From the President

Vol. VIII No. 1 - SUMMER 1997

By: Kathy Gemperle

On October 1, 1996 at 1:00 p.m., Vice President Carl Helbig, Treasurer Marie Morrissette and myself were present as representatives of The Edgewater Historical Society at the City of Chicago Dept. of General Services for the closing of the purchase agreement for the Fire House at 5358 N. Ashland. Lawyer Jack Zdon assisted in the transaction and Andersonville resident Chris Grant stopped by to offer congratulations. Since that happy, fateful day much has happened!

The creation of the EHS Museum entails many facets including structural weatherproofing, architectural design, surveying, zoning, tax status determination and fundraising. The coordination of the architectural work is being done by Greene and Proppe Design. But we have had to take many smaller steps in the process before beginning actual contraction.

Carl Helbig, as chair of the Building Committee, has seen to a number of things. Last summer, after some prodding from Carl, the files in the building that belonged to the Dept. of Consumer Services were moved to the first floor. This project was coordinated by Mr. Mosley from the City. Assembled boxes, covering a 6x6x12 foot area, were removed from the building by 40th Ward Streets and Sanitation workers.

The old sign on the Fire House was then removed and a new one installed. It announces the site as the future home of EHS Museum and charts progress toward our fundraising goal of $125,000 via rising rungs on a hook-and-ladder truck.

Next, Carl saw to the removal of the last remaining asbestos from the hating pipes by a qualified contractor. Students from St. Gregory High School lent a hand in sweeping out the building and removing the remaining debris in time for our Sneak Preview Party on January 5, 1997.

Our pre-construction party’s festive, red theme color and a gentle, visiting dalmation named Suki, contributed to the excitement of beginning a new project. Behind the scenes, Betty and Ara Mayian and Martha and John Kraeger helped manage an impressive buffet provided by many area restaurants. Special thanks to: Ann Sather’s, Swedish Bakery, Fireside Restaurant, Mei Shung, Glenway Inn, and Andies Restaurant. Leftovers were donated to the St. Thomas of Canterbury soup kitchen.

Preview tours of the building were given by Carl and two firemen who used to work there, Bill Behrens and Jim Lukas. Tee Galley from Alderman Pat O’Connor’s office was there to present EHS with the ceremonial key to the building.

Thank you, special guests - Tee, Bill and Jim, Suki and owner Lorraine Olsen, EHS workers and partygoers, for making this event one to be always remembered!

With the arrival of spring, Carl was busy contracting for the removal of the metal towers from the roof of the building. These towers have been the source of damage to the roof and parapet. Once again, St. Gregory students came to help out and did a great clean-up job in the backyard.

In the meantime, the Society filed for a zoning Special Use which is required in R4 zoning in order to open a museum. The hearing on the proposal was March 21. Alderman O’Connor sent a letter of support and the proposal was approved. In June, we received a letter stating the approval had been recorded.

Back in January we began the process of application for Property Tax Exemption. This was approved by the County and sent to the State who, in turn, sent it back to us to get approved by the taxing bodies. Ah, bureaucracy! (Better spelled “buraucrazy”?) Our application is still pending.

Oh, yes - not to forget the construction process. On April 15, Greene and Proppe Design delivered our plans and bid documents to the Dept. of Housing for approval, in accordance with the terms of our CDBG grant. On May 19, the plans were forwarded to the City Dept. of Planning and the State of Illinois for environmental clearance.

On July 10, a request for additional photos came from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. We sent these on July 16 after combing through all of our photos to find the best ones. We finally received the “go-ahead” in the third week of August: EHS can now let the project out to bid. We are doubtful that the project can be completed before December 31, as first planned. But look for a Museum opening in spring of 1998!

Life in Edgewater goes on and we have had some exciting meetings since last summer. First, thanks to Carl Helbig for arranging the program “Elevated Memories,” with author Bruce Moffat, for our October 10, 1996 General Meeting at North Shore Baptist Church.

Bruce’s slide lecture included pictures of various older “L” cars and some great photos of Edgewater’s first train station on the ground at Bryn Mawr. Additional pictures focused on the great train accident at Granville (once called the North Edgewater stop) and some shots of Lill Coal Yard which once stood where the Broadway/Berwyn Jewel was built. Anyone who has more information or pictures of the Granville wreck, please get in touch with us, as this story is noteworthy. We are always happy to have experts like Mr. Moffat contribute to our knowledge of the history of the area.

At our March 22, 1997 Annual Meeting, held at the North Shore Baptist Church, Chicago historians Ken Little and Father Tom McNalis introduced EHS members to the world of the Fire Department in Chicago. With slides and stories, they taught us about fire hydrants and early fire fighting equipment as well as the development of the Fire Department for the City of Chicago.

Mr. Little, a retired C.F.D. dispatcher, also enlightened us on some proper terminology: the term “fire house” is used to refer to the building where firemen live, whereas “fire station” refers to the building where equipment is stored. We SHOULD be referring to our building at Balmoral and Ashland as a former Fire House. According to Mr. Little, our Fire House, soon to be a Museum, was erected in 1925 in a special deal the City made, getting the building built virtually for free.

Mr. Little and Fr. McNalis authored a book called “Fire Houses of the 19th Century in Chicago, Vol. I,” a copy of which they autographed and donated to the EHS archives. Ken also made a donation to our Building Fund. Thanks to both men!

On May 15, 1997, the Chicago Public Library and the North Side Historical Alliance (to which we belong) presented “Chicago Movie Palaces - The Architecture of Fantasy,” a free slide talk by Richard Sklenar at the Conrad Sulzer Regional Library. Mr. Sklenar is the Executive Director of the Theatre Historical Society of America.

Lois Kransz, great granddaughter of Nicholas Kransz, Sr., an early settler of Edgewater who built the Seven Mile House, was the guest speaker at EHS’s General Meeting on May 31, held at NLCC. Ms. Kransz began by explaining why the family name is “misspelled correctly.” The original name, Krantz, was noted in an early signature to be in a kind of Gothic script that used a “t” without a crossbar. The name was written down as “Kransz” and the family has spelled it that way ever since!

A separate article on Lois’s stories of the Kransz family will appear in a forthcoming issue of the newsletter. We wish to thank her for her interesting presentation and for providing us with a list of the locations of Kransz houses in Edgewater.

On a damp and chilly June 7, about 35 people joined me for EHS’s Walking Tour of Andersonville. Starting at our museum site, I guided them to some of the important architecture and little known historic sites, showed some early photos of the area and talked about the development of this oldest part of Edgewater. Dick Gengler enthralled us with his own stories and tidbits of information along the way. North Side Federal Savings & Loan graciously invited us in out of the rain for a while and even gave each of us a gift bag before sending us back on our merry way. How’s that for good old-fashioned hospitality!

Other activities in the community include completion of the Sean Park Redevelopment Plan and the installation of the statue of Young Lincoln at the intersection of Clark and Ridge on the site of the original Nicholas Kransz, Sr., homestead. Historical background and a photo of the home were provided to the Chicago Park District by EHS.

The celebration on June 10 was the culmination of years of work by community members, beginning almost ten years ago with the formation of the Senn Park Advisory Board, lead by Janet Weitz. This Board met at the Broadway Armory and worked with Park Supervisor John Eischen to create strategies to get the job done. Architect Thom Greene produced the first draft of the Plan in 1989. Subsequently, ECC and ONE worked together to refine it and to rally community support.

What we have today is a showcase of what people in a community can do together. And the crowning jewel of the project, the statue of Young Lincoln, sculpted by Charles Keck, is there because of the efforts of Alderman Mary Ann Smith and her staff, who sought to bring a work of art and an historical presence to the site.

Lincoln now sits at Edgewater’s most famous crossroads, with a book on his lap. It is Lincoln as a young scholar before he became a statesman and President. It is the young Lincoln full of possibilities, a reminder for all of us that the future of our community lies beyond the possibilities we can see today.

Editors Note: At its Salute Edgewater ‘96 event on November 16, 1994, the Edgewater Community Council honored EHS President Kathy Gemperle and architect Thom Greene with Community Service Awards. Alderman Pat O’Connor received a Public Service Award for his help in obtaining the old firehouse on Ashland for EHS, in addition to other accomplishments for the community. EHS congratulates these honorees who are, of course, near and dear to our hearts!