Shrubs in the hood

Serviceberry and tulips, © 2013 Celia Her City

At this time of year, each fancy high-rise seems to be in competition with all others to be the most lovely.  Gardeners are out daily primping the grounds, tweaking the seasonal shows they’ve dreamed up to show off the special structural elements of their property.  This place on Oakdale near Sheridan makes beautiful use of its boxed-in site, dressing up what could be a dismal patch of neglected shade with these nice old native shrubs known as serviceberry.

Serviceberry flower © 2013 Celia Her City

The serviceberry has an unsensational flower, which nonetheless contributes to its beauty.  If properly pruned, the serviceberry grows into a elegant small tree, and can be happy, as in this case, even in urban settings where it gets little light.

The bark of the serviceberry looks good with vinca © 2013 Celia Her City

Smooth grey bark is one of the serviceberry’s chief glories.  It looks great with dark evergreens and with ground-covers like vinca.  Every year I look forward to seeing the tulips flowering under these trees.

sourcherryboughAnother tree I love looking at on Oakdale is this sour cherry.   It is a standout specimen tree, whose colors pop against the backdrop of this old white rowhouse.  Its buds form at the end of longish stems.  They are a beautiful peachy pink color.

Sour cherry tree, © 2013 Celia Her City

The tree has a spare open shape, so that the blossoms and fruit always stand out clearly, like ornaments hanging on a Christmas tree.

Sour cherry blossoms, with cherries from the previous season, © 2013 Celia Her City

In the winter, the tree is covered with brilliant red cherries, which must be very sour, because they remain uneaten even as the tree begins another year.

The Pagoda Building

The Pagoda Building

Do you have nicknames for the buildings in your neighborhood?  Many Chicago apartment buildings have formal names, and some have nicknames that enjoy broad usage.  (“The Toaster” in Hyde Park, an early, ugly, I.M. Pei design, formally known as University Park Condominium, is one instance.)

Other nicknames are probably more obscure.  I’ve heard this formidable-looking co-op building at 399 Fullerton referred to as “Stalag 399” because it’s notoriously hard to get into.  (Legend has it you need something like 22 personal references to be approved.)  And this classic building at 2130 Lincoln Park West has been dubbed “the Statue of Liberty building” because of the iron diadem above its door.

As for the modern building above, it’s referred to in our house as the “Pagoda building” because its cantilevered slabs bring that ancient building tradition to mind.

The Pagoda building (at 320 West Oakdale) was the first all air-conditioned apartment building in Chicago when erected in 1954.  It was originally intended to be cylindrical, and its wrap-around floor-to-ceiling windows were excitingly innovative.  Its architect: the 29-year-old Milton Schwartz, who eventually took up residence in its penthouse.

The nifty sales brochure originally drawn up to advertise the building has thoughtfully been made available here.  Featuring Jetson-era line-drawings, it exudes the spirit of those mid-modern times.

A mansion amid the march of time

Just modern enough, © 2013 Celia Her City

Scattered along the quiet side streets of East Lakeview are some wonderful mansions that have held out against the march of time.  Over the years, many of their neighbors have fallen to the wrecking ball, or become sandwiched in between massive high-rises.

This house is one of my particular favorites.  Despite its modern appearance, it supposedly dates back to the 1920s.  Since its construction as a single-family home, it has been divided up in to condominiums on the inside.  Though the block was once lined with houses of a similar size, urban development is gradually overtaking them all.  How long will this place last, I wonder?

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.

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