Jason Schumer

Best of Roseland & Pullman 2019

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Roseland has had many names.

The Potawatomi (Bodéwadmi) called the land “Chicaugou” or the “wild onion,” a knowing nod to the willful landscape stewarded by the Council of Three Fires (an alliance of the Potawatomi, Ottawa [Odawaa], and Chippewa [Ojibwe] tribes). The Indian Removal Act and 1821 and 1833 Treaties of Chicago ceded fifteen million acres to the government, laying the foundation for forced removal. At the concluding ceremony for the 1833 treaty, eight hundred Native people gathered for the last recorded war dance in the Chicago area. The treaty required that they evacuate the land and move west of the Mississippi River.

After an arduous journey across the Atlantic in 1849, three siblings and their families called the land “de Hooge Prairie”—or the High Prairie, a fitting moniker for the higher, dry ground they inhabited (as compared to “de Laage Prairie” or the Low Prairie, now known as South Holland). Eventually, while mourning the seventeen loved ones (including thirteen children) they lost to cholera during the forty-two-day voyage, the Dutch settlers would come to call the land Hope. Its flowers enraptured James H. Bowen, the president of the Calumet and Chicago Canal and Dock Company, who would propose dubbing the area Roseland in 1873.

In 1880, Bowen helped contribute to the area’s economic mobility and labor history by overseeing the sale of more than 4,000 acres on Roseland’s eastern edge to the Pullman Land Association for the town and Pullman Car Works.

Roughly a decade later, Roseland officially became part of Chicago as the city prepared to regale the masses at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. It would include the neighborhoods of Fernwood, Lilydale, and Princeton Park.

Over the years, European immigrants folded themselves into the community, cultivating new lives and traditions in a land previously unknown by them. Generations later, the Great Migration would usher in scores of African Americans from many parts of the South in hopes of realizing opportunity and safety, and experiencing the warmth of another sun.

By the time I was growing up in Roseland, the area had seen better days. Over time, the descendants of settlers and immigrants blended in and were part of the white flight during the Great Migration. The transition was not seamless, to say the least. Restrictive covenants, race riots, and redlining engineered barriers that made cultivating prosperity an uphill battle for the African-American southerners-made-midwesterners. The business district along Michigan Avenue began slowly hemorrhaging shops, contributing to now long-vacant lots.

My childhood and adolescence are peppered with memories of running all over Fernwood Park and being in community with the families who’ve lived on my block for the better part of fifty years. As a kid, I’d pop across the tracks just west of Eggleston with my mom and head over to Michigan Avenue to get donuts from Mr. Bulloch or a new watch battery or take piano lessons. After a stint in Michigan, my maternal grandparents migrated to Chicago and lived in Bronzeville in the former Stateway Gardens. After amassing enough savings, they traipsed over to view a little red brick home on 105th off Halsted that my grandmother had fallen in love with while passing by. The kind Irish American man who built the house gave my grandparents a tour, and in 1971, $28,500 changed hands and the home became a linchpin in my family’s history. 

My grandmother, who’d grown up picking hundreds of pounds of cotton a day in Mound Bayou, Mississippi, would decorate our home with crystal glasses from Marshall Field’s, fill the hallways with Mahalia Jackson’s voice, and grow roses in our backyard. I grew up tending to and marveling at that garden—and falling in love with the community that molded me, the community that was a symbol of prosperity for my sharecropper grandparents, the community that produced a president and set the tone for my current chapter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Roseland has been many things to many people over the years. 

After World War I, descendants of the Delaware, Kickapoo, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox, and Wyandot tribes began migrating back to Chicagoland, now the third largest urban Native population in the country, with a representation of more than one hundred tribal nations.

In 1999, 150 years after the Dutch settlers’ journey, five hundred descendants of Gerrit, Jannetje, Geertje, Jakob, Hark, and Aaltje gathered in Lansing to commemorate their family’s time in the land that would become Chicago. 

And today, more than 40,000 Black Roselanders—my family included—call this neighborhood home.

Rayshauna Gray is a policy coordinator with History Design Studio fellow at Harvard University, inaugural fellow and committee member at the Cambridge Historical Society, and researcher at Tufts University’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy. Her upcoming book, Roseland, will be published in fall 2020 by Belt Publishing. She is working on Up the Antebellum, a public history project that reconstructs the family trees of enslaved African Americans and finds living descendants.

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Best View in the Calumet Region
U.S. Bank near Pullman

One of the best views on the Southeast Side or in the greater Calumet Region is at the top of the U.S. Bank near Pullman.

The top of the bank tower offers sweeping views of the downtown skyline in the Loop, of nearby windmills and factories, and of the ceaseless river of traffic on the Bishop Ford Expressway. At more than 130 feet tall, the commercial office building is the tallest high-rise at the southernmost edge of the city. It was originally intended to be seventeen stories when it was planned in the early 1970s, but it opened in 1974 with twelve stories.

Reminiscent of the Ruby Tower on the Hochhaus Lyoner Straße 40 in Frankfurt, Germany, the modernist bank tower was constructed with aggregate and a white and blue glass facade. It was last renovated in a significant way in 2006.

The building, once owned by Pullman Bank before eventually being bought out by U.S. Bank, is also home to the half-century-old Calumet Area Industrial Commission. But its panoramic view of the South Side is its most memorable feature. From the top, you’ll end up with many Insta-worthy posts. (Joseph S. Pete)

U.S. Bank Pullman branch, 1000 E. 111th St. Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm; Saturday, 9am–1pm; closed Sunday. locations.usbank.com

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Best DJ Booth on a Commute

95th Street Red Line DJ Booth

milo bosh

It’s after 6pm on a Friday, and an electronic mix of Bill Withers’s “Harlem” is thumping through the halls of the 95th Red Line station. A few heads perk up from the crowd of weary commuters riding up the escalators, searching for the source of the music. “What is going on over there?” one asks out loud, looking in the direction of a 200-square-foot booth with a glass storefront, bathed in pink neon light and pulsing with music. The room is commanded by a man, in a black and yellow patterned shirt and oversized headphones, who is presiding over a long glowing DJ table full of sound equipment. “You can really swing and shake your pretty thing,” the speakers sing, “the parties are out of sight!”

A gentleman in a brown suit moves on by, mouthing along to the lyrics. Soon after, a CTA worker wearing the agency neon yellow and orange jacket shows off his moves next to the turnstiles as a mother and son walk past, the boy spinning circles in his vibrant blue jacket in time to the music. Before long, a small group has gathered at the doorway of the room, livestreaming the DJ on their phones as they bop along to the beat, dancing off a week’s worth of stress. “Go girl!” a passerby exclaims at a woman boogying in a black jacket, and they high five before going their separate ways, both beaming. “I think it’s kind of cool,” said Adam Grey, who was commuting from Navy Pier and seeing the booth in action for the first time. “I kind of wonder what the purpose of it isI don’t see them advertising any products or anything like that.”

What was going on is AESOP (An Extended Song of Our People), a project developed by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates for the north terminal of the newly renovated 95th Red Line station, which reopened earlier this year. On Monday mornings DJ Ayana Contreras spins vintage soul to soothe the spirits of reluctant commuters, and on Friday evenings DJ Duane Powell plays house music to give people “that weekend pep,” as he put it. The two DJs are on every week until at least the end of the year, and there are plans to add a storytelling aspect so that the stories of Black residents from the community can be heard as well. 

Powell said that because the station was the last stop on the Red Line, anyone commuting up from further south would be able to hear the music. He loved playing music at the station, and described the experience as a kind of homecoming after spending a great deal of his childhood in the terminal: “I grew up in this terminal, because I’m from 115th Street. And so coming from high school, when I was promoting parties, handing out fliers and posters when I grew up… it’s like coming back home.” 

Despite being a fixture at the station since April, many people are still encountering the live DJ booth for the first time and experiencing an unexpected jolt of joy. Then there are the regulars: “The workers love it,” said Powell. “Today I was a few minutes late and they’re like, ‘Hurry up!’ You know, they just dance and groove all day.” (Tammy Xu)

95th/Dan Ryan Red Line Station, North Terminal, 14 W. 95th St. Monday, 7am–10am; Friday, 4pm–7pm. Through December 2019. transitchicago.com/art

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Best Brewery Tour

Argus Brewery

More than a hundred years ago, when Pullman was an industrial town where workers lived, ate, and prayed, Joseph Schlitz had a brilliant idea. At the time, the sale and consumption of alcohol was prohibited in Pullman (at least to the rank-and-file—supervisors and other upper-class people were served drinks at the Hotel Florence), along with other ‘vices’ like gambling and prostitution. These rules, decried by the thousands of European working-class immigrants who worked the Pullman factories, only extended as far as the railroad tracks along present-day Cottage Grove, currently used by the Metra Electric line.

Just west of the tracks, minutes away from where Pullman workers lived, Schlitz bought out and paid for the construction of ‘Schlitz row,’ a whole block devoted to gambling, bars, and brothels. Rumor has it that workers would take the alleys when going to and from Schlitz row so as not to alert their neighbors that they were up to no good.

Two buildings still exist from Schlitz row. One is a Schlitz tied-house, which was a bar that Schlitz bought and paid for, but could only serve Schlitz beer, and which still has the Schlitz globe logo embedded above the entrance. During the tour, I was told that the story behind the logo is that Schlitz, having inherited the brewery, was asked at a meeting of shareholders how he was going to run the business. Apparently he took his belt off, looped it around a globe at the table, and said “We’re going to take over the world.” The Weekly was not able to substantiate this story, and in fact it seems unlikely, but admittedly it makes for a great tale.

The other still-existing building is what was formerly the Schlitz stables, which housed the horses that pulled carriages of beer to deliver around the city, and what is now the home of Argus Brewery.

To some extent, Argus Brewery carries on the Schlitz tradition. It envisions itself as part of the Pullman neighborhood, but, being across the tracks, it is squarely in Roseland. I attended a recent brewery tour, which Argus has been doing every few Saturdays for eight years. Nick and JT were our guides as we drank beer, learned about Argus history, and got a peek into their brewing process.

Let’s start with the important facts: the Argus Brewery tour does not skimp on the beer. Everybody got one of the Paschke Pilsners at the start, made with Polish hops and named after the Chicago Polish-American artist Ed Paschke, while Nick went over the history of the brewery. Next we went straight to the bar upstairs, where we could sample four established Argus beers and two experimental brews—one a Hefeweizen, and the other a pale ale with Citra hops. There were containers of popcorn scattered around the room, which had a pool and shuffleboard table, along with a sign near a backdoor that said “HIPPIES USE BACKDOOR → NO EXCEPTIONS.” Here we were joined by Libby, a friendly cat with a splotchy black-and-white coat. Nick explained that brewery cats (Argus had two) were traditional due to their ‘mousekeeping’ abilities—with all the grain that breweries went through, mice can cause big problems.

After drinking and chatting for a solid twenty to thirty minutes, we were led to see the actual brewing process by Melissa, who showed how the grain was milled, sent to the chambers, and finally transferred to several holding tanks where each brew fermented. We took an elevator that, back in the day, was powered by horse and could have fit more than fifty people, to the lower level where the beer is filtered, bottled, and labeled.

Argus stocks several stores and bars throughout Chicago and the suburbs. Their beers range from sweet honey ginger to vanilla-flavored brown ales, to IPAs and Pilsners and Argus lagers. Many of their labels and beer names feature fantastical creatures, like the Pegasus IPA, or the Argus Lager, which has an illustration of Argus Panoptes, a hundred-eyed giant from Greek mythology. (Adam Przybyl)

Argus Brewery, 11314 S. Front Ave. Tours offered select Saturdays, next available date is September 28, for $15 per person. (773) 941-4050. argusbrewery.com

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Best Thrift Store for a Good Cause

Roseland Christian Ministries Thrift Store

milo bosh

On a warm weekend afternoon in August, a hodgepodge collection of furniture sits on the sidewalk outside Roseland Christian Ministries’ thrift store, soaking up the sunshine. Volunteers bustle around the brown and red painted building, arranging more furniture outside to tempt passersby and bringing donated items inside, past aisles of children’s clothing and jewelry display cases. Customers line up to purchase items they’ve discovered from the carefully organized racks of shoes, clothing, and accessories, each item neatly sorted by size and tagged with the price.

Store manager Jamal Spells, who was working the cash register, says that although the store has been around for twenty years it has a perpetual status as a hidden gem. “To this day, when people come they always say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this store was here!’ If I had a dime for every time somebody said that,” said Spells, laughing. 

The thrift store’s underdog status doesn’t discourage the store’s group of volunteers, which consists of eight regulars and others who are referred to the store through school or community service, including most recently thirty-four students from Trinity Christian College. The volunteers do a great deal of work, from processing the overflowing crate of black garbage bags in the intake room, to sorting and tagging each item with the price, to organizing the merchandise across the store’s three levels. All of their work helps support the thrift store’s mission, which Spells says is “to serve God and better serve our community.” Proceeds from sales go toward funding Roseland Christian Ministries’ other programs, which include a food pantry, a weekday free lunch program, and a recently renovated women and children’s shelter with capacity for twenty families. 

If you need even more reasons to check it out, consider the prices. Clothes normally range from one to three dollars, but the current summer sale has them priced at fifty cents apiece. The store also carries housewares, a sizeable assortment of board games, an adorable wall full of stuffed animals, and shelves of books and (mostly VHS) movies. There’s also a furniture section, full of items such as a twenty-five-dollar armchair, a sixty-dollar sofa, and a handsome mahogany vanity and dresser set for ninety-five. All furniture items can be delivered to customers in Roseland for an additional twenty-five dollars, or surrounding areas for thirty-six dollars. (Tammy Xu)

Roseland Christian Ministries Thrift Store, 33 E. 111th Pl. (773) 468-0262. Thursday–Saturday, 10am–4:30pm. roselandchristianministries.org

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