Chicago's historic Motor Row is a neighborhood in transition. During its initial incarnation (built 1905-1936), Motor Row was where Chicagoans bought their automobiles, with over 100 different makes of automobiles sold from showrooms that lined South Michigan Avenue from 21st to 25th streets. In fact, the first automobile showroom outside of Detroit was located at 2230 South Michigan Avenue: a terra cotta-clad building built in 1922, designed by Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler. It sold Marmon automobiles, which were built in Indianapolis and favored by Jazz-Age writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Today, only a Fiat/Alfa Romeo dealer remains where Locomobiles were once sold.
At one time, the Illinois Motor Club was located at 2400 South Michigan Avenue. It doesn't seem to have been a local version of AAA. Instead, it apparently catered to the dealers, containing a gym, swimming pool, and meeting rooms. During the Civil Rights era, the building was occupied by the Chicago Defender, an African-American newspaper.
The neighborhood is a bit run down. It has the feel of a no-man's land. As is typical of similar urban areas, Motor Row now houses some franchise restaurants (Papa John's and Burger King), hipster bars, music clubs, and restaurants, and several retail establishments ( e.g., a budget furniture store and a women's clothing boutique).
On Saturday morning, a large force of neighborhood volunteers wearing blue surgical gloves were out with buckets and brooms sweeping the alleys and picking up broken alcohol bottles and assorted other litter. These are the early pioneers in a residential revival, although it is open to question just how residential the neighborhood will become. McCormick Place sits just two to three blocks east of Michigan Avenue. The recent additions to the convention center are shifting the neighborhood's center of gravity to the east along the kink in King Drive, where the recently opened Wintrust Arena (owned by the Metropolitan Pier and Expansion Authority). The arena is home to DePaul's Blue Demons basketball team. Bob Dylan had the honor of playing the venue's first concert, or should I say, the venue had the honor of hosting Dylan. There are also new hotels in the area, including the Marriott Marquis' blue-toned glass structure, a Hyatt Regency, and a soon-to-be completed Hilton. The more adventuresome might want to check out the Wheeler Mansion, a boutique hotel that originally was the home of Calvin T. Wheeler, a financier and member of the Chicago Board of Trade. Even on Saturday morning the construction sites were humming along, with a red-striped cement truck delivering its sludge, as a crew worked to complete a skybridge connecting two buildings.
To the west, there are a number of low-rises, as well as the A.M.E. Church. A number of medical testing labs are located in the area, along with a two-block stretch of vacant lots enclosed by cyclone fencing that run along the Red Line El tracks. You can still see some of the linoleum flooring on the concrete slabs, which are littered with garbage.
Motor Row was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 18, 2002, which may limit some of the awful redevelopment that we've seen in other parts of the city that have undergone gentrification. It is hard to imagine exactly what will happen to these spaces in the next five to ten years. The area is readily accessible by public transportation. The convention business means tourism and the need to restaurants and bars. Will the conventioneers eschew the meat lockers in River North for some more exotic fare? Only time will tell.
Terracotta Decorative Elements
A Favorite of F. Scott Fitgerald's
Chevrolet: Ready for Redevelopment
Hiding Place for Rats
Homage to Japser Johns and Jim Dine
Linoleum Flooring Under the El
A Space of One's Own
Jack White Gets Ripped
Getting in the Right Frame of Mind
Chatting Up Complete
Enhancing the Experience
"Please Love Me Tonight"
"At Least We Used One"
Bedding Down Under the El
Photographer's Notes: These images were captured during a two-hour photowalk sponsored by the Luminous Landscape. I am not a big fan of workshops, but this one was fun. During the afternoon, we heard from Luminous Landscape co-founder Kevin Raber about his Capture One processing strategies. After a brief lunch, we then heard from Jeff Schewe, the author of the Digital Negative and one of the leading experts in the world on Raw processing, about Lightroom, with a particular emphasis on sharpening and noise reduction. An enlightening discussion.
My favorite overhead conversation of the day. One or more photographers apparently complained about the crappy light (gray skies). Raber responded, "Work with what you got," or something to that effect.