Monday, June 14, 2021

Don’t be afraid; it’s just a street name change

     You’d think Chicago never renamed a street before.
     An ordinance changing “Lake Shore Drive” to “Jean-Baptiste Pointe du Sable Drive” was introduced in City Council in 2019. The idea flared up again in December, sparked heated debate, and finally seems to be inching toward fruition, despite opposition from the mayor and general foot-dragging reluctance of those who hate to see anything changed.
     Which includes myself. All things being equal, I’d stay with “Lake Shore Drive.” Name changes trip me up. I find myself cycling through the history of the names of Sox park—”I never want to go to Comiskey... er U.S. Cellular, I mean Guaranteed Rate Field.” Far easier to stick with one name, like “Wrigley. Field”
     Which used to “Weeghman Park.””
     The best argument for keeping “Lake Shore Drive” is that it’s a world famous street and Chicago doesn’t have many and should keep what few we’ve got. New York isn’t getting rid of Broadway.
     That said—and here’s my superpower—I also realize it isn’t all about me, or even about global branding. I can prefer it not be done and still be okay with someone doing it. Because there are good reasons for changing the name.
     And no, it isn’t about honoring DuSable.
     “The name of the street isn’t about people they’re named for,” said Bill Savage, a Northwestern professor whose next book, “The City Logical” is about Chicago streets. “It’s about making people who live here now remember them.”
     What the change would do is color the image of the city, both for residents and outsiders, bringing it more in line with the people who actually live here, turning from whatever emotions might be plucked by the words “Lake Shore Drive”—that song, the Beavis and Butt-head chuckle at its abbreviation. (“Heh heh heh, LSD, it’s the name!”)—to the range of feeling encapsulated by “DuSable Drive.” History has decided DuSable was a handsome, bearded man, based on the bust that I paused to admire Saturday night on a crowded, diverse Michigan Avenue. 
     Which used to be Pine Street. What bugs me about the debate, more than ooo-scary change, is the notion that this is all somehow new.
     “It would be the second street renamed in the city of Chicago,” The Defender suggested last December. “Journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells Drive was the city’s first street renamed.”
     I hate to snicker at The Defender, now a shell of a husk of an echo of its former greatness. But that’s just silly. Street names change continually throughout the history of the city. The streets were a hodgepodge, and had to be ironed out, otherwise there was utter confusion—a Michigan Street, Michigan Avenue and Michigan Boulevard. North Lincoln Avenue and North Lincoln Street intersected at Grace.

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  1. But what about the great song? Aliotta, Haynes and Jeremiah, the great Lake Shore Drive Song? Can't rhyme anything with DuSable. This is not just any ordinary road. Oh well, time marches on.

    1. If that's a great song, I'd hate to hear a mediocre one.

    2. Perhaps not a great song, but a fun one. Puts me in a good mood when I hear it.

    3. It's an okay early 70s song that I haven't thought about or heard in many years. But if I did, it would bring back a lot of memories of being a single twentysomething and thirtysomething in Chicago during that decade.

      Heard it countless times on the crappy AM radio in my VW Bug, sometimes even while tripping on LSD (the highway, not the hallucinogen) in the wee hours. Somebody...can't recall who...used to play it at 4 AM every morning, on WIND. Might have been the late, great Eddie Schwartz.

      It was a pure Chicago song, mostly meant for Chicagoans. Most of whom are either geezers now, or dead. Mitch Aliotta, who performed with Minnie Riperton as a member of Rotary Connection in the Sixties, died at 71. The other performers of "LSD" are also dead. Time doesn't march on. After a certain point, it begins to run.

  2. One of the many reasons I've never sought fame (needless to state that fame has never sought me in any event) is that I did not want my family name sullied by a connection to a street, expressway, interchange or even alley about which all manner of vituperative comments would likely be made over the years. "Major tie-up on the O'R.... today." "Mayhem on O'R.... Street, a little known and less regarded byway." "Disaster as oil trucks explode on poorly designed O'R.... ramp." My imagination tells me that Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, and even Jane Byrne shudder in their tombs as their famous monikers are desecrated every rush hour. Please spare poor Jean Baptiste Point du Sable -- we can't even spell his name properly, much less pronounce it without awkward affectation.


    Or if we really have to name a street after du Sable, make it Division Street, so it will be right next to Gothee Street.

  3. During the Depression, when my mother was in her teens, residents of her West Side neighborhood made a huge stink when Crawford Avenue was renamed Pulaski Road. The businesses on Crawford did not want to change all their business cards and stationery in those difficult economic times. And people went right on calling it Crawford, despite the new street signs. The dispute even went throughthe courts, I believe, and the Crawford side lost.

    When I was a kid in the Fifties, and a teen in the Sixties, aging ex- West Siders (like my mother) still called the street Crawford, just as Roosevelt Road remained 12th Street and Cermak was still 22nd St. Old habits die hard in Chicago. But Lincolnwood, Skokie, and Evanston never went along with Chicago's name change, so it's still Crawford Ave. once you're north of Devon.

    1. I originally mentioned Pulaski, but had to cut it for space. People worried that living on a street with a Polish name would depress real estate values.

    2. Officially, Pulaski turns into Crawford south of the City as well as north, but I think most people call it Pulaski no matter how far south it goes. Also, Pulaski is another street name that is universally mispronounced. Pułaski (Polish pronunciation: [kaˈʑimjɛʂ puˈwaskʲi]


  4. The reason 540 street names were changed in 1913, was that the city went to the current street numbering system & most of those names were duplicates, which made for confusion.
    And anyone that believes that the renaming of LSD will cost only the $2.5 million the proponents claim, well I have a bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell you for $100!
    The city is broke & my guess, knowing how corrupt & incompetent Chicago is, that the cost will end up over $20 million.

  5. Place and street names can be ephemeral or unintentionally enduring. I will probably until the end of my days welcome the sight of the Sears Tower looming on the horizon. Londoners still refer to the Metropolitan Police Headquarters and its works as "Scotland Yard," even though it hasn't been located there since near the turn of the last century.


  6. Why not rename Grant Park? I assume it's named after Ulysses Grant, but do we really care? The park is a beautiful, prominent and major feature of the city. It seems appropriate to name it after the founder of Chicago.

  7. With all due respect, and realizing that I'm taking the risk of being "canceled" for expressing this opinion, I'm gonna have to disagree with our intrepid host on this one.

    I don't know how many pine trees were on Pine Street, but I bet there were other streets that had plenty, too. There's no particular reason why the Kennedy could not have been the Stevenson or vice versa, I'm guessing. U. S. Cellular Field being a dumb name for a ball park is unquestionable, but there were good reasons they were named for Comiskey and Wrigley.

    "It isn’t the name that makes it iconic, it’s the road. The blue line of Lake Michigan to the east, the high rises and park to the west, the totem pole, that beach house that looks like a little tug boat. Navy Pier. The view of the city, a jeweled thumb jutting into the lake. You could call it the Rod Blagojevich’s Hair Gel Thruway and it would still be wonderful, still be famous."

    True, but the iconic road happens to follow the lake shore. The name doesn't "make" it iconic, but that doesn't mean that the name isn't iconic. It is. Because it aptly and beautifully describes the road. And I suspect that's why it's never been named for a person long before this.

    "every time somebody thinks, ‘I’m on DuSable Drive,’ the founder of our city is in their consciousness as never before.” I doubt that's necessarily true. Do people spend a lot of time thinking about John Kinzie when they're on Kinzie St.? Prof. Savage might, but I think he's in a very small group. Regardless, I'm not convinced by this column that the founder of our city needs to be in our consciousness as we appreciate the lake shore from the Drive named for it.

    That being said, I'm not gonna lose any sleep over it if it's changed. I just don't think that it's a good idea. Fortunately for all concerned, nobody gives a rat's ass what I think about it!

    1. The reason this is even being considered is jean baptiste was a black man. Few streets in Chicago or any other place names for that matter honor the legacy of people of color. Many streets are named for people that oppressed minority's even slaughtered them . Cortez comes to mind. It's not just your opinion shouldnt matter it's that white folk should step back and underrepresented groups should make this decision. If we don't like what they decide maybe we would understand how they feel when we disregard them

    2. You may be surprised to learn that I understand the dynamic of what is prompting this move to change the name, FME. And I'm fully prepared to be disregarded. There are many streets / parks / other things that could be named for DuSable. By all means, he should have a high profile with regard to his place in the city's history. As I noted, Lake Shore Drive has been an exception when it came to powerful people using their power to name things after the people that *they* prefer, and I simply think there was a good reason for that.

      I have absolutely no role in making this decision, so there's no need for me to step back. I'd think that you would support the freedom to express one's opinion, respectfully, on a blog like this, since you're certainly not shy about doing so yourself, but I could be wrong about that.

    3. with all due respect Jakash sir as you so sensibly prefaced your remarks . its not you specifically I was aiming my comment towards.

      im not surprised you understand the context and dynamic involved here. probably better than i. i'm a knee jerk jerk for the most part. definitely support all peoples right to express their opinion. am frustrated that that right doesn't usually translate to decision making power for the other as often as it does for the likes of us, whose voices taken together often dictate decisions like this one.

      my apologies

    4. Thank you for clarifying that, FME, though you surely don't need to apologize to the likes of me.

      I guess I misinterpreted who you were aiming at since your comment was posted as a reply to mine.

      I think a number of us here have a tendency toward jerkiness, so that seems to me to come with the territory! From many of your comments, I understand your frustration about the way of the world and know that your heart is in the right place. You're just wrong about Lake Shore Drive, alas! ; )

      I hope you're pleased though, that I'm one of perhaps a handful who would've ever noticed your new comment on a 6-day old thread...


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