Thursday, March 16, 2006

South Michigan Avenue Blues

I'm back, faithful readers (or reader, as the case may be). For the first time, life has derailed my blog. Not to worry, though, as plenty of thoughts are racing through my head.

First off, thanks to Chris at localvertical, my new top referring link. Check it out.

A few weeks ago I pondered the transition of Millennium Park in Chicago from industrial railyard to urban oasis. The swift development of residential property in the Loop is a positive by-product. This trend towards downtown living does not end at Adams Street however. South Michigan Avenue is quickly becoming a canyon of newly constructed modern condominiums and loft conversions, and the impact on the urban fabric is significant. An infusion of residents into a blighted area is a good thing, but the number of smaller scale older buildings yielding to contemporary high-rises is alarming. If you haven't seen South Michigan Avenue in a while, you may not recognize it.

From the north, the parade of new condos is evident, as the streetscape is dotted with construction cranes and newly cleared lots. From the south, the massive expansion of McCormick Place is surely to spawn additional development. The result is a number of low-rise vintage buildings uncomfortably sandwiched by their new neighbors. The condos require off-street parking, resulting in several floors of bland parking garage architecture flanking the more pedestrian friendly low-rise commercial structures. How long these old buildings will survive is anyone's guess.

Stuck in the middle of this crush from north and south is the Chess Records Office and Studio, 2120 S. Michigan Avenue. This modest structure is of monumental significance in the history of music. The building served as a landing for the great African-American blues singers and a launching pad for a few scruffy English rockers in the mid 1960's. The building just may be at the crossroads of rock music as we know it. The building is landmarked and is probably protected from demolition (I say probably only because anything can happen in the Windy City). The context however, is in danger of irreversible change.

Change is good, but let's not cast a shadow over our past.

Listen: Hidden Charms by Howlin' Wolf, written by Willie Dixon

Buy it: Howlin' Wolf: His Best

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Blogger Chris said...

Thanks for the kind words Mark!

This is a great write; believe it or not, I've only been to the Chicago area once, and that was to Villa Park over 25 years ago. I'm thinking that barely qualifies as Chicago ;)

I'm in the Jacksonville, Florida, area and much of the same "condo-izing" is happening here, casuing almost a total loss of the "Old Florida" us natives will miss dearly.

6:50 PM  

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