Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Englewood Hospitality

Recently on a Facebook post, I noted a security guard at a Bucktown elementary school told me I couldn’t take pictures of the building, despite being far across the street on a public sidewalk and shooting with a wide-angle lens. The school, he politely informed me, doesn’t allow photographs of its students. Despite sending the photo and a link to laws regarding public photography to the principal, she replied basically the school was instructed by the police to call them if anybody was photographing or taping the children (they didn’t for me) and the rule was no photography, public property be damned.

CICS Bucktown
I write this because all to frequently I’m admonished for one reason or another on my North Side photowalks. “Why are you taking pictures of my house?” is usually asked with a snarl rather than in an inquisitive manner. Rarely will anybody say hello or even nod an acknowledgment. This is almost exactly the opposite on the South Side.

Initially venturing to the South Side to take photographs of old family residences and former synagogue buildings for my book There Used to Be a Synagogue Here: Former Chicago Temples, I found the neighborhoods of Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard, Oakland/Kenwood and Washington Park very hospitable to a 60ish white guy walking down the street with a camera. People politely inquire about my interest in their neighborhood, volunteer information about the area or simply say hello or nod in passing, something that would surprise somebody like Brian Kilmeade at Fox News. Nothing more than “What are looking at?” yelled from a distance by a young teen – more to impress the two fellows with him – was even remotely threatening.

3600 - 3606 S. Giles Ave.
I was treated to a special type of hospitality this week after photographing the former South Side Masonic Temple at W. 64th and S. Green streets, which has made Preservation Chicago’s 2015 list of the city’s seven most endangered buildings. I knew there was a large church in the vicinity, which came into view as I was driving west and south. I parked the car at the corner of W. 65th and S. Peoria streets and began photographing the church – St. Stephens Evangelical Lutheran Church – from several different vantage points. As I was finishing, a gentleman who I’d seen entering the former parish house across the street reemerged and asked me, “Have you met Reverend Raven? Would you like to photograph the inside of the church?” For those of you who have seen my church photography, you know I wouldn’t pass up this chance.

St. Stephens Evangelical Lutheran Church
After a few minutes, the Rev. Dr. Henry Raven, St. Stephens’ pastor, emerged and greeted me at the door. Before crossing the street, he informed me that this was the second oldest church building in Englewood – the Chicago Embassy Church is the oldest – and hoped to acquire landmark status for the 1909 structure. It was founded by German immigrants – a plaque on the Peoria Street entrance states, “Ev. Lutherische St. Stephanus Kirche” – and the first black families became members in the late 1950s.

Original plaque from German congregants
Rev. Raven took me to a side entrance on the 65th Street side and opened a door and sliding metal grate, which led to the front of the church. Passing the now-obligatory drum set in the corner, I saw a stunning interior with a unique yellow-and-green color scheme. The pulpit is dominated by an ornate wooden dais and large working pipe organ above. Rev. Raven urged me to walk up to the balcony in the rear and the organ loft in the front. The narrow stairways featured stained-glass windows, and the views from both perches were excellent.

St. Stephens Evangelical Lutheran Church
As you can see in the photos, the church needs some work, for which Rev. Raven is raising money. He became pastor ten years ago and has increased church membership after some problems caused by the previous leader. Rev. Raven also hopes the landmark designation will help with upkeep. The church has the original blueprints for the building, which should enhance his efforts.

Church balcony
We returned to the former parish house and exchanged information. The former parish house now serves as offices and the hall for the Family Feeding Center, a Wednesday and Friday soup kitchen opened in April 2014. The first of its kind in Englewood, the soup kitchen supported by Shepard’s HOPE feeds 200 people each day. The Action Coalition of Englewood is also headquartered here. Prior to departing, I gave Rev. Raven a small donation for his hospitality and promised to send my best photographs for use by the church.

Pipe organ
This is the third church into which I’ve been invited while taking exterior photographs. The first, the Independence Boulevard Seventh-Day Adventist church (the former Congregation Anshe Sholom) in Lawndale, came about when a maintenance man spotted me through a window shooting the side doors, which feature Hebrew letters inscribed above glass crosses in the doors. The other, the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church (the former Isaiah Temple), would be visited later during Open House Chicago 2012. While also photographing South Side churches during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago, I’ve met several very nice people who take great pride in showcasing their buildings to visitors.

Corpus Christi Church, 4920 S. King Dr.

Thank you again, Rev. Henry Raven, for extending yourself to provide me with a unique photography opportunity. Here's to a better 106th year for the church, landmark status in the future and better times for Englewood. It's wonderful how going outside one's comfort zone can result in such rewarding experiences.
St. Stephens Evangelical Lutheran Chuch

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

I Must Be in the First Row: Janis Joplin's Final Concert

Nobody knew it, but the thousands that attended Janis Joplin’s concert in Harvard Stadium in Boston 45 years ago tonight witnessed her final performance. I hadn’t planned on going and, even if it weren’t her last concert, it certainly was memorable.

Janis Joplin, Aug. 12, 1970
Photograph: Peter Warrack
On a hot August evening, my friend Calvin, who I knew from volunteering at The Storefront Learning Center in the South End, had traveled up from Roxbury to my un-air-conditioned apartment on Ashford Court in Allston. Our apartment lease ran through the end of August, so I stayed in Boston and was joined by two Harvard friends who were working in the city that summer. We knew there was a Janis Joplin concert that night at Harvard Stadium, so we decided to check it out. The stadium was a mile-and-one-half away.

As has been reported, the concert was supposed to be limited to 10,000 persons. However, because the band’s equipment had been stolen, the concert’s beginning was delayed for a number of hours while replacements were located. We encountered a mob scene upon arrival. I’ve read reports that people scaled the stadium walls to enter; in any case, Calvin and I simply walked in an open gate.

Here’s where it got interesting. Of the estimated 40,000 people who eventually made it into the stadium, we ended up in the first row, right in front of the stage. So how did we get there, without any type of pass or VIP IDs, without once being stopped?

Calvin was a 6’3” black man with a neat Afro and wire glasses. He was probably one of the most dynamic persons I’ve ever met, very self-assured but not intimidating. Calvin simply walked through the crowd with authority, seemingly parting the sea of white kids, as he headed toward the stage. Perhaps a few people said something to him, which he simply ignored. Whenever anybody asked me where I was going, I kept walking and replied, “I’m with him.” I think there were two dynamics working: one, fear of a confident black man making his way through a crowd and, two, persons feeling it would be racist to stop him just because he was black.

Calvin, undated photo 

I’ve read various accounts of the quality of the concert, only 8 songs long, and some recordings exist. My recollection was she was far from top form, given one can assume what she may have ingested during those hours of extra down time. Calvin, an excellent judge of people, figured she was wasted on some combination of substances and beverages. According to noted photojournalist Gwendolyn Stewart who was also in the front row, Joplin was cowering in her trailer as the crowds swelled. She was never in danger, as the stage was raised high off the ground, safe from a rushing horde that never materialized. I do remember the sexually oriented banter between Janis and attendees; it was pretty mundane and good theater. She would die of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970.
Unfortunately, my good friend Calvin passed away much too early 30 years ago. Those were different times, seemingly long ago but still in many ways fresh as yesterday.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

“Draft or Lite?”: Waiting for Kenneth Sherwin

As Opening Day 2015 approaches, with fans more optimistic about the Sox and Cubs than in recent memory, I was tempted to repost my 2011 recollections about Opening Days (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/04/third-new-years-day.html) but this year’s game will be something different.

The aforementioned post notes that returning to the ballpark means reacquainting oneself with people after a fall and winter’s absence. I mentioned my beer vendor Kenneth. Sadly, Kenneth Sherwin – or Kenny as many called him – will not be at Opening Day at either Chicago park, for he passed away suddenly in Miami Beach at age 61 on December 29. It shocked and saddened everybody who knew him.

Kenneth Sherwin, June 26, 2009
I started buying beers from Kenneth around 2006 after attending games regularly in my cousin’s seats in Section 126 on the first-base side. This was generally Kenneth’s territory. During the 2008 season, the Sox won every regular-season game for which I purchased those beers – probably 14 in succession – to the point that I chased Kenneth down by the right-field corner to buy a beer during Game 4 of the American League Division Series vs. Tampa Bay. Alas, that didn’t work, as the Sox were eliminated with a 6-4 loss. In the meantime, we would see each other around town; he lived three blocks from my mother’s apartment and played tennis at Midtown Athletic Club.

Kenneth was a character, to be sure, which most of us found out in more detail after his passing. The youngest of five children, he grew up on the North Side before attending the University of Miami. He decided against a career in law – his father was an attorney as are two brothers – and variously worked as a trader and as a high-end men’s clothing salesman. Kenneth became a vendor in 1981 and worked both ballparks, Chicago Stadium and United Center for the Bulls and Blackhawks, Soldier Field for the Bears and various concert venues. He was also a throwback to the days when many of the vendors were Jewish.

Kenneth with cousins Jim, Cathy and Bob, June 26, 2009
If I were attending a Sox game with friends, the response at the concession stand to “Do you want a beer?” was always “We’ll get them at our seats from my beer guy.” Depending how early we had arrived, we either saw Kenneth cutting across rows before the first pitch or going up and down the aisles. Even after all of the years, he’d usually ask “Draft or Lite?” He was good for a quip, asking our daughter, “Is he behaving himself?” or remarking when Janet was along, “I see you brought your girlfriend tonight.” His only complaints were about the weather – too cold – or the effect of small crowds on his bottom line.

Last season through my friend Rob Taman, I attended six games at Wrigley Field. Upon spotting me, Kenneth invariably asked, “What are you doing here?” Between the two stadiums, I must have seen him 20 times last season. In fact, as I headed to his funeral service, I told Janet, “How many people do I see 20 times a year?”

A cold night at Wrigley Field, May 24, 2011
In relating to his brother Bob what turned out to be our last conversation, he told me that Kenneth always spoke his mind. In fact, it’s why he no longer worked at the United Center. Some time back, Kenneth was servicing one of the suites and received a very small tip. He handed it back to the man and said, “Here, you must need this more than me.” The guy complained, and he was eventually fired. Kenneth manned a beer stand at the Bears games rather than vending in the seats; he pointed out that those vendors were non-union and thus didn’t follow the protocols of the other venues, including entering an aisle that a fellow vendor is servicing.

With winters now open, Kenneth bought a condominium in South Beach, four blocks from the ocean, so he could continue his tennis and cycling pursuits year-around. He was a regular at the annual tennis tournament at Key Biscayne, where he followed his favorites both on and off the court. It’s not surprising his Florida residence featured a framed jacket autographed by Roger Federer. It was his love of tennis and cycling and ability to haul beer cases some 150 times a year that made his sudden passing so much more baffling.
Opening Day will follow the usual routine: arrive early and roam the park taking photographs, order a brat by the stand at Section 126, take a seat (either 3 or 4) in Row 9 and wait for my beer guy. But like Godot and Lefty, Kenneth will not arrive. Back to our last conversation. After my friend Rick, a Cubs fan and good tipper, ordered our second round, Kenneth said so all could hear, “Bring this guy to the park more often.” I plan to this season; I only wish Kenneth would be there to accept the tips.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hotels in the Family

Our family has enjoyed a few relationships to the hotel industry, one direct and two peripheral. They produced some interesting anecdotes.

My father’s biggest client when he was a partner at the public-accounting firm of Katz, Wagner & Company was Pick Hotels. As a side note, despite his probably having the second highest GPA of all accounting majors in the Class of 1938 at the University of Illinois – Thomas A. Murphy, who would become chairman and CEO of General Motors, likely had a higher one – he could not be hired by a then Big 8 firm because they didn’t employ Jews. Pick Hotels’ 45 properties included the Congress in Chicago, Lee House in Washington, D.C., Fort Shelby in Detroit, Mark Twain in St. Louis, Nicollet in Minneapolis, Fort Hayes in Columbus and Belmont Plaza in New York City.

The Lee House, Washington, D.C.

 Dad’s auditing work frequently took him to Columbus, so much so that the firm wanted him to start an office there (he declined). While working at the Fort Hayes (not named for the Ohio State football coach) in the 1950s, he often found OSU football players on the hotel’s payroll but only saw them dining on free meals. It galled this U of I grad when his alma mater was sanctioned for penny-ante cash payment for transportation home while Woody Hayes sanctimoniously boasted about his clean program.

Hotel Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio
On occasion my mother accompanied dad on his business trips. Once, while in Detroit with her friend Dort Finder, they found a mysterious doorway in the back of their Fort Shelby hotel room. It lead to a passageway to a former speakeasy, no doubt using liquor zipped across the river from Windsor. In October 1947, a year after their marriage, they traveled to Washington, D.C. (note: tourist today don’t dress like in the photo below) and New York City, where they watched the Illinois-Army game at Yankee Stadium. Mom didn’t remember anything about the trip, other than he was surely in D.C. to audit the since-demolished Lee House.

 Dad and Mom, Washington D.C., Oct. 1947

Mom and dad were particularly happy after the Picks acquired the Belmont Plaza at 49th St. and Lexington Ave. For our first trip in 1961, we were put up in the two-bedroom Ming Dynasty Suite, which had just been vacated by Gypsy Rose Lee. Our next trip was in 1965, after which dad had left Katz Wagner for private industry. The room at the Belmont Plaza, with outdated thick Venetian blinds, was the type mom said, “You rent to jump out the window of.” Either the price was right or it was comped. It’s now the swanky W New York; when walking by last July, I was tempted to ask about the Ming Dynasty Suite.
The Belmont Plaza, New York City

One of dad’s first cousins, Rosalie Wolfson, married a hotel magnate, Nathan Goldstein. With Arnold Kirkeby (his mansion was the Clampetts’ home in “The Beverly Hillbillies”), they owned such prestigious properties as the Blackstone and Drake in Chicago; Sherry-Netherland, Hampshire House and Gotham in New York City; Warwick in New York and Philadelphia, Kenilworth in Bal Harbour, Florida; Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills; and Nacional de Cuba in Havana. My parents were married in the Blackstone in September 1946, and our rehearsal dinner was held at the Warwick in New York in 1973. Family stays also included the Lee House, Gotham (now the Peninsula) and Warwick. Goldstein also owned The Regency in New York, the originator of the “power breakfast” in the 1970s. I had my version of the power lunch with Rosalie in 1988 (http://brulelaker.blogspot.com/2011/12/power-lunches.html).

Husband and Wife, The Blackstone Hotel, Sept. 3, 1946
On our first trip to Florida in 1957, we visited the Goldsteins at the Kenilworth, which Nate’s company was in the midst of purchasing from Arthur Godfrey. At that time, the hotel had a No Jews policy, which no doubt had something to do with my parents’ consternation with my brother and me (age 8) tossing stuff off the balcony. In our defense, we had never been on a balcony before.

The Kenilworth, Bal Harbour, Florida
The Goldstein relationship led to the last meeting with another family in the business, some 55 years ago. Rosalie was in Chicago visiting family, and my mother joined a group for lunch at the Drake. Abe Pritzker of Hyatt Hotels recognized Rosalie and stopped by the table to say hello. Sorry, we don’t receive any family discounts at the hotels.

I am related to Pritzkers going back three and four generations (they married quicker and thus there’s an additional generation between mine and Thomas-Penny-Jim/Jennifer-J.B’s). My great-grandmother Chaia Schwartzman, wife of Abraham Nachman, and Sophia Schwartzman, wife of Jacob Pritzker, were sisters. Upon the birth of my brother and me, my parents received either a telegram or letter (the story varies on who tells it) from Abe Pritzker stating that he’d gone back 100 years and found we and his grandchildren were the only sets of twins. I don’t know for sure who the others were (that’s another story). Unfortunately, in the zeal of housekeeping, my mother tossed out the correspondence.

Jacob and Sophia Pritzker
My uncle Adoph had an interesting anecdote about the founding of Hyatt Hotels. When on the cruise of the Amazon in his early 90s (no, not the 1990s), he met a woman whose late husband was in the hotel business and knew Nate Goldstein. She told Adolph about an interersting assignment. Jay Pritzker had a contract out to purchase the Hyatt Hotel at Los Angeles International Airport in 1957, which would be the first property in the chain. According to her, the owner, Hyatt Robert von Dehn, was an alcoholic and wouldn’t return the contract. Because the man knew von Dehn, his one and only task was to get the signature on the contract and return it to Chicago. He did, and the rest, of course, is history.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Naked Boys Swimming (Again)

NOTE: This entry was posted initially on January 5, 2011. Because I could not post it to other sites without the comments (all of which I've deleted) showing up as the introduction, I am re-posting with minor edits. Please note this has been my most popular post - almost 23,000 views - with twice as many hits as the second-place entry.

What seemed perfectly normal to one generation often becomes head-shaking at the very least and scarcely believable to later generations. One such practice was naked swimming in physical-education classes. I had the “privilege” to swim au naturale in both high school and college. It seemed quite normal to me back then.

Swimming was an important part of physical education at New Trier East High School during the mid-1960s. Coach Dave Robertson was an Olympic coach, and the team (a girl’s team didn’t exist yet) won numerous state championships. I learned additional swimming strokes as well as the practice of drown-proofing, which luckily I’ve never had to use. Swimming was part of a rotation schedule for phys. ed., which meant you would swim five days a week for a month.

I was in the last class at New Trier East that graduated intact before New Trier West became a four-year school, which meant we had approximately 600 boys in all. The school claimed it made the boys (not the girls) swim naked for hygiene reasons, which makes sense if you buy the premise that boys are inherently, shall we say, more unhealthy than girls. I think it had more to do with not having to purchase 600 pairs of swimming trunks and launder them daily.

New Trier High School swimming pool

The routine was simple. First, a shower – coach Robertson always gave a lecture before the first class of the year on how to reach those nooks and crannies – and then on to the pool deck to take attendance. Like regular phys. ed. classes, you stood on your assigned number on the floor (deck), and a visible number was noted as an absence. The pool was locked down tight so nobody could wander in and see 60 boys of all shapes, sizes but usually only one color standing butt naked at attention. The unwritten rule was eyes forward, although for me it didn’t make much difference because of my severe myopia. 

For swimming, the early periods were preferred over the afternoon ones. By the 11th period, one never knew what might float by and, no, I’m not going to relate that anecdote (somebody actually ‘fessed up to it). Swimming laps took up most of the class, which ended with free swim. To graduate, each student was required to swim 50 yards. A boy in the class ahead of me finally did it at his final phys. ed. class, after which he reportedly said, “Great. I’ll swim 50 yards, then I’ll drown.”

I’d guess that almost all of my colleagues naked swimming days ended after graduation, but mine continued on a more limited scale as a freshman at Lehigh University, which was all-male at the time. Physical education was required, and classes were either two or three days a week. Swimming was only one of those days, which caused one of the most bizarre occurrences in my life. First though, to Lehigh’s swimming requirement: only 25 yards, one length of the pool. On the very first day, the instructor told us that anybody who can’t swim or didn’t think he could swim the length of the pool should step aside for the remedial class. “Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “Every year, we have to go in and fish somebody out who thought he could do it.” Sure enough, after jumping in and swimming a vigorous crawl stroke to the end, I looked back through my foggy eyes to see a classmate about 20 yards down his lane being pulled out.

Lehigh University swimming pool

A combination of logistics and forgetfulness resulted in the bizarre occurrence. The locker room was one floor below the Grace Hall pool, which meant we had to walk upstairs naked to reach the pool. Why nobody donned a towel I’ll never know. Our instructor was assistant football coach Wally King, a nice guy who would join our basketball games in his wing-tip shoes if we needed another player. One day (and it may have been more), King forgot it was the swimming day. I reached the pool area to find a number of naked classmates shivering outside the locked pool door. Hoping against hope that King would show up, we stood there, trying to make conversation while looking any way but down, for a good five minutes. Finally realizing that waiting for King, like Godot and Lefty, was futile, we headed back downstairs. He was genuinely embarrassed (maybe not as much as us) and apologetic after hearing the news.

I returned to Lehigh to speak before a student group in 2000 and walked around the campus the day before. A student was standing at the entrance to the pool, which was in use for general swim. I was going to relate the story of the naked boys standing right there but figured he’d think I was nuts. You, my readers, were not so fortunate.