Discover: October 2009 Archives

Don't Be a Stranger: tBtW tours Bronzeville

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bronzeville.JPGBy Hillary Ross

Over the summer, my friends in Montana asked me, "What is the South Side of Chicago like?" While I started to answer their question, I realized I was only describing Hyde Park, which is, of course, not a fair description of the South Side.  The University of Chicago is located on the South Side, yet few students (including myself until recently) can answer this question with observations extending far beyond Hyde Park. The University of Chicago recognizes students rarely venture to the neighboring "Black Metropolis" of Bronzeville, and therefore recently sponsored a South Side Bike Tour and Historic Bronzeville Tour

Before going on the Bronzeville tour, I knew very little about Bronzeville.  Our tour guide, Timuel Black (a notable Bronzeville historian), said this is common. Unfortunately, the history and contributions of Bronzeville are relatively unknown. In a way, Bonzeville, like the rest of Chicago, is plagued with the "Second City" syndrome. New York's Harlem receives far more attention and is the best-known black metropolis, despite the fact that Bronzeville was once actually the largest and most populated Black neighborhood.       

 Bronzeville had equally significant parallel institutions that rivaled Harlem's. While now demolished and historically obscure, Bronzeville's Regal Theater was in its time just as prominent as the Apollo Theater. Louis Armstrong frequently played at the clubs of Chicago's "Black Belt," especially the Sunset Café, which is now an Ace Hardware store. In the churches of Bronzeville, gospel music was born. The best blues music in the nation was performed on 43rd Street. Civil Rights activists like W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King came to Bronzeville's Quinn Chapel to give rallying speeches of social change.  The Harlem Globe Trotters actually started at Wendell Phillip's High School in Bronzeville. Unfortunately, these claims to fame are no longer readily visible, and because little physical evidence remains, people are unaware of the Bronzeville's history. Nonetheless, Bronzeville's current identity is still infused with the energy to obtain racial equality, gospel music performances, and ubiquitous pick-up basketball games.
Even thought the neighborhood lacks physical evidence to showcase its historical stature, Bronzeville has a thriving, distinct neighborhood culture, making it a worthwhile trip. Moreover, most students on campus deem Bronzeville as unsafe or dangerous--a place to avoid. I completely disagree.  While I would not recommend a solo night trip, I would definitely feel safe visiting the neighborhood with a group of friends during the daytime. 

Here is a list of five feasible (and safe!) Bronzeville excursions I recommend:
1.    Attend a service at Quinn Chapel
2.    Visit the South Side Community Art Center
3.    Go to a Gospel, Blues, or Jazz Concert
4.    Tour the Bronzeville Historical Society Museum
5.    Eat a meal at the Ain't She Sweet Café.

It is a shame that Bronzeville sits in the shadow of Harlem as the "Second Black Metropolis" and goes unnoted and underappreciated in mainstream society. However, it is even more of a shame that many University of Chicago students fail to explore or learn about Bronzeville's rich past and current culture. As a leader of the Bronzeville Historical Society told me, "Tell your friends and classmates to come down and to stop being strangers with their South Side neighbors."   I encourage you to visit Bronzeville. After seeing this neighborhood, you will be able to give a better and more complete description of the South Side community-- one that is far richer and more interesting than just describing Hyde Park.

Hillary Ross is a second-year in the College, and a Contributing Blogger for the Blog that Works. 

by Lauren Makholm

Nestled comfortably between a restaurant and a hair salon on 57th street is a bookstore well worth a visit. Though I've frequented its neighbor, The Florian Restaurant, many times as a UChicago undergrad, I somehow never made it into O'Gara & Wilson Antiquarian Booksellers. On nice days a discounted bookshelf lingers outside the door, offering little-known theoretical texts for only a few dollars. Unfortunately, perusing those titles is as close as I came to ever entering this eccentric bookshop.

As soon as I entered I felt transported into a different era. The odd collection of books, magazines, and odd cultural artifacts was reminiscent of a forgotten room of Citizen Kane's Xanadu. Immediately my eyes were drawn to the enormous buffalo bust hanging from the ceiling at the center of the room. Then, my attention shifted to the plush dinosaur ambling along the shelf devoted to the history of Chicago.  Below it, a child-sized rocking chair lay seemingly forgotten and unused.

O'Gara and Wilson's, much like the University of Chicago, seemed chiefly concerned with the theoretical and philosophical. Literary Criticism filled the left hand side of the store, while the right raced from continent to continent, covering every people and culture. The haphazardly stocked and cramped Fiction section masked hidden treasures, such as a box set of old snoopy cartoons, or the extensive collection of previously loved sci-fi thrillers. My favorite find, in the African-American section, was a 1983 yearbook from Jean Baptiste Point DuSable High School. The smiling faces of the seniors were as intriguing as their undeniably 80s fashion senses.
Chicago's oldest continuously operating bookstore, O'Gara and Wilson's lies a little to the East of 57th Street and Blackstone Avenue. The bookstore also operates a blog, at They are open Monday - Friday 11:00-7:00; Saturday 11:00-8:00; and Sunday 12:00-6:00.

Lauren Makholm is a fourth-year in the College and a contributing blogger for the Blog that Works.

Knowing your Neighbors

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You've eaten your first Garbage Pizza at the Med. You've ridden your bike down Halsted St. with Dean Boyer on the annual South Side Bike Tour. Now, the South Side Solidarity Network wants you to know Woodlawn.

Woodlawn, the low-income neighborhood just south of the University of Chicago campus, has a deep history of conflict and resolution with its ivory-tower neighbor. If you ask third-year graduate student Mark Hopwood, trying to understand this complicated relationship is exactly why students should venture south.  

Hopwood, a member of SSN, shared community lore about the 1893 World's Fair, legendary organizer Saul Alinsky, and the street gang the Blackstone Rangers, with a dozen students and other residents of Hyde Park on the SSN's annual tour of Woodlawn last Sunday afternoon. The tour began on 61st and Ellis Ave in front of the new South Campus dormitory, and proceeded West along 63rd St. to the Cottage Grove commercial district.

"Woodlawn was never a particularly upscale neighborhood," Hopwood said. "But it was a place where you would come to have fun, kind of like the Coney Island of Chicago"

As the group walked Hopwood traced the arc of Woodlawn's development, from a swampland settled by Dutch immigrants in the 1950s to the home of the sprawling Columbian Exposition of 1893, to its current status as a diverse, up-and-coming lakeside neighborhood.

Hopwood was joined by Wardell Lavendar, a community member who has called Woodlawn home for the past 53 years, and has the memories to prove it:

"This street used to be lined with businesses," he said, gesturing to the brick row houses lining 63rd St., once the South Side's commercial district. According to Wardell, commercial activity in the community dropped off substantially when the Green Line, which used to run East above 63rd St. from Cottage Grove to Kimbark, was torn down.

More to know about the University and Woodlawn:

*The University of Chicago made an agreement with the community activist group The Woodlawn Organization (TWO) that it will not develop the campus south of 63rd St.

*In the 1960s, Woodlawn was home to the Black P. Stone Rangers, Half a civil-rights organization and half cocaine-trafficking street gang, the Stones were the most powerful gang in Chicago until an FBI-led crackdown.

*Saul Alinsky, a community organizer famous for the mass power tactics he outlined in his book, "Rules for Radicals," organized in Woodlawn, Back of the Yards, and other Chicago neighborhoods around issues of race and tenants' rights.

How are you getting to know your neighbors?

Links to get you involved in Woodlawn:

Woodlawn Collaborative

UChicago's South Side Solidarity Network's website

STOP Chicago

The night before First Week, and much is stirring

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by Kat Li

The night before classes were to officially start at the University of Chicago, when the rest of the college was tucked in bed and preparing for the onslaught, several fellow students and I found ourselves hours away from our dormitories in a packed venue on the north side of Chicago. It was the second consecutive performance of Grizzly Bear and Beach House at Metro, an intimately worn, two-story concert hall that caters to the independent scene, often featuring acts on the cusp of mainstream acknowledgment.

Like on any Monday night, the city had seemingly gone to sleep, but the concert hall was sold out and alive with young, dancing Chicagoans. The sound was incredible - balanced and substantial. Beach House, known for their quaint, waspy feel on recordings, played that night with a beat and bass that filled and surprised the room. The band sounded off an hour-long set with Gila, a popular single off their second album, Devotion.

beachhouse1.2.jpgBeach House performs with their unique stage set-up. The Sunday night show saw a lot of toppling triangle structures...

As the crowd waited for the headlining band to start, chatting with the friendly show-goers crowded close, overpriced beers in hand, the set was transformed. The color and shapes show given by Beach House was replaced by hanging jar lights and an array of unusual instruments. The members of Grizzly Bear themselves came out to tune their instruments and sound check the microphones. Each time playing a measure of this song or that, giving the crowd a little taste of good things to come.

Finally, wordlessly, the whole of Grizzly Bear came on and began to play. The earthy, peculiar feel of their music rose and rose, along with our hands and the heavy air of warming bodies in from the cold. Every song hit the hall with full recognition and groove, to the pleased surprise of the band members. My friends and I leaned against the balcony railings, overlooking a crowd compelled by rhythm and collective experience.

After the show, the crowd migrated from the venue to the Addison stop on the Red Line. Huddling separately in the cold and hiding our soft grins, we waited as strangers for the El to come and take us to our homes, still basking in the radiation of something seen and shared.


chris taylor.jpg
Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, known to perform bass, woodwinds, electronics and vocals

There's something ineffably worthwhile and genuine about the humility of self-directed musicians, the weathered venues in which they perform, and most of all the appreciative people who appear at their shows regardless of the hours of travel by CTA and especially of the piles of work to come.

Kat Li is a second-year in the College, and a contributor to the Blog that Works

carnivalsquash.JPGThe South Campus Dining Hall isn't the only place where students should grab food on 61st St. this quarter; October means 30 more days of Chicago's colorful farmer's markets, among them the 61st Farmers Market at the Experimental Station (6100 S. Blackstone).

The baby arugula sold by Genesis Growers here is so fresh and nutty, It's completely ruined the supermarket stuff for me! For Dennis Ryan, the Market's manager, its the organic tomato jam sold by Tomato Mountain farms that can make or break a breakfast (it tastes like an acidic version of traditional apricot jam, he says). Genesis Growers and Tomato Mountain are just two of the dozen or so distributors who peddle their peppers, leafy greens and eggplant between Dorchester and Blackstone every Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nearly all of the farms at the market hail from within a 100 mile radius of Chicago, mostly from Wisconsin and Indiana, according to Ryan.

"We want to support local farmers who grow sustainably, with organic growing practices," he explained. "When you buy local, you're getting produce at the peak of its freshness--so it tastes great--and at the peak of its nutritional value. You're also supporting the local economy."

"We don''t sell food here that we wouldn't want to feed our own families."

And the market offers more than produce that packs a nutritional wallop--for Woodlawn, the neighborhood just south of the University of Chicago campus, it's one of the only places residents can get fresh produce without driving or taking public transit.

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The 61st St. Market will move indoors for November and December; in the mean time, check out these links to the market's website, and more awesome area markets:

Sat. 9-2: The Experimental Station and the 61st St. Farmer's Market
Wed. and Sat. 7-1: The Green City Farmer's Market
Thurs. 8-3: Hyde Park Farmer's Market