolate-across from Blommer Chocolate Company]

First off, I have great sympathy for Gerardo Castillo’s family, that’s got to be a hard way to die.

Chicago officials and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration hunted Monday for the cause of a fatal gas release that killed a North Side man and hospitalized two others at a chocolate factory on the Near West Side over the weekend. Gerardo Castillo, 30, was killed Sunday in the second fatal accident since 2001 at Blommer Chocolate Co., 600 W. Kinzie St.

Castillo of the 1700 block of West Olive Avenue was pronounced dead at Northwestern Memorial Hospital after a release of ammonialike fumes at the factory. A substance mixed into the chocolate somehow triggered a gaseous chemical reaction, a Chicago Fire Department spokesman said.


OSHA last inspected the facility in 1994, said federal compliance officer Tricia Railton, who was reading from a report. Those safety investigations had to do with workers who were cleaning a piece of equipment that either had not been disconnected or was not marked as being potentially dangerous to the cleaners if turned on. It was not immediately clear if an injury prompted that inspection, Railton said. In 2005, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent an inspector to check the factory after a neighbor complained about the aroma of burnt chocolate. The unidentified complainant also noted a powder-filled plume churning out of a roof duct.

Based on what the inspector saw two mornings in early September, the EPA cited Blommer for violating limits on opacity, or the amount of light blocked by the factory’s grinder dust.

[From U.S., city probing death at chocolate factory —]

But this EPA thing has been ongoing for a while. In fact, we mentioned it to Alderman Reilly when we met him in his office just prior to Reilly being sworn in, and his staff was going to look into it. Pollution and particulates are pollution and particulates, even if they smell like chocolate, and shouldn’t be allowed to permeate the lungs of local residents (like myself, ahem). I am curious as to what the details of this September investigation actually were.

Previous coverage of Blommer on my old blog

Blommer Continue reading “Death at Blommer Chocolate”

Esquire Blues Redux

The Esquire in the Gold Coast has been shuttered for a few years. The last film I saw there was Fahrenheit 9/11, so obviously it’s been a few years. Still, I’ve always liked having a theater there, regardless if I used it or not.

Esquire Blues

M Development has withdrawn plans to build a boutique hotel on the site of the shuttered Esquire Theater on Oak Street and instead will scale down the project to a two-to-three story structure housing about a half dozen luxury retailers.

Efforts to redevelop the historic Gold Coast movie house have been in flux since the theater shut down in September 2006. M Development, the Chicago-based owner of the property, originally proposed a mixed-use complex consisting of a 100-room hotel and retail shops to replace the theater and some adjacent property it also owns.

The hotel portion of the project, which would have risen about 10 stories, encountered resistance from residents worried about traffic congestion and about losing the intimate European character of the tony street, home to Jimmy Choo, Prada, Barneys, Harry Winston and Hermes.

[From M Development cancels plans to build Oak Street hotel —]

So now what to do? Alderman Reilly, whose district encompasses this location, eventually decided against allowing the hotel to be built.

Putting a relatively tall building in the middle of the block of European graystones “violates basic urban planning principles,” Reilly added in the letter. Most of the buildings on the street are about three stories high.

He also said the proposed hotel would burden the neighborhood’s infrastructure, in particular an alley off of Bellevue Place (a residential street one block north of Oak Street) heavily used by a condo building and Sutton Place Hotel.

The one block street in the Gold Coast has a storied history. After the Chicago Fire of 1871, prominent Chicagoans established the block as an enclave for the wealthy, hiring European-trained architects to build their mansions. Many of those buildings remain, although they now house $1,500 handbags and $150,000 diamond necklaces.

Jeffrey Shapack, president of M Development, said the firm decided to forego the hotel and concentrate on the few floors of retail in order to get the project off the ground.

“Based on numerous factors and considerations, we made the decision to move forward with a retail-commercial-only development on Oak Street with plans to begin development in 2009,” said Shapack. “This development has generated a lot of interest from luxury national and international retailers who like the prospect of having their own branded facade in a new building on Oak Street.”

M Development is also redeveloping Barneys New York down the street from the Esquire.

Plans are to turn the Barneys building at the corner of Oak and Rush Streets into a retail and restaurant complex and move the existing Barneys across the street into a new, bigger building.

What alternative sites were explored?

The Chicago Children’s Museum claim they looked into 37 alternative sites, even though the firm doing the searching wasn’t hired until April. Something fishy: corporations like Jones Lang LaSalle don’t usually work pro bono.

Opponents of Mayor Richard Daley’s plan to build a $100 million Chicago Children’s Museum in Grant Park demanded Tuesday that the museum release three years of records to prove it seriously considered more than three dozen alternative sites.

Last week, the Children’s Museum released a list of 20 existing buildings and 17 new construction sites it says it considered for the museum’s new home in a three-year search before zeroing in on Daley’s controversial favorite.

Residents of high-rises surrounding the Daley Bicentennial Plaza site and their alderman, Brendan Reilly (42nd), responded by questioning the veracity of the list.

On Tuesday, with a city council committee vote just two days away, they turned up the heat and demanded that the museum release the records of its board meetings and meetings with the real estate consulting firm that released the list of alternative sites.

The museum’s zoning application shows that the firm, Jones Lang LaSalle, did not begin its work for the Children’s Museum until April, so it could not possibly have conducted the search for alternatives, critics say.

Opponents of the Grant Park move also said museum officials spent the past year insisting that the “only location seriously considered” was Grant Park.

“Somebody’s not telling the truth here,” said Peggy Figiel, co-founder of Save Grant Park.

[From Museum foes demand proof of alternative sites :: The SouthtownStar ]

Tons of back story on this if you are interested.

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

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 – : … [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