For nearly a year, Lee Bey and I were neighbors in Pullman, living a few doors down from each other on the same stretch of workers’ cottages on St. Lawrence Avenue. We did not know each other at the time—except, of course, in the way that we all learn to recognize our unnamed neighbors with curiosity, apprehension, fondness brewed from familiarity. I can say that we definitely must have brushed elbows, standing on the 115th Street platform awaiting the forever-late inbound train; he can recall how he one day passed Cottage Grove Avenue to see me setting up the Pullman Free Library in the corner storefront. It was only after I moved out of Chicago altogether that we became Facebook friends and pieced together our neighborly past.
With its collection of musicians, murals, theaters, artists’ studios, violin-makers, corsetieres; with its open-air courtyard that appears sudden as a breeze from the hollow of the fourth floor; with its streams of children hurrying to and from lessons—with all this strung together via a vintage elevator with operator, the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue is one of the best places in the city to peer into windows in order to catch glimpses of the curious lives within. It’s the kind of place that seems, at times, to contain every imaginable thing or person you could ever wish to meet. But its most tempting window—the eye of the Fine Arts Building—belongs to the second-floor storefront, which was, until recently, home to the Selected Works Used Books and Sheet Music bookstore.