Wicker Park's next fest thing

Jazz from the Charlie Hunter Trio, alternative rock by Polvo and Bishop Allen, dance from Dark Party, experimental music of Daedelus and pop with the 1900s and Ra Ra Riot the 1900s are among performers at the three music stages of Wicker Park Fest, July 26 and 27 from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Wicker Park Fest is staged on Damen Avenue between North and Schiller. Donation is $5 to benefit the Wicker Park & Bucktown Chamber of Commerce. Information is at wickerparkbucktown.com or (773) 384-2672.

Greening and your home at July 1 EVA meeting

By John Scheer 

Some remodeling products can save you big bucks in the first year of installation by reducing your energy consumption or providing you with a method to monitor what personal behaviors are using the most energy.

Others are healthy alternatives for products that are part of your everyday life.

Both types of "green" commodities will be explained July 1 in the general membership meeting of the East Village Association.

Giving details is guest Theresa Minarik-Okuley, the marketing manager for Greenmaker Supply, 2500 N. Pulaski Rd. Greenmaker opened for business in September 2005 and was founded by Ori J. Sivan and Joe Silver.

East Village residents are perpetually updating or repairing something in their homes. Minarik-Okuley will share selected items from the vast inventory of green products.

Please join her at 7 p.m. at the Happy Village Tavern, 1059 N. Wolcott, to learn more about options to improve your family’s home, and continue to support green-community efforts.

East Village’s quiet history

President’s Message by John Scheer

Longtime East Village residents have a wealth of knowledge and history about the neighborhood that has never been captured. These pioneers have added their own characteristics to the current culture of the East Village. This month’s message is a snapshot of one family that moved to the East Village, stayed through its evolution and became part of its fabric.

This is a story about Louie Topacio, son of Luis Topacio. Luis moved to East Village in 1971. He worked as a nurse at two jobs, St. Elizabeth Hospital and Cook County Hospital, to support his wife and family. Many of the nine sons and four daughters were adults but the family was still a top priority for the Topacios. Soon after arriving in East Village, Luis bought a modest two-flat on the same block where he was renting. Ten years later, Louie (one of the sons) and his wife Linda relocated to East Village and moved into the two flat with Luis.

Jane Byrne was mayor in the early 1980s when they moved in and the neighborhood was rough. There were very few businesses on Division Street, many vacant storefronts and a lot of vacant lots. Louie and Linda focused on working and raising a family. Louie worked at Norwegian American Hospital as an engineer while Linda worked in a clinic downtown. Within a year, they bought the two-flat next door and expanded the family presence.

Louie and Linda did their own improvements, such as replacing space heaters with a boiler and radiators. They stripped wallpaper and patched plaster to make this two-flat their home. They have raised four daughters, all of whom attended Andersen School, Holy Family and later Lane Tech. They first attended St Helen Church and later switched to St. Stephen King of Hungary, always keeping local and putting a priority on their family and neighborhood.

Gang activity was dominant and blatant. Louie’s style was to integrate into a mixed neighborhood while keeping close ties with other Filipino families. He developed friendships with many neighbors within a block or more. He sometimes visited the local taverns, including the Inner Town Pub. And he fostered a certain friendship with the gang-bangers who ran their own business his block and alley. In the early days, Louie would find bangers sitting on his front porch. When asked what they were doing there, they would answer, "Just hangin' out." So Louie would wave goodbye and recommend, "Don’t get in any trouble."

When Louie’s uncle died, he gave his third-hand car to the gang-banger who hung out across the street. After that, the family and their visitors were protected. Periodically, cars parked on the street would have their windows smashed, but not theirs. They did experience close calls, including stray bullets flying past their windows and a car burned in the vacant lot next door with some limited fire damage to their garage. Sometimes, the police confronted Louie and his family with guns drawn as they drove down their alley towards their garage. 

During the Harold Washington administration, in the mid-1980s, the city offered lots for sale, so the family purchased the vacant lot next door for $300. They erected a security fence around the property and installed a large sliding gate so they could park their cars in part of the lot. And they gave the back half to his father for a garden. Cousins and relatives started to relocate from the Philippines to this home in East Village. These relatives would settle in with Louie and Linda, get jobs, get married and within a couple of years move to their choice of neighborhood. And the cycle would start again.

Louie always kept close ties with these relatives and friends. They would have an annual get-together in their house, which included roasting a whole pig. They would share the garden oasis that his father had built. It contained a center gazebo, a Madonna, roses and a trellis growing a Filipino favorite, upo, a squash that grows up to 3 feet long. There were many other family gatherings for birthdays, weddings and holidays.

The father, Luis, had been a stage director and scriptwriter in the Philippines. And he continued to write and direct plays for the family’s enjoyment. Sometimes they were performed at their home, other times he would rent a hall for larger productions, such as the Three Kings and Nativity stories at Christmas. He wrote a play about Louie when he was a child still living in the Philippines. Louie is still very proud of his father’s work, as everything written in his play has come true.

Louie and Linda are still living in their East Village home. They are happy that they were led to this neighborhood and are happy that they have stayed. They created a positive influence on the East Village and developed close friendships with a diverse set of neighbors. The multiple generations of their family have created a chapter in East Village history.

Frankie Machine Garden: What's the deal?

By Marjorie Isaacson 

The 20th year of cultivation is underway at the Frankie Machine Community Garden. The East Village Association established this community garden at 1800 W. Haddon (one block south of Division at Wood) in 1988.

Today, there are 27 individual plots for neighborhood residents who do not have their own garden spaces at home. Gardeners share raspberry bushes and a mature peach tree in the parkway.

Frankie Machine Garden is one of 57 sites owned by NeighborSpace, a Chicago community land trust.

Frankie Machine is the title character in Nelson Algren’s novel
The Man with the Golden Arm
. His last name was Majcinek, and he was called Automatic Majcinek for his expertise in dealing cards. Eventually he became Frankie Machine everywhere from the polls to the police blotter.

Frankie’s "golden arm" was an extension of his steady wrist, both valuable tools for a gambler and card hustler. Over the years, as his addiction to heroin worsened, a small fortune was spent on his arm. Unfortunately, there was no return on this investment.

Nelson Algren had been a resident of the West Town neighborhood, and in this novel Frankie lived at 1860 W. Division St. While neither Nelson Algren nor Frankie Machine were gardening types, the name seemed appropriate for a community garden a block away.

Gardening and gambling both depend on skill and luck. And both can be addicting.

New police commander stops, looks, listens to East Village complaints

A day after East Village's new police commander heard complaints about speeding cars on North Winchester, a patrol car was parked at Winchester and Thomas. The next day, Judith Martin was checking out the alley escape route for a nearby home burglary that had been discussed.

Martin told East Village Association members on June 3 that she shared their concern about side streets being used as rush-hour speedways. "If you draw your attention to stop signs, nobody stops!" Martin said. Drivers will "just coast through" a stop sign, even one in front of the 13th District's Wood Street squad room. "People think it's like a caution sign."

Martin said the death of 4-year-old Maya Hirsch in a 2006 accident rallied her Lincoln Park neighbors to a Stop for Maya campaign to promote driving caution. She suggested Winchester residents petition for speed bumps and said patrol officers had been assigned to traffic hotspots.

"Crimes of opportunity" such as burglary and auto theft have increased in the district even as murder and other violent crime has dropped, she said. With the squad down five officers, Martin is staffing foot patrols with probationary officers who have finished field training.

The 13th District's lack of lockup facilities is a manpower drain, she said, because prisoners must be taken to adjoining police stations. "Unless we get a new district, I don't see a lockup reopening," Martin said.

More patrols will be added for this month's Fiestas Puertorriqueñas in an attempt to stanch a seasonal rise in violent crime, Martin said. She noted changes in the street-gang landscape and a rash of after-school problems along Chicago Avenue.

East Village’s top cop Judith Martin makes June 3 command performance

Commander Judith Martin of the Chicago Police’s 13th District is the special guest of East Village Association at its meeting Tuesday, June 3 at the Happy Village tavern, 1059 N. Wolcott.

Martin is the department’s former domestic violence coordinator, and volunteered at a battered women's shelter before joining the force. "I always tell everybody, 'Call the police.' But I know it's not that simple," Martin told the Chicago Reporter in 2002. “If I was being abused, I probably wouldn't call the police, either. I guess it's because I'm Irish and Russian, and we grew up learning that you keep that to yourself. … You don't air your dirty laundry." 

Martin’s 26 years in uniform also included Foster Avenue district patrol duty, the Internal Affairs Division and the citywide Organized Crime unit.

Police Superintendant Jody Weis replaced 21 of Chicago’s 25 district police commanders in March, a month after the former FBI agent took over as Chicago police chief. "Chicago will be watching you and this department,” Weis told the new commanders in a swearing-in ceremony. “Make us proud."

Leave questions for Commander Martin below.