Saturday, July 10, 2010

I Really Like It Here: An Introduction

Bridgeport is one of the oldest, most storied neighborhoods in Chicago. It is also one of the most diverse. But diversity is generally not the first thing a lot of people think of, when they think of Bridgeport. They think of mayors and patronage workers and street corner toughs defending their little part of the neighborhood from guys who live a few blocks away.

Bridgeport was always diverse, that’s why there were fights. Everyone thinks of the Irish and Poles, but their numbers were rivaled by Germans, Italians, and Russians. And now they are each outnumbered by Hispanics, who’ve almost managed to restore Chicago’s sagging population everywhere, but also by Chinese spilling over from Chinatown, and possibly by art students, priced out of Wicker Park.

There are 2 distinct arts empires on Morgan Street, there are 2 separate Chinese dress shops within 3 blocks on Wallace, little corner storefronts crammed with pretty things, and there are 2 destination restaurants that could have been lifted out from Lincoln Park, one of them specialist in local foods and organics, and one of them in nouveau Chinese.

And a lot of the guys who grew up here are still around. My landlord was one of them. He grew up in the 1960s in an apartment with 8 kids across the street from the firehouse. He was a fireman himself, for awhile, until he got injured in a bombing near McCormick Place. He had a patronage job he says took 7 years off his life by sheer tedium, before he borrowed $25,000 cash from a friend to put the down-payment on his first 6 flat. Now he’s got a little fleet of apartment buildings he keeps up himself. He keeps busy coaching a baseball team of 12 year olds, and he’s got a son who plays in the minor leagues. The neighbors tease him because his son’s in a feeder camp for the Cubs.

Occasionally he’ll chuckle about the old days, playing curb ball in the street and the “good old fights” they used to have in Donovan Park. But for the most part he’s pleased to see new things happening in Bridgeport. He sees the art galleries accumulate around Morgan Street, and he’s curious. He doesn’t really go over there to hang out with the 20 year olds when they have openings and parties. He’ll go over to the Bridgeport CafĂ© on 31st Street, where they roast their own coffee, that’s about as close as he gets. He’s curious though.

Diversity is supposed to be good for people. Creative class workers are said to seek it out because they find it stimulating. Minorities are sometimes said to suffer if they live in isolation, and poor people are often said to benefit from the example set by people richer than themselves. But people living in geographic proximity can still be almost entirely separate.

It really is stimulating to walk down the street in Bridgeport with its juxtapositions of very different people and things. But it could be even more stimulating if there were a good excuse to actually talk to people you might have nothing else in common with, except you happen to live in the same place. That’s what I’m hoping for by launching a blog. People are friendly here, compared to neighborhoods where strangers never say hello. I am hoping with a small excuse they’ll be willing to talk about what they’re up to, what they think about. Either to me directly, for some post I’m making up, or by posting comments of their own in response.

We’re lucky to be here right now, as Bridgeport changes. I’m hoping to add to the record of what this moment of change in Bridgeport is like.


  1. I love it here ... home in Bridgeport! I grew up on 34th Pl near Morgan and graduated from Armour School in 1965 ... by 1971 I found myself in Vietnam. I remember the first time I went to a tavern with my Dad in May of 71 ... I was 18 ... before I went to Nam ... the barmaid said 'Pete, is this kid old enough?' My Dad belted out 'your damn right he is, fuckin' kid is going to Vietnam next week!' 'I just asked Pete' she said ... '2 Old Styles?' After about 6 he 'Ya know, ya oughta get the street signs from 35th and Halsted and put them up when ya get over there' I said 'Ya, Dad ... good idea' ... it went in one ear and right out the other.

    When I got over to Nam I met a few guys from Chicago and one day when we were passing the pipe around I remembered the story and related to them how I grew up in Bridgeport with Da Mayor and I told them the idea my Dad gave me. I told them how I used to see the Mayor on Halsted or at the Valentines Boys Club and they said 'Sure, Paul ... You know the Mayor ... why don't you just get the State and Madison street signs!' So I knocked out a letter ... told the Mayor I was from 34th Pl and now I was in Danang, Vietnam with other guys from Chi-Town ... would he send me the State and Madison Street signs? I sent it to Mayor Daley, City Hall, Chicago Illinois. I didn't know what street address or zip code but I figured 'how in the hell could the Post Office screw it up!' I got a letter back from the Mayor telling me that he wanted me, as well as the other men in my outfit, to know that 'we were never out of the thoughts and prayers of all good Chicagoans' and that 'he looked forward to seeing us all home again.' I put them up on a 4 X 4 post in Danang and hung the Chicago flag he sent me on our bunker.

    I brought the signs home when I left Vietnam in 1972 and carried them around with me for 34 years. Gerard Burke, a Chicago businessman, purchased them from me in 2004 for a generous amount when I became disabled and unable to work and support myself. He donated them to the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum at 1801 S Indiana in Chicago where they are on permanent display now with art works of Chicago and nationwide war veterans. I highly recommend everyone view the awesome disdlays there.

    I was finally classified as permanently and totally disabled by the Veterans Administration and receive a disability pension. I served in Korea, Vietnam and Germany as well as a recruiter for the Illinois Army National Guard at Midway Airport during my 3 terms of service in the Army.

    I am back in my beloved Bridgeport and walk the steets I walked over 50 years ago.
    I love seeing the 'old' and the 'new'! I love whats happening in my 'old neighborhood'! I can still even stop in at Bruno's Bakery and pick up a loaf of Lithuanian rye bread! I'm back at the same church I was baptized at 58 years ago. It too, was 'reborn' as NewLife Community Church of Bridgeport. 4 blocks North of Butler Foundry it started as Doremus Church on Butler (Normal Ave) in 1891. My Great-Grandparents go back to shortly after the Chicago Fire when they lived at 28th Pl and Normal. My Great-Grandfather sold coal and wood near 22nd and Wentworth BEFORE it was Chinatown. My other Great Grandfather lived across the street from McKinley Park.

    I'm proud to be the 4th generation living within blocks of each other in Bridgeport.
    Theres no place like home ... Theres no place like home ... Theres no place like home.

    Discover Bridgeport!

  2. Wow, thanks for taking the time to write out some of these memories,Paul, I hope you'll continue to comment on other topics. John LaMonica talked about the Veteran's museum - I will have to look for your street signs.

  3. What a nice article Mr Zickus, do they sell Old Style there still? Procure a few for my next visit SFC, and maybe we can take the Grand Tour of your neighborhood, great Job!

  4. Yes Anonymous, they still sell Old Style ... My tastes have not matured much in the last 40 years ... I'll procure them ... you name the time ... I'll name the place ... Maria's gotta find a cold one for us!

  5. i bought alot of oldstyle tallboys from marias and drank them down the street at emils,and we still do but now we drink bottles

  6. I just saw a picture of the Valentine Boys Club and remembered learning how to swim there in the early 60's. When I went to Lindblom High School in 1965 I was one of the only kids in my gym class who could swim so my gym teacher made me a lifeguard. In the Army 10 years later I listed lifeguard at Lindblom on my resume to apply to Recreational Services at Custer Hill, Ft Riley, KS, US Army. I taught 1000's of soldiers 'how-not-to-drown' in Drownproofing classes at the new Custer Hill Indoor Swimming Pool in 1976-77. It all started at 34th and Emerald.
    Paul Zickus

  7. I want to stay in Bridgeport. I won't leave again. The people are the main reason. I should have known at a young age. We use less words. My Dad was a man of few words. Of the few words he used he invented a few himself. I know what they meant and thats all that matters.
    It certainly is not quite the same Bridgeport I grew up in until age 14 in 1966 but thats OK ... I'm not the same either. I'll tell you where I've been sometime but for now believe me ... its a lot of places.
    Aside from meeting all the races I have met the entire length of the character scale. A little bit of everybody ... and everthing in between. Ok, I missed a few but I've met a good representative sample. I've met some very good and some very bad people. I have been influenced by both.
    Bridgeport changed for the better. You may not like it but believe me ... it changed for the better.
    Bridgeport is steps out of Downtown. We need to keep up in many ways. The future of Chicago long after anyone reading this is gone is phenomonal. You won't know any of the people but they'll be you Grandchildrens Grandchildren.
    And ... Hey, if your kids, kids, kids ,kids are somewhere else whats wrong with doing something good for the neighborhood that our parents and some of their parents and some of their parents grew up in. It was good enough for them or we wouldn't be having this conversation.
    Who's with me? Just raise your hand.

  8. kristin ,this is a great blog ! its is the most "call like you see it " bridgeport blog . please keep writing, if you ever need ideas or help please let me help

  9. Does any one remember Mrs Sleeders candy store on Lyman St near
    Arch St?

  10. Loved this post - now I need to plan a trip to Chicago! It is beautiful. Thanks for sharing with us!

    "Chicago IT"