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.

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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.

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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 · www.bridgehousemuseum.org

— 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”:

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  • 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.

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Centennial Fountain. Photo by ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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 · www.siskelfilmcenter.org

— 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

Table tennis anyone?

NYC’s SPiN ping-pong club expanding to Chicago.

Chicago table-tennis enthusiasts have more reasons to celebrate this spring with new ping-pong clubs opening nearby. SpiN, a “ping pong social club” will take over 16,000 square feet of long-vacant space at Marina City, 344 N. State Street. SPiN describes itself as “an unusual mixture of sport, design, and entertainment.”

Plans call for 15 to 20 ping-pong tables, which will be available for rental by the half-hour or hour. Players of all ages are welcome until 9 p.m., when the club becomes 21+. Nightly events, tournaments, and private instruction with professional players will be offered, as well as a full bar, restaurant, and multiple VIP Lounges, according to the website wearespin.com. A membership plan offering reserve tables at cheaper rates is also in the works.

The SPiN concept began in a loft in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood. Co-owned by actress Susan Sarandon, a reputed “table tennis ninja,” SPiN has locations in New York, Los Angeles, Toronto, Dubai and now Chicago. Given the city’s size and enthusiasm for sports,

PONG0003a-01Chicago was an “obvious spot” to expand, says SPiN spokesperson Shawn Topp.
According to Topp, ping-pong is a catalyst for connections, culture, and community. “SPiN is a place that’s open and inviting to everyone. You’ll find an eclectic mix of young and old, beginners and more experienced players, from all walks of life,” says Topp.
It is one of the world’s most popular sports, played by some 300 million people, according to the International Table Tennis Federation. Long a mainstay of garages and basements, the game has experienced a boom in popularity.

SPiN is not the only venue looking to capitalize on its resurgence. It will compete against the Killerspin House, a high-energy venue at 135 S. LaSalle Street filled with ping-pong tables, televisions, and upbeat music that has been open since January 2014. Additionally, the British table-tennis club, Bounce Ping Pong, is heading to the corner of Clark St. and Wacker Dr., at 230 N. Clark St., according to a liquor license application and signage.

Closer to home, New Eastside residents can take their own paddles and balls to a table open 24 hours a day within My Storage Suite, on the Pedway level of 225 North Columbus Drive.

— Shanti Nagarkatti, Community Contributor

“Freezin’ Gator Zip” energizes Millennium Park

During the weekend of February 13, thousands of Chicagoans soared over Millennium Park on a 200-foot zip line that stretched from a platform near the northern end of the promenade to a landing area steps away from the Bean. Although the ride lasted only a few seconds, the thrilling experience created lasting memories.

“You can’t beat the skyline view,” said travelingmom.com editor Cindy Richards, who journeyed from Indiana on the coldest weekend of the winter to give it a whirl. “If you think your kids might like to zip line, this is a great test.”

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Lauren Swedlow and Sommer Stone after enjoying the ride. Photo: Daniel Patton

Among the kids who agreed with her was Chicago student Sommer Stone, who said that she was initially nervous because “the platform got shaky” while the harness was reeled into place, but started enjoying the ride as soon as she took off.

Officially known as “The Freezin’ Gator Zip,” the event was created by Experience Kissimmee, the tourism council of Osceola County, Florida. It was designed to tempt Chicagoans into visiting the subtropical destination with a chilled-down version of a thrill that can be enjoyed there year-round.

According to Experience Kissimmee’s CEO, D.T. Minich, a gravity-powered pulley contraption of this sort has never been erected in a place like downtown Chicago before.
“We worked with the City of Chicago Parks & Rec,” he said. “They were great, but when we first started this idea I was like, ‘I don’t know if we can get them to buy in.’”

The company plans to take the show on the road next year, most likely to New York City, but was determined to hold the inaugural run in the Windy City. “This is such a special market for us,” explained Minich. “We love the people up here and it’s a great setting next to the ice rink and everything.”

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Cooter and friend from Gator World

The event also featured two live alligators from Gatorland, a theme park located within the headwaters of the Everglades that flow near Kissimmee. The carnivorous reptiles not only remained calm as guests held them for photos in the “warming tent” next to the landing area, but they also stirred up more excitement than the complimentary hot chocolate just a few feet away.

The spectacle was kept safe by two animal handlers from Gatorland named Cooter and Bubba, who had secured the animals’ jaws with electrical tape before the event began and wore coveralls the rest of the time. Additionally, explained Cooter, the predators are generally harmless unless they are provoked. “Alligators are like couch potatoes,” he said.
Over the nine years that he has worked for the family-owned, 110-acre theme park that houses 1,730 alligators, 51 crocodiles and hundreds of additional poisonous creatures, Cooter has only been bitten twice.

It happened during feeding time. “We hold chicken over the water,” he says. “Kinda like a person hanging from a zip line.”

— Daniel Patton | Staff Writer

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