apartment living

A hotel some call home

A hotel some call home

Dining at Mon Ami Gabi is a happy excuse to pass through the Belden-Stratford lobby.  This grand old apartment hotel, built in the Beaux-Arts style, is situated on Lincoln Park West, right near the zoo and conservatory, and gives onto the glorious gardens that distinguish this street.  Stars like Louis Armstrong and Gloria Swanson used to stay at this hotel back in the day.

The thing is, the Belden-Stratford still is a residential hotel.  Yes, it’s full of apartments (like the kind Nick and Nora Charles occupy in The Thin Man) that people rent.  I once dated a guy who was born in this building; his parents lived here for many decades.  In this age of condos, only a few fancy apartment buildings still operate on this basis, but the few that I know of are real gems like this.

How we know we’re home

The front elevator (Credit: Celia Her City)

We enter an old wooden box made of mahogany, which carries us up several stories.  In the garage, a nice man takes our suitcases and groceries out of our car and brings them up in the back elevator.  We adhere to the rules of entry that announce our return from the country and govern the formal territory that we call home.

The back elevator is for dogs, and when you’re in a hurry.  It smells, but people in it are more friendly.  The front elevator induces an up-tight decorum.  Conversation, if it occurs, tends to be brief and stilted.  Once, though, I caught a little girl doing a handstand in it, her father looking on, with a sly smile on his face, doing nothing to stop her.  Kids are kids after all, and we wouldn’t want her personality to be as square as the old elevator that we have to use.

A glimpse of the promised land

Where space is tight (Credit: Celia Her City)

The hi-rise I live in was designed in the 1920s by a Russian-born architect who did not envision how important cars would become.  The building with 24 units has space for just 19 cars in its garage.

This in a neighborhood where, today, couples are rumored to break up over . . . parking.  That’s how tough finding a street spot can be.

We knew when we bought here that the wait for a garage space would be 5 to 10 years.  That was back in 2006.  Our hopes rose in 2008 when a number of units went up for sale—but then real estate slowed with the economic crisis.

Meanwhile we pay to park our car at a garage a block away.  Every morning we go there to collect the car, bring it back to our garage (where we’re allowed to park during the day), and return it to its paid spot at night—arrangements that weigh down everyday chores like grocery shopping or the fun of going out impulsively at night.

On the upside, we’ve become less car-reliant.  We take mass transit, walk if we can, grab a cab if we must.  Over time, these ways have come to seem natural.  Having a spot in our own garage—now that will be strange.

Strange Fraternity

Lights near and far (Credit: Celia Her City)

I had to go out of town for the day, and on the way back passed an auto accident where someone may have been killed.

I was grateful to get home, where the view out the window seemed welcoming.  Isn’t it strange that a collection of lights and shapes near and far can stand for coziness, for something reassuring?  I guess I respond to the orderliness of the scene and the signs of so many people being at home.