In case you missed it, I thought you might enjoy reading this feature that appeared in today’s Sun-Times. It speaks well of our diverse, and yes, eccentric community and likens us to Venice Beach. It is these qualities that attract new people to our neighborhood and why so many of us choose to stay and call it home.
My friend Barbara grew up in a more segregated community on the Southeast Side of Chicago. She has lived in Rogers Park for a dozen years, and there is rarely a day when she doesn’t bubble over with joy at the rich experience she has living here on Jonquil Terrace where she meets people from all over the globe and with diverse world views. I know many of you feel the same way, so here’s a little something to share with your friends.
Chicago’s Venice Beach
Maybe it’s something in the water
that breeds eccentricity
March 2, 2007
BY BONNIE MCGRATH
From the northernmost tracks of Chicago’s Red Line, you can see that change is under way — finally — in Rogers Park.
Judith Orr has no trouble rattling off all the amenities she has in her two bedroom, two-bath condo in East Rogers Park: a patio, an eat-in kitchen, all the many bells and whistles she decided she wanted when she left Lake View. A condo like the one she has would have cost a lot more in the neighborhood she left, much more than the under-$200,000 she paid a couple of years ago for her unit on Farwell, just north of Pratt and just east of Ashland, near the Morse stop on the Red Line.
Orr, who owns a marketing/design business, says she hasn’t regretted her decision for even one second. While she felt a little nervous after making the move — because of more “gang activity in the area” than she was used to — she said that hands-on community policing, diligent patrolling and all kinds of quality-of-life people, places and things in the neighborhood have assured her that she is in the right place at the right time. She can list the best places within walking distance for delicious seafood or vintagey high ceilings, great appetizers or fabulous desserts, from Morseland on Morse to Cafe Suron on Pratt, to name a couple (west of Sheridan and east of Sheridan, respectively).
People all over East Rogers Park agree. They love the friendliness of their neighbors, the fresh air off the lake that borders and defines their neighborhood, with its many little wild-grass-covered beaches that stretch its length, from the Loyola L stop that is convenient to the Loyola University campus just off the Red Line — to Howard Street on the north end. The two stops in between are at Morse and Jarvis.
Residents love the spirituality that exudes from the old buildings, the funky restaurants and coffee places and bars, the diversity, the 80 or so languages that are spoken in the neighborhood, the theater groups, the public transportation and the architecture. They love the “institutions” like the Heartland Cafe at Lunt and Glenwood, the epitome of the body politic — and places like No Exit Cafe on Glenwood and Ennui Cafe on Sheridan Road, where coffee comes complete with conversation and camaraderie. They love what’s coming in the future.
New housing on every street
According to resident Tom Durkin, a real estate broker with Zoretich Realty, who lives on Lunt, in the heart of the East Rogers Park neighborhood, there are new developments of every size and shape on nearly every street — new, rehabbed, renovated and restored, including big plans for a new mixed-use development on the 7000 block of North Clark Street where the Adelphi theater (built in 1917) once stood. Everyone agrees these developments attract a more affluent crowd — albeit a bargain-hunting, more affluent crowd. The new members of the neighborhood are pushing into oblivion the “seediness,” a word often used to describe not-so-hot pockets of street life throughout the area.
“The only problem,” said area resident Marty Moltz, a lawyer who has lived on Winchester across from Pottawattomie Park for 33 years, “is that there is no expressway that is conveniently accessible.” Moltz and his wife moved into his unit when his condo building was still a rental; they ended up raising a son — now grown — there. But to make up for such deprivation as lack of expressways, Moltz said, the neighborhood is considerably cooler — temperaturewise, not attitudinally — than other Chicago neighborhoods in the summer because of the lake breeze. The coolness is a given in East Rogers Park lore.
Like many young people, Stephanie Ward moved to East Rogers Park when she first came to Chicago from California to work as a journalist. Disgusted by too much drug dealing in the area, she moved a few years later to Albany Park. Now, married, with two boys, she and her family live in terrifically priced town house they bought a few years back in Rogers Park, near Jarvis and Ashland.
Like Venice Beach in LA
“It’s a neighborhood of eccentrics,” said Ward, who loves exploring the neighborhood in her spare time. “It’s not trendy; it’s like the Venice or Silver Lake neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Everyone here has a different view of the world.”
Ward loves to look at the beautiful old Victorians in the neighborhood, and dreams of maybe buying one someday and restoring it, provided she can find the right school for her boys when the time comes. She has attended the neighborhood garden walk, and is enjoying the new Jarvis Square development just a couple of minutes walk from her two-story, 2-bedroom, finished-basement town house. Their home, complete with parking, has increased in value more than 25 percent in just the past two years. She and her husband have updated their upstairs bath, put in banisters along the stairs for her kids’ sake, purchased a new stove, and installed new carpeting.
She would like to see the many kids under 13 in the neighborhood have more to do than just hang out on the streets, and worries about keeping her own boys busy and safe — in the future. Ward prefers to concentrate on the positives as she walks her dogs daily. She agrees with Orr that the police have really cracked down on the more unsavory elements in the area and that the neighborhood keeps getting better.
Cary Steinbuck, executive director of the Rogers Park Community Council, said that convenience, diversity and affordability mean Rogers Park is a place where “everyone wants to live.” Residents love the public transportation, she said. Some of the housing is ideal for renters — 1-bedroom units and studios make up 60 percent of the housing stock. Youth leadership programs are helping young people get jobs with local businesses. They can also find creative programming at the new Park District field houses under construction at both the Gale School Park at Howard and Marshfield, and at Schreiber Park, north of Devon and east of Clark.
Steinbuck’s group holds developers’ feet to the fire — for instance, there is talk of constructing accessible rental units in the lobbies of some of the larger apartment buildings. But Steinbuck said keeping affordable rentals might be an agreed-to tradeoff for developers. “We don’t like to increase developers’ revenues without them giving something back to the community,” she said.
The better East Rogers Park becomes, the more challenging affordability becomes, Steinbuck said. The community council offers programs ranging from mortgage counseling to condo support groups.
Bike paths fit with culture
She said there’s no truth to a persistent rumor that Lake Shore Drive will be extended beyond Hollywood Avenue, where it now ends, through the heart of East Rogers Park.”It’s too expensive, and the environmental impact would be too great,” she said.
Bike paths and walkways are another matter, however, she said. They would be in keeping with the existing culture of Rogers Park.
Bonnie McGrath is a Chicago-based free-lance writer.