Running just south and east from the park, two main streets come together like shoelaces to form one of the finest of these. 38th Street is key path East and West, joining the far-off river to the Uptown lakes and rose gardens. Chicago Avenue runs South toward a cozy creek lined with green yards, and North straight to downtown past two of the city's biggest hospitals. All those places seem far away. A church steeple rises in the distance, and a classic streetcorner closes in.
You hear stories told in cities of how artists change things, how they appear one day with paintbrushes and hammers to make new the old buildings and plant seeds of future cities. On the sidewalks of Chicago Avenue, you’ll find such a place, a corner on the very knife edge of creation. Though they're never so simple, such urban legends seem true here. You can literally tell, house by house and building by building, whether they are part of the before or the after picture. One on side: a bright and fenestrated coffee shop abutting an alley, the city’s most famous street photographer (Wing Yung Hiue’s) art gallery, a boutique "consignment" furniture shop and its eggshell teal sidewalk sign with a bird on it, a large re-used building transformed into a studio for the “fire arts,” which I'm told runs the gamut from glass blowing to blacksmithing.
|[Covet Home Consignment, with Hiue's Thirdspace gallery in the background.]|
|[Blue Ox Coffee and its alley.]|
|[The window of the Fire Arts Center.]|
|[Do not sit on produce rack.]|
Between the two sides, pregnant newcomers and patient locals, lie non-profits – the Aliveness Project or Lavender Magazine – while the Super America sits on the corner pumping its gas, still the only place anyone's likely to notice.
|[Dealz tee shirts.]|
|[The binary building of Tip-Top Haircut and Quality Body Art.]|
|[An empty red building waiting for a tenant.]|
The other common thread is the mural. Almost every building sports one, almost every surface bears a pictured imaginary. The Mexican restaurant has a cityscape foregrounding transit and a lake, a transect fading to a rolling countryside. Another seemingly empty building sports an abstract honeycomb’d grid reminding me of a soccer ball. Cup Foods displays a cliché'd rural landscape abutting their alley. Best of all, the auto shop on the corner explodes into a million colors like Van Gogh on LSD.
[Four murals of Chicago Avenue.]
|[The Piping Industry Development Council marks an empty doorway.]|
Sometimes these transitions go badly. But if any place can make just progress, I would bet on this one. Hiue's art has been devoted to recognizing diversity for decades, to bridging difference and starting difficult conversations. 38th and Chicago has a exposure to it, a sincerity that seems to me a good omen, a forgotten place soon remembered.
|[A bright grey winter afternoon on Chicago Avenue.]|