Friday, December 30, 2005

Ambler Theater, PA: Fix up the Movie House and the Town will Follow

I've been in the northwest suburbs of Philly this week visiting my folks. Last night we wandered down to the Ambler Theater to see The Squid and the Whale (intensely dark, can't say I recommend it), but also to see the newly renovated movie house.

Originally built in 1928 and designed by architect Solomon Kaplan, it's unclear when the Ambler Theater closed and how long it sat idle before a group of folks bought it, renovated it and began running it as a non-profit community film center in 2003. They now show independent films, feature kid's Saturday matinees and host guest lecturers. I also like that the concession stand sells locally-made Asher's Snow Caps along side the mainstream brand.
The area around the movie house, which had once been a string of empty storefronts is now a thriving strip of restaurants, bars, offices, and shops.While they have plans for a second phase of renovation, the first phase has been completed, which included redoing the lobby, refurbishing two theaters, and hanging the lovely neon sign out front.

While putting this post together, I ran across Cinema Treasures: Discover, Preserve, Protect, a five-year old website dedicated to "movie theater preservation and awareness."

is what they've posted about the Ambler Theater, but you'll note the commenters hack away at the accuracy of their listing.

Cinema Treasures logs more than 11,000 theaters in the U.S. and around the world, including those that have been demolished. Accuracy flaws aside, it's good to see someone trying to ensure this wonderful part of our cultural history doesn't go overlooked.

Hopefully they'll figure out a system for getting their facts straight. Seems like they might be victims of their own success in choosing a cause that so many people share so passionately with them. But, they owe it to themselves and their love of theaters to get it right. Successful awareness-building and preservation efforts need a rock-solid foundation. And, the Ambler Theater's resurgence shows off just how rewarding that can be.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Tree of a Christmas Past

Christmas tree in plaza of the Chicago Daily News building, 400 West Madison, 1929. Photo source is the Chicago Daily News Photo Archive.

See you after the holidays. Good will to all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Blogging Mayor of Round Lake

No kidding. That's Bill Gentes' blog's name. He's serving his second term as Round Lake's part-time mayor, and he's also a realtor and track and field afficionado.

Here's Round Lake's profile on EPodunk. It's a town of about 9,000 located about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.

Gentes's blog gives an in-the-trenches perspective of the issues facing anyone who takes on a leadership position in a relatively small town. It ain't easy.

Unfortunately, the mayor doesn't permalink his blog, so I can't share with you some of my favorite posts. You'll have to go over and scroll for yourself. (Be sure to read the post and comments about the new squad car design.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Out of Illinois: Poet Gwendolyn Brooks

The great poet and Chicagoan Gwendolyn Brooks was born in 1917 and died in 2000. She served as Illinois's Poet Laureate, was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, and earned a host of other honors.

Below is her poem A Penitent Considers Another Coming of Mary, For Reverand Theodore Richardson. It reminds me of Christmas and our country's arc of conduct lately. [For those of you of other faiths, welcome and please bear with me.]

If Mary came would Mary
Forgive, as Mothers may,
And sad and second Saviour
Furnish us today?

She would not shake her head and leave
This military air,
But ratify a modern hay,
And put her Baby there.

Mary would not punish men--
If Mary came again.

Brooks' Bean Eaters (my all time favorite Gwendolyn poem) can be found here. An audio file of her reading We Real Cool can be found here.

Link to Elegy for Gwendolyn Brooks by Quraysh Lansana.

Modern American Poetry site on Brooks here.

Link to the Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary School in Aurora, IL that sadly does little on their site to honor her.

Gwendolyn Brooks Center at Chicago State University here.

First Peek at the World: Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital

My nephew, Luca Michael, arrived on the planet this week. He had been journeying here for a while. I mean for much longer than nine months.

I know this because my sister-in-law said years ago, after her second daughter was born, that she had a strong feeling someone else should be sitting around her kitchen table. She just couldn't shake it. And, now -- abracadabra -- he's here just in time to wrap and put under the tree.

The photo above is a view from Julianna's recovery room at the Prentice Women's Hospital at Northwestern Memorial. It was designed in the 50s by Bertrand Goldberg, the same guy behind the Marina City Towers and the River City complex. A new women's hospital is in progressand due to open in 2007.

Both of my children were born here, too. The rooms are remarkably tranquil and the odd-shaped window (just one per room) seemed rightly suited to the mind-boggling logistics of childbirth and the intense morphing our lives had just gone through. I liked how my children's first view of the world was like looking out of a fishbowl. When we held them up to the outside world, the ovals seemed to curb the expanse of it, to make it palpable but unintimidating to such tiny souls. No way these windows would keep day-olds from turning back on their tender journeys.

I asked one of my sister-in-law's nurses this week about what would happen to the building when the new hospital opened. They're not tearing it down she said. They're using it to expand the psych ward.

Photo of Prentice Women's Hospital courtesy of ArchiTech Gallery.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Why I'm Baking and Blogging

I'm up late tonight protecting the shredded thread that connects me to my maternal great-grandparents who immigrated here from Slovakia. In other words, I'm making bobalky. (Pronunced buh-bye-kee.)

Slovaks (or, at least Slovak-Americans as far as I know) eat bobalky on Christmas Eve with courses of fish and mushroom soup. Bobalky are little tiny rolls that are air dried (for best results, I've found) until they're very hard. Then, they're dropped into boiling water for about five minutes and drained like pasta. We roll them in lots of browned butter and serve them with sauerkraut or, worse, poppy seeds.

My husband, whose ethnic heritage is Greek and Italian (also several generations removed), describes bobalky to his friends as "the boiled bread dish." But, to his credit, he eats it heartily. (Although, come to think of it, he eats everything heartily.) I, of course, love it. It's The Ultimate Comfort Food.

I can't quit making it. No bobalky = no ties to family history or Eastern Europeanism. Bobalky are the only thing I have left that make me a dash ethnic. The kitchen smells like my grandmother's did. The fragrant melange of sauerkraut, boiling dough, and stainless steel whisk me back to their Pittsburgh steelworker's home and makes me want to rummage in their freezer for Klondikes.

Without bobalky, I'm no longer ethnic. When we drop those links to our ancestral heritage -- or, when they erode, we become more about the place where we live. I think. That's what's mainly left. Who is part of our community. What kind of structure to we live in. What kind of groceries do we buy (or grow) and what food do we eat. The culture we have access to. What our streets look like. Where we can drive in our car within a day. Where we worship or not.

Really, what else is there if you as are many generations removed as I am from your ancestral homeland? Fourth of July Parades? The Tonight Show? Casseroles? Jazz?

I think this is why I hold onto bobalky. So I can avoid the tough questions about just what my culture is when the ethnic customs have been whittled away.

Boiled bread anyone?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wright's Usonian Houses Featured on features a brief summary with lots of links to coverage of Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian Houses.

The author, Jackie Craven, includes photos of the Zimmerman home (pictured above)in Manchester, New Hampshire as well as others.

Monday, December 12, 2005


A view of Armitage & Sheffield via News and Analysis blogger Nathan Kaufman. I found his blog by "riding the red line" through my neighborhood on

Politics as Refreshing as, Oh, Let's Say a Cool Glass of Clean Water

From the Office of Water Reclamation candidate and conservationist Debra Shore (earlier posts here and here):

"I am excited to announce that this morning I filed my petitions as a candidate for the board of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. We had more than 20,000 signatures gathered by hundreds of volunteers from all reaches of Cook County. . . .

20,000 signatures sends a powerful message, but it’s not about me. It’s about you – you and the thousands more in our county who believe that government can and should be of the people, by the people and for the people. It’s about protecting our precious natural resources, about bringing fresh ideas to the Water Reclamation District, about integrity and accountability in government. And it’s about our collective vision of supporting a sound economy and a sound ecology. "

Friday, December 09, 2005

Exploring Abe: Gettysburg PowerPoint

It's been way too long since I've updated my Abraham Lincoln shtick series formally titled Exploring Abe. (Pick up thread here.)

Here's some great fun at the great man's expense: his Gettsyburg Address as a Power Point presentation. [Example bullet point: Hallow (in narrow sense)]

Image courtesy of

Loopy about Looper

I am such a big fan of my fellow Chicago blogger Looper's site. Lush, reach-out-and-touch photography of the place where we live. You can't beat it. Here's a lovely post where he discovers a new scaffolding being erected near Block 37 that's beginning to look a lot like Christo's The Gates in NYC.

I was going to poach one of his photos and post it here, but he works in an essay fashion and while each photo is strong on its own, they're at their best when seen with their compatriots. So rather than out-of-contextualize one of his pieces, I would prefer to insist that you go visit him over there.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


You can't read it in this photo, but someone scribbled "Use double paned windows. Hah." under this sign at the coffee shop in IIT's McCormick Tribune Campus Center. The Mies Society is selling "WWMD" bracelets to help raise funds for the restoration of Crown Hall.

If you can decipher the meaning behind the lampoon, please let the rest of us in on it by leaving a comment. (My guess is that the open, airy Crown Hall, which houses a main work area of the school of architecture, is freezing on days like today. Perhaps a chilled student let loose.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Lord God Bird Followers Make "The Social Page"

Nice write-up today on "The Social Page" of the Trib about a "conservation" soiree at the Field Museum. More than 500 people turned out on a Sunday night to celebrate Gene Sparling's discovery of the ivory-billed woodpecker.

You'll recall he found the thought-to-be-extinct "Lord God" bird alive and well and living in Arkansas earlier this year. Sparling was the evening's keynote speaker and the Trib ran the story under the headline, "Birders flock to meet rock star of the conservation world."

Although reporter Lucinda Hahn did a lame job of convincing me she really did get "bird fever," she honed in on some lovely quotes about the excitement surrounding this bird's find, including this one:

"The bird provides a symbol of conservation opportunity in front of us," said (Director of the Cornell Lab of Orinthology John) Fitzpatrick, referring to the decades of effort that restored the woodpeckers' Big Woods habitat, "instead of just the symbol of conservation destruction we had for 10 years."

Photo courtesy of Blue Dog Tours.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Snow Domes, Take 3

I just can't get enough of these cupolas. It's not every day you can just mosey by and watch something like these being made. Please bear with me while I photograph their progress again and again.

The Tree of Where We've Been

I'd say it was two days after Thanksgiving when the folksy hay bales and hand-picked pumpkins I'd put out on our front stoop poofed into something preposterous. By this past Saturday, when they were blanketed with snow and the Santa-Jesus thinking was kicking in everywhere, I worried the neighbors would complain. I stuffed all three bales and two pumpkins into my garbage cans to await Tuesday's pick up. My son, outraged at the disposal of Halloween, carted a third pumpkin up to his bedroom for safe keeping.

In the meantime, the Christmas tree went up. Here are two tips for you: 1) When stringing lights, the plug end, with the prongs, should be the end that moves down the tree, around and around and around, to the outlet. Not vice versa. Trust me. You'll save yourself an hour of frustration and your child impatiently gazing at you like you're totally lame.

2) Whenever you travel, buy a Christmas ornament, no matter where you go or how meaningless of a trip it might seem. When holiday trimming time comes, you'll be transported to the memories of a tiny, crowded gift store down a forgotten side alley in Venice or a dopey trip to Judy Garland's birthplace or one of many trips to see mom and dad in Philadelphia. It's a wonderful joy to rediscover where you've been and how richly it can be remembered when you have a little token of that place in your hands.

Looking out For All the Open Spaces: The Openlands Project

"Openlands Project, founded in 1963, is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing public open space in northeastern Illinois."