EVA Monday: Nelson Algren's gold-star East Village

Nelson Algren poses at a viaduct (Library of Congress)

A fountain at a major intersection quotes his writing. A community garden is named for one of his characters, played by Frank Sinatra. But what do you really know about Nelson Algren in East Village?

Chicago Tribune transportation writer Mary Wisniewski is here to help. She visits the East Village Association on Monday to tell the tale of Algren's days and nights on Division Street. Wisniewski's biography Algren: A Life, published by Chicago Review Press, is a fine Christmas gift for East Village neighbors and friends who drop by to visit Algren's Gold Star barstool.

As usual, we'll meet in a tavern, The Happy Village at 1059 N. Wolcott. The program starts at 7. The agenda includes Ald. Proco Joe Moreno on the State of the 1st Ward, Bridgette Flagg of Soule Restaurant, 1931 W. Chicago Ave., and an update on development at the Polish Triangle, where Algren's quote appears (“For the masses who do the city’s labor also keep the city’s heart”).

East Village was Algren's 1930s haunt as a struggling writer. "Algren had a fine ear for the nuances of Chicago Polonia dialect," says the New York Times review of Wisniewski's book.

The working-class Polonia that gave way to East Village was raw material for Algren short stories and novels such as Never Come Morning, which brought on a feud with the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.

The Sinatra vehicle The Man With the Golden Arm inspired a sunnier response: EVA organized the Frankie Machine Garden at 1800 W. Haddon St., which next year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Breaking down Chicago's budget

As Chicago aldermen debate the city's 2018 budget, a skeptic gives the East Village Association on Monday a community development perspective on municipal finances.

Tom Tresser, a founder of the activist CivicLab group, will speak at 7 pm in the Happy Village, 1058 N. Wolcott Ave. Tresser is editor of "Chicago Is Not Broke," a collection of budget reform essays.

Chicago's $8.6 billion budget is a 3% increase from current spending. The 2018 proposal adds 425 new police officers, detectives and sergeants and kicks in another $63 million in police and fire pension contributions from new taxes, including higher phone charges on 911 service. A public hearing is set for 11am Wednesday at City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St.

While Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls the plan gimmick-free, it pulls $40 million from the city's Tax Increment Financing property-tax earmarks. TIFs also shore up the school budget. Tresser's TIF Illumination Project calls TIFs a $1.4 billion mayoral "slush fund."

Tresser is circulating an online petition opposing the budget, and his Public Defender Campaign argues against the practice of selling city assets. In a Crain's Chicago Business essay, Tresser advocates state reforms that would include the LaSalle Street tax on stock trades and a progressive income tax.

His CivicLab group plots strategy in a Nov. 11 organizing session at the Loyola University School of Law, 25 E. Pearson St.

The Monday agenda at Happy Village includes Anne Shaw in a "Meet the Candidate" segment. Shaw is a candidate to fill Cynthia Soto's 4th District state house seat in the March 20 primary.

Landmark neglect draws Hopkins' attention


Ald. Brian Hopkins and EVA president Michael VanDam discuss landmark buildings at the Happy Village patio.


East Village Association membership meeting
Oct. 2, 2017
Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.

Ald. Brian Hopkins hopes to discourage neglect of landmark buildings. East Village Association members Monday gave him feedback on his plan to add teeth to the city's landmark ordinance.

In calling the meeting at Happy Village to order, president Michael VanDam said member Rich Anselmo had proposed an EVA committee to monitor and prevent teardowns. In discussing the issue, 2nd Ward staff brought up Hopkins' draft ordinance, now in the city's Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards committee.

A damaged Logan Square landmark spurred Hopkins to action. The owner proposed that the structure was beyond saving and should be razed. The decay appeared to benefit the landlord; there were even indications of tampering. Yet willful neglect or gross negligence was hard to prove. When the East Village landmark district was organized in 2005, residents noted similar signs of landlord resistance.

Now the alderman proposes that if owners ignore a warning, the city should block demolition of an "unsafe or structurally compromised" property for 20 years. "The point of this is to let them know at the earliest stage of this process that they really have no choice but to monitor their landmark property," Hopkins said.

Hopkins contends that fines in the landmark ordinance, $500 to $1,000 a day, would keep landlords from gaming the system to get demolition permits for protected sites. Still, he admits that the city would be taking its chances that a housing-court judge would levy the fines. "You win some and you lose some," Hopkins said.

Planning chair Brian Foote suggested that the city still would have to demolish unsafe landmarks. He proposed that plans in character with the district be in place before demolition is approved. Hopkins suggested that zoning powers might not save a building, but could influence its replacement. He asked for EVA help in adding threatened structures to the landmark rolls.

Wells sheds light on ballpark night use


Ballfields will be lighted for night games at Wells High School.


East Village Association membership meeting
Sept. 11, 2017
Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.

President's Welcome

Michael VanDam called the EVA community meeting together with a reminder: The board meets at 6:30pm Monday, Sept. 18. Meeting locations have been moving around, so watch Facebook for notifications.

Field of Hope

Rita Raichoudhuri, principal at Wells High School, discussed ballpark development behind the building at 936 N. Ashland Ave. Timeframe for completion is by Halloween.

Initially, specs were to include a soccer and a baseball field. Zoning allows only an Illinois High School Association regulation-size soccer field. The baseball team can only practice but not play official games on the field. Two sets of bleachers, each holding 75 persons, will be on the East side of the field.

Neighbors in attendance raised concerns regarding the recently installed field lights. Lights will be used only for evening games, Raichoudhuri said, ending around 8pm. School officials don't have game times. The custodial schedule ends at 9pm so Raichoudhuri suggested the events would end an hour or so before that. Urban lighting guidelines were followed.

Wells principal surveys improved turf


Construction equipment prepares Wells grounds for artificial turf.

Outgoing Wells High School principal Rita Raichoudhuri will discuss Field of Hope ballfield construction, school issues and her new Chicago Public Schools job at Monday's East Village Association meeting.

Artificial turf for soccer and baseball are being installed in a $3 million project behind the school at 936 N. Ashland Ave.

Graduation rates rose this spring in citywide Chicago Public Schools statistics. University of Illinois at Chicago found better school effectiveness. Wells' results improved the school environment while its enrollment slipped to 365 last year.

This is Raichoudhuri's last month as principal. She has been named executive director of the Chicago schools Office of College and Career Success, which is in charge of guidance counseling and special academic programs. Wells runs advanced placement courses as well as technology and law academies.

Monday's meeting starts at 7pm in the Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave. The agenda is likely to include a recap on last month's West Town public safety meeting, at which aldermen pledged to reverse a decline in police manpower.

Aldermen pledge police force boost


Capt. Phil Kwasinski addresses an Aug. 31 public safety meeting with Aldermen Proco Joe Moreno and Brian Hopkins.

Two aldermen signed a pledge to fight for West Town police staffing at a Aug. 31 East Village Association special meeting. But they pushed back on notions of what they could get done.

The community letter they signed seeks return a police presence at the old 13th District Police Station within a year, and a return to more than 400 officers in the 12th District by the end of 2018.

While signing the letter, Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st Ward) argued that it would take the votes of 26 aldermen to reopen the 13th District police station, which closed in 2012.

"I don't sign anything that I'm not going to do. I'm going to fight for that," Moreno said. "But I like wins as well. And I think the win we could have now, with your support, is to increase the number of police offers and the transparency within the department. I'll take that fight to the mayor or to anybody else, any day of the week and twice on Sunday."

A capacity crowd of about 120 people filled the meeting, called on short notice, at the Bath House Cultural Center at 1019 N. Wolcott Ave.