Chicago Cultural Mile Association already thinking Halloween

In March, the Chicago Cultural Mile Association hosted a meeting at the Studebaker Theater to discuss its annual Halloween Gathering at Millennium Park, which doesn’t happen until October.

Although it may have seemed “a little bit early to be thinking about Halloween in some peoples’ minds,” as CCMA Producer Allison Gerlach explained, the organization sets the bar pretty high and wide.


CCMA Producer Allison Gerlach and fire-breather Bryan Small

The inaugural Gathering last year attracted roughly 200,000 people and included fire-breathing artists, humongous puppetry and a convoy of customized lowrider vehicles. Continuing that kind of success not only requires extensive preparation, but also forms a key component of the event’s mission.

“This is a curated procession of the Chicago cultural community,” explains Executive Director Sharene Shariatzadeh. “There really is nothing like it.”

Shariatzadeh and her staff are responsible for promoting the stretch of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Roosevelt Road and east to Lake Michigan. She considers the area to be “the face of Chicago” with “some of the most celebrated cultural institutions in the world.”

“Our goal is that people will literally hop off a plane, get in a cab, and say, ‘take me to the Cultural Mile,’” she explains.


CCMA Artistic Director Mark Kelly and Executive Director Sharene Shariatzadeh

By combining the city’s rich ethnic communities and a legion of local artists and performers, the Halloween Gathering is an essential way to make this happen.

It begins with a kid-friendly workshop and ends with an everyone-friendly parade. Along the way, institutions like the Field Museum and the Trinity Dancers celebrate Chicago’s creative harvest with the people who helped bring it to life.

It also requires a lot of work. The meeting provided a forum for this year’s participants to describe their projects and find partners in creativity.

Artist Heather Killian, who creates “weird puppets and animals that are giant,” said she is “planning on doing more animals, something like the beast within.”

Professional fire-breather Bryan Small, who noted that “Chicago loosened up a bit on the regulations” over the past year, said he hopes to build a float topped with go-go dancers and “some very large flame effects.”


Lowrider jefe Jorge Ortega

Lowrider artist Jorge Ortega, who is also director of Chicago’s Columbian Festival, reported that the video of his car club’s Columbian-themed Marimonda Movil de Chicago cruising through the 2015 parade has scored nearly a quarter million online views.

It has also generated substantial buzz by showcasing the event’s commitment to children. “We should get more participation because kids were involved,” he explains.

This is one of the celebration’s running themes. According to Artistic Director Mark Kelly, who is also Columbia College’s Vice President for Student Success, the morning agenda is “a giant maker session” where children discover that “creative paths are honorable paths.” The afternoon is an all-ages celebration of Halloween as an “Artist’s Holiday.”


George Berlin wielding his glowing moon scepter.

“It’s that moment of masks and costumes, of taking on new personas,” he explains “Much like carnival, there is not a separation of audience and the contingents that are marching.”

Then he lifted a lamp stand that had been retrofitted, customized and modified into a glowing moon scepter. “I’ve never carried a staff in my life,” he mused. “This was created by George Berlin for last year’s Gathering.”


— Dan Patton, Staff Writer

Dos and dont’s: using binoculars in your condominium

I have heard from many of our fellow New Eastsiders that, in fact, one of their first purchases as condo owners was a good strong pair of binoculars.

Additionally, more than a few have mentioned that the item was among the very first housewarming gifts people gave to them.

Some even have telescopes pointing out their windows.  Do you really believe them when they say it’s just for looking out at the stars?


  • Get a strong pair. The higher up the stronger needed.
  • BINOC002webTake in the sights that the New Eastside has to offer, like the Chicago River
  • Use the binoculars to spot boats and other craft on our beautiful lakefront
  • Look up at the sky and catch the moon, the stars, and of course the fireworks show.
  • Use the binoculars to spot suspicious activity (be the friendly neighborhood watch person)


  • Stare out the window with them when you have company over
  • Focus on the only lighted window across the river (you know, that guy)
  • Stare directly down on the beachfront for “interesting persons“
  • Look into nighttime windows for other kinds of fireworks
  • Stare into any of the rooftop pools (Not the kind of “friendly neighborhood watch“ we’re talking about)

— Jon Cohn, Community Contributor

The year Lake Shore East got “Transformed”

Recently while passing the Blue Cross Building on Randolph, I noticed the block was covered in artificial snow for a film shoot. Two thoughts crossed my mind. First, I found it humorous that a film being shot in Chicago in winter would need fake snow – that was likely an unexpected expense, compliments of Mother Nature. Second, I was reminded of the bizarre summer of 2011, when the Transformers movie franchise turned the neighborhood into a Hollywood backlot.

EXPLODE1web2My first taste of that summer was the Michigan Ave. Bridge. I was walking to work along Wacker Dr. when I noticed that the bridge was partially raised. The front of a car dangled precariously from its edge. Past Michigan, Wacker had been turned into a warzone – upturned cars, rubble and charred debris. It brought a smile to my face, the thought that the city could warp itself around the world of make believe. For weeks, people like me walked through this alternate dimension enroute to more mundane pursuits.

One evening, on my way home, a giant fireball plumed up from the Hotel Monaco. On another day, a large crowd gathered to watch stuntmen BASE jump off the Trump building. And on one special morning, I watched men parachute into Lakeshore East Park, pack up, then do it again. I was standing on the pool deck of the Shoreham, and all around Lakeshore East, I could see people on their balconies, excitedly taking in the spectacle. It occurred to me that any camera angle featuring one of the buildings would be unusable due to the number of onlookers.

One night as I phoned my fiancée, who lived in South Carolina at the time, a helicopter flew low over the river and a series of massive explosions cascaded along the shoreline. I gasped. My fiancée asked what was wrong. After picking my jaw up from the floor, I said, “Either they’re filming a scene from Transformers III, or I should get to the basement via the stairs.”

I was too lazy to use the stairs. Lucky for me, Transformer Director Michael Bay was still in town.

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

The Bridgehouse in the City That Works

The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum may appear tiny compared to the nearby high-rises at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, but the 95 year-old structure extends five-stories down to the river and contains one of Chicago’s most powerful engineering feats.

Located in the southwestern tender house of the DuSable Bridge (formerly called the Michigan Avenue Bridge), the museum contains the steel gears connected to the 1,500-ton counterweight that lifts the 3,400-ton bridge leaf — literally half of Michigan Avenue spanning the river — into the air.

IMG_1334a copy

Museum Director Joanne So Young Dill.

The humongous mechanism not only helped make Chicago’s movable bridges famous around the world, but it also still works. Every May and October, the bridge rises to allow tall ships to pass through. Visitors can see the action for a special admission price during these times, and the machinery is viewable nearly every other day that the museum is open.

Additional attractions include portal windows that offer sweeping views of the Chicago River and grand staircases of the structure’s meticulous interior.

Founded in 2006 by Friends of the Chicago River, the museum is dedicated to being a “cultural anchor of the new Chicago Riverwalk” that celebrates the “dynamic relationship between Chicago and its river.”

“We invite tourists and groups to come and learn about the Chicago River and how it shaped Chicago,” says Joanne So Young Dill, the Museum Director.

The museum also hosts an occasional event, like the “Holiday Pop-up Shop” that filled the place with t-shirts, artists and vendors last December.


Streetwise Exec Director Julie Youngquist and vendor Mr Roberts work the “Give a Sh*rt” event at the McCormick Bridghouse

Co-sponsored by Chicago production firm Daily Planet and StreetWise Magazine, the outdoor clothing bizarre was officially called “Give a Shi*t.” Volunteers worked nearly twelve hours selling t-shirts designed by local artists to help raise funds for StreetWise.

Julie Youngquist, StreetWise Executive Director, was “blown away” by the effort. “It was perfect for our pop-up store,” she said.

The McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum opens for the 2016 season on May 14. Until then, passersby can enjoy the Henry Hering sculpture that adorns the exterior southern-facing wall.

Titled, “Defense,” it commemorates the Potawatomi victory at The Battle of Fort Dearborn.

376 N. Michigan Ave. · (312) 977-0227 ·

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

2016 state of the parks report

The Bloch Cancer Survivors Garden celebrates perseverance, Maggie Daley Park is just getting started, Millennium Park is sending people over the top and Grant Park may change the way we think about health care. New Eastside News presents the past, present, and future of our neighborhood greens in a special 2016 state of the parks report.

Pictured: Ron Sison from Manilla, Karlo Fel from Sacramento, and Jem Urmatan from Cleveland strike an item off their Windy City vacation bucket list on an unseasonably warm February afternoon at Millennium Park. “If you come to Chicago, you have to see the Bean,” explains Fel. Photo: Daniel Patton.

Green and seen in the New Eastside

The color of spring abounds in the neighborhood.

With Saint Patrick’s Day approaching, most of us like to celebrate “The luck of the Irish” and don green hues. Although it may be difficult to locate anything green-colored in the cold, dark New Eastside winter, our newsletter always likes a good challenge. It was tough, but here is a list of some of the “green we have seen”:


  • Some of the “ bumps” on the climbing wall at Lake Shore Fitness Club
  • Artificial grass surface outside the 175 Harbor Drive building
  • Award-winning portable johns at Maggie Daley skating rink
  • Giant-sized basket swings just west of the main playground at Maggie Daley Park
  • Argo University sign above Sweetwater’s
  • Upper half of the Chicago Trolley Car
  • A neon green headband of a jogger on Columbus Drive
  • Chairs and a bench outside at Brown Bag Restaurant

You may have to look extra hard, but even in the winter, there is plenty of “green to be seen.”

— Jon Cohn, Community Contributor

What’s new at the Radisson Blu

The Radisson Blu Aqua hotel hosted a resident appreciation reception on February 22, from 6 – 8 p.m., giving New Eastside neighbors the opportunity to mingle, meet, and sample some of the hotel’s new offerings.

Held in the lobby and gallery areas, the event featured culinary demos by Chef Carolina, small bites from Filini bar’s menu, and samples of two new in-house crafted cocktails for spring 2016 — the New Eastside and French Paloma. DJ Stix kept the mood lively, spinning a mix of dance music and Latin jazz.

IMG_2468cA table set for tea, in a corner of the lobby near the elevators, served as a sneak preview. Roman Suhs, Business Development Coordinator at the Radisson Blu Aqua, said that the hotel will soon be offering tea service. According to Suhs, the release date “will likely be sometime this spring.” Plans call for tea to be served Friday through Sunday, with a “TJ” playing music. Reservations are required. “It’s our own take on the tradition of tea with a modern twist,” says Suhs.

New Eastsiders also had the opportunity to learn more about the benefits of this hotel right in their backyard; specifically, meeting and event space rentals and the “Art of Blu” free mobile app, previously reported in this publication, that allows guests to experience a curated, self-guided tour through the lobby and permanent art gallery. Departing guests could leave with sweet treats — bags of custom-mixed blue jelly beans — bearing tags reminding residents that special neighborhood hotel rates are available and to “Book at Blu!” whenever extra rooms are needed.

— Shanti Nagarkatti | Community Contributor

Centennial Fountain, the first sign of spring

As a resident of the Shoreham, my apartment window faces the Chicago River and, during the warmer months, I enjoy watching the Centennial Fountain arc majestically across the river. It is my personal giant water clock. Since the fountain only operates during the first ten minutes of each hour, I keep track of my day by noting when it showers upon unfortunate tour boats.

For some people, the first sign of winter is the first freeze, or the first snowfall. For me, it’s the first day I wake up, gaze out expectantly, and realize the fountain has been silenced for the next six months. I miss my water clock during this time. It is like a good friend who has moved away. I do not celebrate the arrival of summer when the geese reappear or the flowers bloom, but when the mighty swoosh of the Centennial Fountain returns.


Centennial Fountain. Photo by

My fondest memory of the fountain involves kayaking back in the days when the closest kayak rental was at the North Avenue Bridge. A friend and I decided to paddle to Navy Pier, a three-hour round trip. As we approached the mouth of the river, I looked back at the clock on the Wrigley Building and saw that we were seconds away from the top of the hour, meaning that we were about to get drenched by the Centennial Fountain. Rather than wait, we decided to go for it.

Imagining a 90-minute return journey in clothes soaked by river water, I paddled more vigorously than ever before. I felt like Indiana Jones racing against a sliding door trap, except I wore a baseball cap rather than a fedora.

We made it by mere seconds. The fountain roared to life as we passed by it, cinematically sealing off the route behind us. We laughed and raised our paddles in victory.

Then we paddled back under the fountain to get doused. After all, we’d won, and when would we get another chance to paddle under a fountain?

— Matthew Reiss, Community Contributor

“1916: The Irish Rebellion” at the Siskel Film Center

The US premiere of 1916: The Irish Rebellion will take place at the Gene Siskel Film Center on March 21.

Narrated by Liam Neeson, the film documents The Easter Uprising of 1916, one of many attempts by the Irish people to rid their nation of British occupation. It also explores the event’s subsequent growth into one of the most celebrated moments in the modern day Republic of Ireland.

The documentary was created by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at the University of Notre Dame.

Irish-flag-tricolorAttendees at the premiere will include a discussion with writer and executive producer Bríona Nic Dhiarmada and executive producer Christopher Fox. Nic Dhiarmada, a Professor of Irish Studies at Notre Dame, also participated in much of the documentary’s production.
Working with a $3 million budget, the film began as a three-part series that aired on PBS, BBC, RTÉ, the national broadcaster of Ireland.

Accoring to Nicola Stathers, a writer for the collaborative online project between Ireland’s University College Cork and the Irish Examiner known as the Irish Revolution, the series “has the makings of a classic.”

“Americans will love this documentary,” she says.

The production of the series was designed to ultimately accomodate a feature film, which runs 70-minutes and premieres, for the first time in the US, at the Siskel Film Center.
The film is one of many events that commemorates the centenary of the Easter Rebellion, an action that was not initially considered a success.

Like every other attempt by Irish people to rebel against the British Empire, innocent bystanders from both sides were killed, the nation did not unite and the political situation remained unchanged after that Easter Monday in 1916.

But weeks later, when more than a dozen of the people who organized the action were put to death, it generated widespread momentum that, according to many historians, became the first step in Ireland’s rise to independence.

March 21, 6 p.m.
Gene Siskel Film Center · 164 N. State. St. · (312) 846-2800 ·

— Daniel Patton, Staff Writer

Indoor soccer in the West Loop

As a soccer enthusiast, I appreciate Chicago’s ability to accommodate my obsession. Home to the U.S. Soccer Federation, Chicago has a vibrant soccer scene, even during the cold months. The 12,000-sq. ft. indoor Mercy Soccer Center in the West Loop, where I play in a soccer league, has been my salvation for the past few winters.

Inside the Mercy Soccer Center is artificial turf that contains impact-absorbing rubber pellets. Although these pellets occasionally find their way into my shoes, it is preferable to braving the snow and ending up with cold, wet feet.

soccer-ball5I generally travel to the center by cab and return home to the New Eastside on foot, often without wearing my coat. Since the amount of warmth generated from an hour of sprinting raises my body temperature so much, I can wear short sleeves in a snowstorm and revel in the odd looks of passersby.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of playing in leagues, such as those offered by Mercy Soccer Center, is that games often resemble a United Nations conference. In terms of player numbers, soccer is the most widely practiced sport in the world. According to FIFA’s most recent Big Count survey, there are 265 million players, or roughly 4 percent of the world’s population, actively involved in soccer. Oftentimes, a single game will feature players from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. For an hour, we can join together in play and can forget the troubles of the outside world. How can one not love a sport that brings so many people together?

—Matthew Reis, Community Contributor

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