The National Trust is participating in the 2012 Pacifico Beer summer promotion, Make Adventure Happen, in which we are competing for a portion of $100,000 based on the number of votes we receive (voting instructions at the end of the post).
To raise awareness for the contest, we've partnered with five preservation fans to highlight "Preservation Adventures" in cities and states across America. This week's guest blogger is Matt Cole from Chicago, Illinois. We've been a fan of Matt's for a long time on Twitter (@urbanmatt), but also love the fact that in his professional life he coordinates the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative, a not-for-profit program at Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago dedicated to preserving greystones and celebrating greystone neighborhoods.
Everyone has their own particular approach to travel and exploring a new city. In a cliché dichotomy, some like to pick and choose amongst a broad range of options, racing from one activity to another to make sure they see and experience as much as possible, while others prefer to take more immersive approach -- staying in a particular neighborhood in order to interact with the locals, explore the architecture, and absorb a greater sense of place.
I tend to fall in the latter category. In fact, given my tight schedule and even tighter budget, my big three trip planning questions are: where can I linger and not get bored; where can I see some great old buildings; and last, but not least, where can I get some seriously good eats?
Linger in Logan Square
Therefore, when visitors ask me what they should do in Chicago, I recommend that they spend a day in the Logan Square neighborhood. Located 20 minutes northwest of the downtown Loop on the O’Hare Branch of the Blue “L” Line, the community takes its name from the traffic circle linking Logan Boulevard, Kedzie Boulevard, and Milwaukee Avenue and presided over by the 70-foot tall, eagle-topped Illinois Centennial Monument by architect Henry Bacon (perhaps best known for designing the Lincoln Memorial).
Logan Square’s history is rich, varied, and layered: starting with Norwegian and Irish immigrants, segueing to a vibrant Hispanic and Polish enclave, and, more recently, becoming popular with artists, hipsters, and the stroller-set. The neighborhood also has a well-established track record of historic preservation activism.
A Neighborhood Mainstay
Start your day off right with brunch at Lula Café (2357 North Kedzie Boulevard). Located in the brick and terra cotta clad Logan Square Auditorium (built 1911), Lula opened in the 1990s as a small coffee shop. The restaurant’s success has charted the steady revitalization of the community, expanding into successive storefronts over the years -- the most recent renovation taking place in November 2011. Still operated by original owners Jason Himmel and Amalea Tshilds, Lula offers an evolving menu of options focused on local, seasonal ingredients. Grab a patio table for great al fresco dining and people watching.
Should Lula be packed, which is not uncommon on weekends, head up the street to Jam for a contemporary take on breakfast comfort food served up in a 1911 mixed-used apartment clad in green and white Tiffany glazed brick.
Explore the Emerald Necklace
Now that you are full and caffeinated, head east from Lula and spend some time exploring Logan Boulevard -- one of the best preserved sections of Chicago’s 26-mile long “emerald necklace” of parks and boulevards. Logan Boulevard features an architecturally diverse mix of mansions, two- and three-flat homes, apartments, and religious structures arrayed along deep yards fronting wide, tree-lined parkways. Many of these buildings are so-called “greystones,” which are best thought of as Chicago’s cooler/hipper limestone-clad cousins to New York’s brownstones.
Thanks to the longtime efforts of community residents, a 2.5 mile section of the park and boulevard system -- including Logan Boulevard -- in Logan Square was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1985 and designated a City of Chicago Landmark District in 2005. More recently, the City of Chicago just completed a nomination to list the remainder of the emerald necklace on the National Register.
This “Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District” will make more than 3,000 properties -- including 600 greystones -- eligible to access state and federal tax incentives to support historically-sensitive rehab. Many of these buildings are located in low-to-moderate income neighborhoods on Chicago’s West and South, which will create opportunities to work with longtime residents to promote additional revitalization based on local heritage and culture.
Perhaps Something A Little More Strenuous?
If looking at great vernacular architecture doesn’t get your adrenaline pumping the same way it does for me, you may want to give the 1.5-acre Logan Square Skate Park (2430 West Logan Blvd) a try. Tucked under the Kennedy Expressway, the skate park serves a gateway to Logan Square and adds some much needed vibrancy to what was previously a dead zone of activity at the eastern edge of Logan Boulevard. The park is bound by an eclectic sculpture of salvaged metal by local artist Lucy Slivinski.
This Old Movie House
Ok, I’ll acknowledge that some people actually like to relax on their vacations. So, if you need a break from walking or if the weather doesn’t cooperate with your visit, drop by the Logan Theatre (2646 North Milwaukee Avenue) for a film -- matinee tickets are only $5.50. Opened in 1915, the Logan got an extensive and much needed facelift in 2011 that restored many of the theatre’s original architectural details while also upgrading the seating, sound, and projection systems. Plus, you can grab an adult beverage in the new lounge, which also offers up open mic comedy on Monday nights.
Eat, Drink, and… Sleep
Jane Jacobs once noted that new ideas need old buildings. I would take this idea in a slightly different direction and argue that good food requires old buildings in revitalizing neighborhoods. So if you are as hungry as I would be after a full day of sightseeing, skateboarding, and movie watching, Logan Square offers a number of eating options that exemplify this idea.
My first recommendation is Yusho (2853 North Kedzie), which occupies a narrow turn-of-the-last-century storefront on a bustling and diverse section of Kedzie Avenue. The restaurant offers updated versions of Japanese street food in a modern space featuring reclaimed materials, rope-wrapped light fixtures, and what might be the tallest bar seating in Chicago. Much of the food is grilled over imported charcoal backed up by a craft cocktail program and a large selection of Japanese whiskey. Be sure to save room for the rotating selection of soft serve ice cream and watch your step coming off those bar stools.
If upscale gastropub fare is more in your wheel house, then head over to Longman & Eagle (2657 North Kedzie). Located in a two-story commercial structure built in 1905, Longman & Eagle bills itself as a modern take on an old Chicago neighborhood inn. Like all such restaurants worth their ampersands, the restaurant offers up plenty of wood, tattooed servers, and (seriously) strong craft cocktails. However, all of this is in the service of highlighting chef’s Jared Wentworths Michelin-starred food.
If for some reason or another you find yourself in need of a bed for the evening, Longman & Eagle also has six casual yet well-appointed rooms starting as low as $85 per night. Each room features custom designed furniture and a curated selections of artwork unique to each space.
You can support our preservation work by voting daily at www.PacificoAdventure.com. A contest code is required to vote -- codes are available on specially marked packages of Pacifico beer, in bars and restaurants, by texting 23000, or by clicking “GET CODE" online.