Reconnecting the Past with the Present

I spent most of the past week in Chicago launching the new book “Uptown: Portrait of a Chicago Neighborhood in the Mid-1970s.” The week was both exhausting and exhilarating. WTTW did a nice segment on their Chicago Tonight show. So did WGN on their noon show. However, the most exhilarating moment came on Thursday in Uptown at the Chicago Public Library on Buena. It was an event sponsored by the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Book Expo where I officially unveiled the book to the public for the first time. Close to a hundred people attended.

I talked about how and why I started photographing in Uptown, the tools and techniques I used, and the people I met. About a dozen of the people who attended were people that I had photographed back in the 1970s.  They treated the group to stories of what it was like to live, work, and run businesses in Uptown.

It felt like a family or class reunion. I spent hours reconnecting with people I had met 40 years ago. One of the highlights of the evening was the appearance of the (now) 89-year-old woman who owned the Guatemala Cafe on Wilson for 36 years – an amazing record for ANY small business. Everyone had stories to share about the neighborhood – from her granddaughter to the kids eating popsicles, a Chicago fireman who worked at Engine 83 for decades, a rock fan who practically grew up at the Aragon and more.

Dozens of others who live in Uptown today also came to share their stories, ask questions and visit, including people who are investing in Uptown real estate and businesses such as Baker and Nosh.

Thank you all for coming, sharing your stories and helping provide details for the book! I hope you all enjoy it.

My only regret about the week is that I didn’t get to photograph in Uptown as I had hoped. Things were too rushed and the weather wasn’t cooperating. When I did have time, a cold rain forced most people off the streets. But I did get to drive around the neighborhood for several hours.

I was shocked by how much Uptown today has improved compared to what it was in the mid-1970s. The burned out buildings, bars, pawnshops and resale shops that defined Uptown in the mid-1970s are virtually gone. So are the litter, graffiti, abandoned cars, and run down houses. In their place are nice new buildings and trees – lots of trees. The businesses I visited seemed to be busy and prosperous. I sensed optimism and hope in the people I talked to. Property values seemed to be improving.

That’s a tribute to all those who never gave up on Uptown and saw something worth saving. It took a lot of hard work, vision, faith, creativity and dedication to make those improvements.

Uptown had a glorious past. Whether up or down, it has always been one of Chicago’s most unique and storied neighborhoods.