Questions for police commander Gross

The guard is changing again at the Wood Street police station. Frank C. Gross took over in March as 13th District commander.

Commander Gross will meet with East Village residents at the June 6 East Village Association meeting at the Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott. When prompted for topics to cover, the EVA board made these suggestions:

  • Update on the current community-policing program.

  • Graffiti.

  • Summer increase in crime.

  • Neighborhood crime prevention and awareness.

  • Crime and vagrancy issues related to package liquor sales.

  • Click through to the story link for this article to leave your questions for Commander Gross. In the past year, gangs and drugs have been leading community concerns reported in the district, according to the Chicago Police website.

    After three years leading the 13th squad, Judith Martin now heads the police Special Events & Liaison section.

    The meeting starts at 7 p.m. Also on the agenda are a request from the Walgreens at 1650 W. Chicago Ave. to sell beer and wine and an introduction from a new business, the Real Naked Food grocery at 1909 W. Division St.

    LaSalle II school mural to be dedicated June 3

    Anna Soltys, Kamelia Hristeva and Michal Taylor apply ceramic tiles to the LaSalle II mural along Division Street, behind Jerzy Kenar's familiar mound sculpture at left. 

    Pupils at LaSalle II and Andersen schools are working toward the June 3 dedication of a mural that wraps around the Division Street side of the building at 1148 N. Honore.

    The students are aided by Kamelia Hristeva and Anna Soltys of Green Star Movement, which has built murals in several Chicago schools and parks, including Columbus School at 1003 N. Leavitt and Independence Park at 3945 N. Springfield.

    The bricolage mosaic incorporates recycled ceramic and reflective glass tiles and student-produced decorations. The design features the globe symbol that appears on the LaSalle II website and scenes suggesting the magnet school's foreign-language instruction in Arabic, Mandarin, Spanish and Urdu.

    Students from both LaSalle II and Andersen have embraced the project, Hristeva says. Neighborhood school Andersen will be merged into LaSalle II this fall.

    The Wicker Park Bucktown special service tax district is funding the mural, along with contributions from local businesses, says Betancourt Realty president Joe Betancourt, who is LaSalle II's green program coordinator. "The design reflects what we believe is the strength of the schools," Betancourt says.

    A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. June 3 on the school grounds. The ceremony was postponed from this week because rain had delayed mural construction.

    Meanwhile, Christy Webber Landscapes has begun replanting the Honore Street sideyard of the building, with Webber herself operating a small Bobcat earthmover early Monday evening.

    More demolition in East Village's future?

    814-820 N  Wood
    Demolition at 814-820 N. Wood (Tom Tomek photo)

    By Margie Isaacson 

    What do you think of when you think of East Village? This "sense of place" may seem like a vague emotion, but everyone from urban planners to real estate agents recognize it as critical to the value of a community.

    One of East Village’s most distinctive qualities is its vintage architecture. Even people who are not architecture enthusiasts would say original buildings help give our neighborhood its character. These buildings drew the economic reinvestment in the neighborhood in the 1980s.

    As the neighborhood began to look more habitable to middle-class sensibilities, other new residents began to move in. Household incomes rose 13% in five years, according to Census Bureau estimates. The two East Village census tracts west of Ashland Avenue now have median incomes of more than $60,000.

    The question of whether these century-old structures should be protected didn’t start with the establishment of the East Village Landmark District in 2006. The Alemeda Theater at Damen and Division, razed in 1971, was replaced by a strip mall. I moved here right after the YMCA at Division and Ashland was torn down (about 1981), replaced by Wendy’s. We were told by the City Council Zoning Committee we should consider ourselves lucky anyone wanted to invest in our neighborhood.

    Goldblatt's Building, 1625 W. Chicago (Stephen Rynkiewicz photo)

    Then there was the recommendation of the local Chamber of Commerce to demolish the Goldblatt's Building on Chicago Avenue at Ashland. The proposed new development was a single-story concrete block fruit and vegetable market with a projected lifespan of 20 years. The East Village Association was the major force in preventing this demolition in 1997. At the time, we recommended using the building for a new library, so this year’s opening of the West Town branch there was a rare happy ending.

    Huntley House
    Huntley House (Scott Rappe photo)

    Residential housing also disappeared at a rapid pace. The fifth-oldest building in Chicago, the 1858 Huntley House, was torn down in 2002. One alternative plan would have established a Chicago version of New York’s Tenement Museum, which is a major cultural tourism and educational institution. This opportunity was lost.

    Razed Com Ed substation (Scott Rappe photo)

    Just east of the Polish Triangle, the city’s second oldest electrical substation, an architectural gem at 1510 W. Division, was demolished in 2008, leaving a vacant lot and further depressing this stretch of Division Street.

    The damage from demolition has also spread to neighboring houses. On at least three separate instances, careless new construction destroyed the foundations of the adjacent structures. Residents discovered the damage when their bedroom walls separated from the floor and their beds slid into the gap. I followed the first case, where the contractor declared bankruptcy and the affected building owners received nothing. Happily for the new developer, there were now two lots available to make a jumbo building.

    Even if building owners are careful to demand good construction safeguards, there can be problems. Next-door residents may not have their buildings destroyed, but doors that are no longer plumb and the cupboards that hang slightly askew are permanent reminders that one person’s assertion of their property rights can affect others.

    1650 W Division (Scott Rappe photo)<br />
    1650 W. Division (Scott Rappe photo)
    (Scott Rappe photo)

    In 2004, then-Alderman Manny Flores and the East Village Association asked the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to evaluate the neighborhood. The commission agreed that the area should be protected. The commission said its "19th-century working-class housing, located on Chicago's Northwest Side, exemplifies the importance of small-scale, simply detailed cottages and small flat buildings to Chicago neighborhood history. This ensemble of buildings was home to German, Polish, and other European immigrants who settled in the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

    This proposal was not welcomed by all property owners, and was one factor that led to a reduction in the size of the landmarked area. Consequently, many buildings outside the district are of the same quality as those within it. Some are even more distinctive. One of them was the area's remaining French Empire-style building at 820 N. Damen, which was demolished on May 13. Ald. Proco Joe Moreno asked the property owner to retain the exterior, but the owner refused.

    The brief slowdown of demolition in the past few years is simply a byproduct of the economic slowdown. The question of how much we value our neighborhood’s architectural legacy still remains unanswered.

    1546 W Augusta
    1546 W. Augusta Blvd. (Scott Rappe photo)

    There are sound economic and environmental reasons for retaining any existing buildings. The quality of new construction is too often significantly inferior to that of the buildings they replace. Much of the new construction in West Town was built using the split-face concrete blocks, and now require remediation for water and mold damage. Our vintage buildings have stood for well over a century and will last for many more, like the 300-400 year-old buildings so common throughout Europe.

    More facts are available on the long-term environmental consequences of demolishing buildings. Some of the real costs of development that have previously been ignored have been quantified. This evidence has been used by some governments to strengthen building codes and regulations to make sure developers pay more of the real costs for their projects. Despite the fact that Chicago had a mayor who was known as “green” and has a purported commitment to mitigating climate change, Chicago remains a city that prioritizes development over environmental sustainability.

    Finally, research on historic and landmark areas shows that properties in these locations have higher real estate values, and that they maintain these values during times when other areas see their property values decline. We know that some of the cachet of our neighborhood is that it doesn’t look like everyplace else, but with each original building we tear down, we lose part of that specialness.

    In the short term, some property owners and developers will make money. But if we allow business as usual to continue, one day we’ll find that we’ve killed the goose that laid the golden egg, and will have destroyed a legacy.

    Walgreens seeks to lift liquor moratorium

    By Christine Hansen, Walgreens store manager, 1650 W. Chicago Ave.

    An Added Convenience at Your Local Walgreens

    Walgreens is reintroducing a limited selection of beer and wine in stores across the country in response to requests from customers who desire a one-stop shopping experience. Customers come to us for health and beauty products as well as convenience — picking up school or office supplies, a greeting card, a magazine or a snack. This is another convenience item our customers would like available to them in our stores.

    Here in Chicago, more than 60 local stores currently offer this product line as an added convenience for our customers.

    As you may know, your neighborhood store at 1650 W. Chicago Ave. currently does not sell beer and wine due to an existing moratorium in the area. Walgreens seeks to lift the moratorium to reintroduce a small selection of beer and wine at this store to complement our long list of other convenient products.

    We have met with 1st Ward Ald. Proco Moreno on this issue, and look forward to presenting our plans to you at an upcoming East Village Association meeting. Walgreens representatives will be on hand to answer any questions or concerns so you are fully briefed on our plans.

    We are proposing a very modest selection of beer and wine that will make up less than 2% of the total shelf space within the store. We’re confident our regular customers won’t notice a change in atmosphere of their neighborhood store.

    It’s important to note that Walgreens will NOT sell liquor, single servings of beer or fortified wine products. This assortment has been carefully selected to appeal to the casual, moderate beer and wine drinkers. To see firsthand this limited selection, please visit our store in the 1st Ward at 1372 N. Milwaukee, which currently sells this beer and wine.

    With this added product line comes great responsibility, and Walgreens is committed to upholding its history as a champion of the communities we are fortunate enough to serve. Again, we welcome your feedback to our plans and look forward to meeting with the East Village Association soon.

    How's your cell-phone coverage?

    Cell tower atop 2002 W. Chicago Ave.
    An AT&T repairman was working Mother's Day, tool belt heavy with gadgets to check land lines in the alley behind Damen Avenue. Meanwhile, Mom is getting a cell phone and we were checking the coverage. Our most reliable tool: "Can you hear me now?"

    Websites such as and feature data on cell towers, but with a lot of noise: Records are incomplete, and leased towers don't disclose which carriers use them. A tower listed on Western Avenue looked more like flag streamers at a used-car lot.

    So the best source to gauge call quality might just be you. Leave comments on your cell-phone experience in East Village, particularly if you can weigh in on the iPhone slugfest between AT&T and Verizon.

    East Village signs get redesign

    Board meeting minutes for May 9 submitted by Dana Palmer

    Board Members: Greg Nagel, Neal McKnight, KK Goh, Dana Palmer, Stephen Rynkiewicz, Scott Rappe and Tom Tomek. Non-Board Members: Marjorie Issacson. Meeting commenced: 6:35 p.m.

    East Village signs
    Tom and Paula Tomek completed the design for street signs. Now, Tom Tomek will speak with Ronda Locke and Ald. Proco Joe Moreno about getting permission to have the signs hung throughout the neighborhood. Tomek will also begin to research companies to produce the signs.

    Roots Handmade Pizza
    Neal McKnight will contact Roots owners to obtain a copy of the final letter with concessions agreed to and have the letter published in the EVA newsletter.

    Former Pizza Hut site
    According to Scott Rappe, the site at 1601 W. Division has been sold. So, Rappe is pulling together interested parties such as the Chamber of Commerce, EVA and the Polish Triangle steering committee to meet on May 21 and speak about development options. This is to gather a general consensus of what development would be acceptable to neighbors and to provide that information to the alderman.

    Walgreens on Chicago Avenue
    The public-relations agency for Walgreens is asking for the liquor moratorium to be lifted so that they can begin to sell liquor at 1650 W. Chicago Ave. Greg Nagel has asked them to submit an article to the newsletter about what they are asking from EVA. Then this issue will be called to a vote at a general membership meeting.

    Two properties at 814-820 N. Wood are set for demolition. McKnight and Rappe met with the developer and the alderman regarding preserving the existing buildings on those sites. However, zoning permits have already been issued and plans are under way to build a 6-unit building and a 3-unit building. McKnight and Rappe are looking into the details of the zoning and plans of the developer to find out if there is a way of keeping one of the existing buildings.

    Dog waste bag dispenser on Chestnut Street at Greenview Senior Apartments, 847 N. Greenview 
    Damen & Augusta Food
    Nagel spoke with owner Eddie Radwan and his representatives about the board's decision to not have a general membership vote on lifting the liquor moratorium so that he can start selling liquor.

    Chicago Bowl
    Nagel was informed that there are plans to keep moving forward with the plans for the bowling alley with a potential opening date in 2012.

    Nagel and KK Goh will meet May 12 to obtain a new post office box at the U.S. Postal Service location on Ashland Avenue.

    Dog nuisance
    Dana Palmer will look at possible dog poo bag dispenser options and then collaborate with the alderman's office about purchasing those dispensers for the neighborhood.

    Trees on Augusta
    According to McKnight, Mark Duntmann's company will be completing the tree survey in 6-8 weeks.

    Cleaning campaign
    The board agreed that the majority of the litter in the neighborhood has to do with lack of enforcement for the handbill ordinance. McKnight agreed to write an article for the newsletter about the ordinance and how to report violations to 311.

    Guest speakers
    June 6: Frank Gross, new police commander for the Wood Street station. Business minute: Scott Rappe with ask Lauren Yucan with Real Naked Food.

    July 11: Nagel will ask Streets and Sanitation Supt. Manny Gonzalez.

    Meeting adjourned: 7:51 p.m.

    Wood Street buildings slated for demolition

    814 N Wood820 N Wood
    814 N. Wood820 N. Wood

    By Scott Rappe 

    Two lovely buildings are coming down in the 800 block of Wood, one an iconic East Village four-flat, the other a unique Empire-style structure.

    The new owner will build "standard three flats" on each lot, according to Raymond Valadez, chief of staff to 1st Ward Ald. Proco Joe Moreno. Valadez said the designs can be built as of right. East Village Association volunteers are attempting to meet with Moreno and the developer.

    It is sad to note that this block was on the preliminary 2005 map for the city's East Village Landmark District and later removed. Ironically, the Empire-style building at 820 N. Wood was featured on the city's landmarks website to illustrate the East Village district. The photo was removed after EVA made inquiries Monday about demolition permits at the two addresses.

    These will be the fourth and fifth vintage buildings to be demolished on Wood Street between Chicago & Armitage in the past month.