Sheli Lulkin - Transcript

Transcript of Sheli Lulkin Oral History.
Interviewee: Sheli Lulkin
Interviewer: Dorothy Nygren
Date: March 2, 2013
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Martin Stewart
Total time: 77:37 minutes

Copyright © 2013 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: We are here today, March 2, 2013 at the home of Sheli Lulkin, a beautiful home with all kinds of artistic merit and objects in it. And I’m Dorothy Nygren of the Edgewater Historical Society beginning and interview about her role as a living treasure. First of all Sheli, let me thank you for all the work you’ve done for our community and congratulate you for being a 2013 living treasure of Edgewater. I would like to ask you how you came to Edgewater?

SL: It was a mistake. I had been living at 1540 N State Parkway. That was my first condominium and I applied and was accepted to the PhD program at Loyola University. So I say mistake because I sold my condo and bought one at 6121 N. Sheridan Rd., only to find out that my classes were downtown by my old apartment. But it worked out well because the library was up here so I got to do a lot of studying. It also led me into community activities which I don’t think I would’ve done if I had stayed at the other end and my life would’ve been totally different.

I was in the PhD program for political science. And one of my professors had studied…one of my professors was from the northeast and she… [brief interruption] One of my professors had studied the town hall meetings in northeastern…I’m sorry…one of my professors was actually from Connecticut and she had studied the town hall meetings and whether they were true democracy. So she was fascinated by the idea that I was living in a condominium and she wanted me to study whether the condominium was a form of a town hall meeting. So she encouraged me to get active in my condominium. That just sucked up all my time. I spent more time on the condominium than I did on my studies. Then I had another professor who is actually my advisor from my dissertation whose wife, Jeanette, one of the founders of the Edgewater community Council. So I was getting pressure from him because were some issues from the Edgewater Community Council that they wanted me to fight. I was getting it from two different professors to get active. I started my PhD, but I never finished it. I finished my course work. They call that an ABD….

DN: What year was that?

SL: In the late ’70s or early ’80s.

DN: So you were an ABD?

SL: Yes, so I’m an ABD in political science, international relations and American public policy. I did get my Masters degree in it and I never got my dissertation done and him and him and I never finished because of all the community work. Some of the community work actually became a crisis and we had to spend a lot of time on it. My first really community active work when I worked with the Sartesians here began with Rosehill Cemetery. They were beginning to try to sell off parts of Rosehill Cemetery, especially the parts which is now going to be the nature preserve. I worked with some people who lived near it. Sartasians lived just east of the cemetery and I met with people who live just west of the cemetery. And my dear friend Robert, Kahnweiler, who at that time was on the ASCO board, had his parents buried there and he is buried there now and he was very encouraging saying, “Don’t let them desecrate my parents grave.” We worked very hard on the cemetery at the time. The name Potter Palmer is sacred in Chicago history.

We weren’t getting very far and one day I decided to take a ride to the cemetery for inspiration. I parked my car and I sat there and I thought. I couldn’t come up with a solution. And then all of a sudden I looked up and I was in front of s the monument to Ira Crown. I went home and I called the Crown family foundation, and that shows you how dumb I am, I should say how sophisticated I am, because Barry Crown called me from Colorado and I said to him, “I didn’t need for you to spend the money call me long distance. I could have waited till you were back in town.” Well, the Crown family assigned their own personal attorney to work with us. He is now a judge, if he hasn’t retired. And they assigned everything we need, photographers to take pictures… What they were going to do was strip mining of the cemetery because there was beautiful, natural sand there. And they paid all the legal bills, everything, and we went to court. And we won. What I was trying to do in my own way was challenge them with violating the Illinois, strip mining act. We ended up, we didn’t have to do that because they took over. But that was the first big fight. Save Rosehill Cemetery. I could do a documentary, I know so much about Rosehill Cemetery. I still go there. I like the grave that says Yankee soldier.

DN: it is a beautiful cemetery and I’m grateful that you’ve helped save that. It has so much history in it.

SL: Now Alderman O’Connor and Congressman Rahm Emanuel got the money to turn it into a nature preserve and that’s what it’s going to be. It’s funny, I fought with Alderman O’Connor, and we became the best of friends. He’s truly a remarkable man and I understand that he has made it possible for the Historical Society to get their museum. He’s just a great, great leader.

DN: He’s been responsive to the community… it’s certainly true and… help them guide their projects to fruition.

SL: Alderman O’Connor is very responsive to the community. I really think the world of him. So from that project, then the lake came up… Then the lake started to rise. I lived at 6121 N. Sheridan, which I was told was the second building in Chicago to be built to be a condominium. It has thirty-two units, four stories tall. I used to get very angry because some of the people from the Edgewater Community Council would sneer and say, “It’s a 4+1.” Well you know what, it may be a 4+1, but it was built as a condominium, with duplexes and triplexes; a private beach; it is a very well-built building. It’s not like 4+ ones which were thrown up.

DN: You are referring to the ones on Kenmore and Winthrop, which have been a problem?

SL: These buildings were not the problem, although I could tell you some funny stories. But ah… well the lake got so high that when there was a storm and I was at the Sheridan Road side of the building and not at the back, the water would hit the back of the building and all of the kitchen cabinets in front of the building would fly open and if you weren’t careful you would lose a few dishes because they would fall out. But I learned not to put them near the edge.

DN: Who would think that in Chicago, you would be having beachfront property and have that problem?

SL: Right. It was serious. This building that we are in now had a little flooding in the garage, but it is actually built up into the lake. Buildings whose driveways sloped downwards got it in flooded when Sheridan Road got flooded. Because the water would run down. It’s not hard to figure out. There were a couple of times when Sheridan Road had to be closed. Now during this interim time right before the lake got too bad, we decided to try to revive ASCO [Association of Sheridan Road Condo/Coop Owners]. It had been founded in the ’70s because somebody wanted to build a nursing home at Thorndale and Sheridan, which is now the park that is dedicated to Rabbi Schaalman and his wife. Some of the buildings got together and they threw in a dollar or two per unit owner which in a big building is a lot of money and they formed the organization and they fought to stop the nursing home.

DN: And you were very involved in the formation of that organization?

SL: No I wasn’t. I wasn’t even here yet. And then they had money left over it was in the bank and they just were leaving it there in case there was another problem. This area had the second highest number of nursing homes of any community area in Chicago. Even the Edgewater Community Council admitted that there shouldn’t be any more nursing homes. Nursing homes are not good for the neighborhood. They don’t buy in the neighborhood. They don’t shop. They don’t walk the streets. So, the streets are left wide open to problems. They’re not a good community member. Every community should have a couple and no community should bear the burden. So it was more or less the same time. After that nursing home was defeated there was still a lot of talk. There were still a lot of empty lots on Sheridan Road. There was still talk of developers coming in. One of the men in my building was one of the founders of ASCO. He was being transferred to Las Vegas for work and he told me a lot about the history. Somebody was making noises about building another nursing home. There’s even a condo on Glenlake and Sheridan, northwest corner. The property was owned by a nursing home developer; but he never got to build it. So I tried to talk to the Edgewater Community Council about what we’re going to do about the nursing home. But they were not really interested in anything to do with Sheridan Road. So I talked to some other people on Sheridan Road and we decided to revive ASCO. At that time I believe I was secretary.

DN: Do you remember what year that was around?

SL: I’ve been trying to figure that out for a while.

DN: Well, we can research it later.

SL: Anyways, Lou Sedeski was the president. Sharon Ray Bender was Vice President. I was secretary and a guy named Bud Herman from Beachpoint was Treasurer. We got it going again. And the lake was really getting to be a problem. Now I have a background for my bachelors degree in science. I took a couple more courses real quick and I became an associate geologist for the state of Illinois in order to work on this.

So we had two things going for us. In political science, I learned how to put things on the public agenda and as an associate geologist I understood what was going on and how to deal with it. I then went and saw Sid Yates, who turned out to be our helper. But I’m getting ahead of the story. We asked the Edgewater Community Council to help us. One of the vice presidents, I’ll never forget this, one of the vice presidents of the Community Council, said, “Your building should never have been built before. I will not allow public money to be used to protect them because they should be torn down.” Now at that same time, Marion Volini’s brother-in-law, who was then human relations Commissioner for Mayor Daley the first, he came up with the idea to redistrict this ward to take Sheridan Road out of it. Sheridan Road had different problems and different issues and it should not be in the same ward with all those nice single-family residences west of Broadway. He had a certain point. We do have problems, but it certainly did not build for any unity in the community and it made it quite obvious to us what was going on and where we could look for help.

At that time Sheridan road was called the Gray Ghetto. Sheridan Road condominiums were marketed with the concept that the kids were grown up. You don’t need all that space. You don’t want to have to climb on the roof to clean the gutter. Sell your house and move to a carefree condominium life. In addition we also had people in the condos, not as many, were first starting on their career path and wanted to buy a studio or a one-bedroom to start to build equity for when they wanted a home. So, we had two types of people age-wise in the Sheridan Road condominiums. Then we had… racially we were the first mixed community really.

If you look at Edgewater, Adam Burke of the Edgewater Development Corporation did a study in which he showed that Edgewater is almost equally divided in its population: one third west of Broadway, in single-family homes, small apartment buildings; one third on Kenmore Winthrop; and one third on Sheridan Road. Now on Kenmore Winthrop they built another ghetto. I have clippings somewhere from the ’80s, 30 years ago, about buying pot on the corner of Kenmore and Thorndale. So some of the problems we have now are not new. The other fight that the Edgewater Community Council was active in was trying… Marion Volini was Alderman at the time, and she made a commitment – no more public housing on Kenmore and Winthrop. That didn’t last too long because she became politically aligned with Mayor Washington and LC Higginbotham got to slip one more in. But generally, there was just too much public housing. So you had a ghetto.

If you look at Professor Banford from the University of Chicago wrote a book called Heavenly City about Chicago. And what he showed was that in every community except Edgewater you had a barrier. It went upper middle-class, middle class, poor when starting at the lakefront. And that was true in every community except Edgewater, which went immediately from middle class to very poor. And that was one of the Edgewater’s major problems.

In terms of elected officials, it put them in a quandary. They did not want to be called racist. On the other hand it didn’t seem to bother aldermen west of us. They were able to put a stop to public housing. In fact, they didn’t have any public housing. But then when the federal government started pushing more public housing to be spread out for economic integration what they did, was they all went for senior housing because that was not the gang bangers. On the other hand, we had that problem. We had senior housing in Edgewater, where grandma would take in her kid who is in a wheelchair from a drive-by shooting. An he’d have all his gang banger friends over and yet it was a senior building. So they didn’t find a solution to that issue either.

In the meantime, we had settled up on our own to solve the lakefront problem which I would consider my biggest job. We brought in 6-1/2 million dollars to do what we called emergency measures. What happened was I went down and I had a long talk with Congressman Yates. And he called the Army Corps of Engineers. Now it happened that he was the head of the appropriations subcommittee of the Parks Committee. This is Lincoln Park. So that helped too. Congressman Yates called the Corps of Engineers, which has in its mission to stop flooding and he said, “We have flooding in my district, please tell me what has to be done.” Well we finally qualified under the emergency measures act of the Army Corps of Engineers to get emergency help. The type of revetments we have are what they call rip rap – they’re for emergencies; they are not permanent. They are supposed to last 15 years and they’ve already lasted 30 years. Of course the lake went down. But they’ve held up well. The Army Corps did a very good job.

In the meantime, we had to have money. It had to be matching funds. So it had to match between the state, local and federal. Congressman Yates made sure we got the federal funds and he did it in such a clever earmark. I know, earmarks are terrible things, but this was the best earmark ever. There was an appropriation for the Secretary of the Army – they had one then – to relocate seals from an island off of California so that the Navy could use the island for target practice. But there was no money to protect 10,000 people living on the lakefront. So, there was all this money to protect the seals on the California coast. So Congressman Yates amended it by inserting a phrase providing that the Secretary of the Army first provides flood protection to the people in my congressional district south of the north boundary beginning somewhere in Evanston… I don’t remember the exact wording. So that’s how Congressman Yates took care of us. He was wonderful. Then Art Berman took over to get the state money. Part of this was getting this on the public agenda.

Getting the public to want it, and part of it was getting our own legislators to see that this was important and that they had to get on board, because they were a little reluctant at the beginning too. It was a massive public relations effort. Art and I went down to Springfield one day to testify before the Senate committee on the environment. Art had put in an appropriations bill and I will never forget that day, as long as I live, although Art swears he doesn’t remember. The head of the environmental committee was opposed to our getting any state money. It was a woman. I can’t remember her name. She was from downstate, but she was fighting it. She brought in a professor from some downstate university, who testified that all of Chicago was going to be underwater anyway in about 1 billion years and even sooner it will be underwater up to about Ridge Avenue. Art interrupted him and he said, “Excuse me. I have a question. How many years did you say?” “A billion,” he said. “Oh, thank god! I thought you said 1 million.” (chuckle) We got the money out of the state. Then we had to get the Chicago Park District to take ownership of that which had to be built on their land because some of the land here along the lakefront belongs to the Park District. In fact I have an old map somewhere that says that actually Lincoln Park goes up to Granville.

DN: That would be fascinating.

SL: Yeah, wouldn’t it. But anyhow it was deeded in the 1800s by the Secretary of the Army to Lincoln Park. So ah… we had a lot of trouble with the Chicago Park District. Part of that trouble came because of internal differences in Edgewater. The Lincoln Park Advisory Council was working on a master plan for Lincoln Park. Jesse Madison was the superintendent. Lee Botts, a very close friend of Mary Ann Smith, was… the head of… I think it was called the Department of the Environment at that time and Harold Washington was the mayor. The Lincoln Park Advisory Council… Jesse Madison had each community appoint a person to the Master plan committee. We wanted to be on the master plan committee because obviously many of our buildings are on the border for Lincoln Park. But the president of the Edgewater Community Council insisted that she be the one to represent Edgewater. She went to the Alderman and got that taken care of. We were excluded; although two of us were allowed to listen, we weren’t allowed to open our mouths.

DN: You’re talking about the Association of Condominiums?

SL: Yes ASCO was not allowed to speak at those meetings. I went to the meetings. I had not decided whether I was going to speak or not. I certainly would’ve interrupted if I thought that they were doing anything important. They weren’t. They were playing with Fullerton, Diversey, etc. When they got to our area, by that point, politics had changed. But we never got to participate. We were not allowed to have a vote. We were not allowed to speak at the meetings. The ironic thing is that the woman who was ECC president never attended a single meeting. It was just done to keep ASCO from being part of it. Now we went ahead on our own. We made the issue hot enough. Billy Marovitz, who was a senator at that time, Art Berman. They talked to Mayor Washington. Lee Botts was told to shut up, that it was politically unwise for her to constantly attack me in public. The guy who was Jesse Madison’s assistant, I can’t remember his name, all I can remember is that he wore so much gold. And his secretary had gold fingernails with diamonds in them. That’s all I can remember about them. They were very anti-our area but for a different reason. When Ed Kelly was superintendent of the Park District minority neighborhoods really got nothing. They knew this was going to be an expensive project and they had their eyes on the money for their community. So we got caught in that.

Mayor Washington established the Shoreline Protection Committee… made Dick Oberman, the chairman. He appointed three people from Edgewater: myself, Robert Kahnweiler and this gentleman from Malibu who was an engineer. I cannot remember his name. He has been deceased a long time. And the Edgewater Community Council exploded. They couldn’t take it. So, Marion Volini went to Harold Washington and got Jack Markowski, who was the executive director of the Community Council, appointed to the Shoreline Commission. I will say this for Jack; he was good. His attendance was regular. He had good ideas. He was thoughtful; he was a good member of the commission. The commission of course, was loaded against us. It was not just the Lincoln Park Advisory Council that was loaded against us. We’re at the end of Lincoln Park. We’re North side. We’re irrelevant.

I remember when Mayor Daley planted the median on Lake Shore Drive and they planted it from the loop to Irving. And I got up at a city public budget hearing and I demanded that they plant north of Irving. And I asked him, “What are we, chopped liver? The flowers stop when you get to Irving and we get none?” I knew we had won when he sort of nudged his assistant next to him and nodded, which in my language meant okay we get written down at least. Sure enough the next planting season. We got wonderful landscaping all the way down to Hollywood. That was not ECC that was not the Alderman, it was us – ASCO. We’ve done many things right there.

I attended the Lincoln Park Advisory Council for about 25 years. I even ended up being president for six years. I found that nobody really cared about the north end of Lincoln Park until Harry Osterman went to Springfield for the legislature. He finally– he got us the money to build the beach house. When he became Alderman, they repaved the bike path up here. They repaved the bike path from the loop to Foster and stopped. The northern end of the bike path was never paved. You know if you say what did I accomplish? I don’t know because it took me so long. But we did keep the pressure over and over to get the bike path paved, to get the potholes fixed. We’ve never gotten a complete restructuring of Sheridan Road.

I remember that same favorite vice president I have from ECC saying when we were talking at a meeting about traffic and we wanted to take care of some of the issues of the traffic on Sheridan Road, I remember her screaming, and she did scream, “You’re not going to push your traffic on our block.” This was not a united community. Edgewater has not gotten as far as it has the potential to go because of the cleavages and that means that the third that lives on Sheridan Road and the third that was on Kenmore Winthrop and the third west of Broadway never worked together. I remember one Edgewater Community Council president who formed the Sheridan Road committee whose mission was to destroy ASCO.

Now ASCO has a very strong mission that has nothing to do with the community. It has to do with state legislation, condominium law, collecting assessments and we do our public safety too. But there was a weird group of realtors that got together and took control of the Edgewater Community Council. This was one of the things that my professors at Loyola told me too. The real estate interests are running the Edgewater Community Council, not the people who live here.

DN: When you said that the mission of ASCO was not necessarily aligned with all of Edgewater, you meant as far as condominium issues. But in what way do you see the mission aligned with Edgewater in general? Over issues of public safety for example?

SL: In 1985 when the [Edgewater] Chamber of Commerce was formed. I was asked to be on the Chamber board as president of ASCO and the title they gave me was consumer representative. They wanted the people on Sheridan Road who they felt had disposable income to patronize the commercial district. That’s why I was appointed.

In 1989 the board of the chamber asked me to take over the job of its executive director with the understanding that I would raise some money for my own salary since they were broke.

DN: Interesting concept.

SL: I took the job because I was interested in it. I raised the money. We rented from the Edgewater Community Council, it was an extremely hostile environment to rent from them. Jack was wonderful but the biddys weren’t. I had a desk in the ECC office and being an avid mystery reader, I learned all the tricks – you know, put a hair across the edge of the desk and see if it’s moved type trick. They went to my desk quite regularly. They went through my desk quite regularly, same biddy.

Finally, one Thanksgiving day the president of the Community Council got a phone call from the president of the Edgewater Community Council saying you are evicted and I want you out tomorrow morning. So we were evicted. It was the best thing that ever happened to us.

DN: Why was that?

SL: Because we were on our own. We weren’t paranoid. We didn’t have to do things the Edgewater Community Council wanted. We could do things that were good for the whole business district. We were collecting dues from people on Granville. Why should we only work on Bryn Mawr?

DN: What was the mission of the Edgewater Community Council?

SL: Power. Power for themselves. It was made up of real estate people and people who had bought into the neighborhood when it was still called Arson Alley. They could never afford to buy at the rates that the prices had gone up, but they wanted to control it.

DN: What do you see the mission of the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce being?

SL: To develop business and support it. The Chamber of Commerce is not going to be just a me too for them. Here is one of the ideas they came up with. They decided to create what is called a special service area. Under state law a special service area is a taxing district laid on top of the property tax. So if you are a business owner maybe your property tax would go up one half of 1%. But that one half of one percent would stay in the community and that would bring in maybe 200,000 a year. So they formed an Edgewater Development Corporation.

With every other community in the city, the Development Corporation was a part of the chamber. Not here. The fellow who created and did all the work for the Development Corporation was actually the executive director of our Chamber who did it on our chamber time; because he was promised that he would get the new job with more money when the Development Corporation was formed. So he did the Development Corporation. It was formed and we had a board of directors of twenty four people. Six were from the Edgewater Community Council. Six were from the Andersonville Chamber, which at that time was controlled by the Edgewater Community Council… [interuption]

DN: So we were talking about the Edgewater Development Corporation.

SL: The head of the Edgewater Development Corporation was the husband of the real estate dealer who screamed you’re not going to put your traffic on my… It’s all interlaced.

DN: You said that the purpose of the Edgewater Chamber of Commerce was to bring business to all of Edgewater.

SL: We had a lot of vacancies, car dealers, to bring retail!

DN: Do you feel that that has improved in the time you’ve been active in the chamber?

SL: A little bit. But mostly I think it’s been in fighting.

DN: So, there is a lot of work that has to be done?

SL: Harry Osterman has been doing a lot of it. Alderman Smith did a lot of it too. She at one time had an economic development person. But the difference is that Harry Osterman is trying to develop the whole community, Edgewater community and Mary Ann Smith was basically interested in Bryn Mawr and Andersonville.

DN: So one of the problems that exist in Edgewater and that you see that continues to exist in Edgewater and still continues to exist, even though it might be better, is lack of unity. I think you said of the various community groups coming together. There is political interest…

SL: When they founded Edgewater Development Corporation they gave six seats to the Andersonville chamber. First, we pulled out. We quit the development Corporation. Then Andersonville with the Development Corporation. They formed their own. Then it fell apart. It still exists, they still get money. Patrick O’Connor stopped their budget one year because of mishandling of money. There was some playing around with the money. There were… Funds were funneled to the Edgewater Community Council, among other places.

DN: We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the problems of flooding along Sheridan Road with basic public safety issues. Aside from the various condo owners, it would seem that there is a misunderstanding on the parts of people and groups who might think that condo owners are just interested in solving this problem from their own personal perspective, but in point of fact it represents a community issue - the flooding problem – because of the public safety issues.

SL: There were a lot of underground electrical transformers that got flooded. Power went out. The public safety was the public safety of the condo residents. We had Sheridan Road closed, which created a problem for public transportation. Fortunately, after the revetments were built a few years after that, the lake started to go down.

DN: So the temporary revetments seem to be holding. But if the water level rises again, it will be a problem again.

SL: Now the Corps of Engineers has rebuilt at Diversey. They built beautiful very expensive revetments. We’ve never gotten them. It’s not a priority right now because the lake continues to go down. Once the lake starts to rise again and I firmly believe that as a geologist the lake will start to rise again, we will have to start fighting for permanent, good revetments. There is a huge beach at 6121 N. Sheridan. That beach is gone when the water is up. It’s only there now because the lake is really low.

DN: You also spoke about the fact that Lincoln Park extends into Edgewater… [interruption] Edgewater is part of Lincoln Park. And it sounds as though your efforts were not only directed towards public safety but towards the beautification of the environment of Edgewater through trying to get funds and recognition as part of Lincoln Park. Could you talk about that a little bit and why you thought that was important. You said the North side was kind of left behind.

SL: the North end of Lincoln Park gets a lot less expenditure and care than the rest of the park. Part of it is political. There are five Alderman who have pieces of Lincoln Park and you have the Historical Society and the Peggy Notebaert Museum, the Conservatory. We have none of that up here. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the political support. We had an Alderman, who was chairman of the parks committee who really didn’t do anything north of Uptown. There was a political attitude about let’s leave the North end of Lincoln Park barren and natural, mother nature. Yet the majority of the people wanted flowerbeds. We wanted sculptures too. There isn’t a sculpture north of Weiss Hospital and that was done by and at the group. It was not done by the Park District or not for profit. It’s been a struggle. It’s very hard to get anything accomplished when you have politicians who don’t care. That’s the nicest way I can say it.

DN: Are there any projects that you feel are left undone that you would like to see accomplished in Edgewater? Other than the ones we talked about? Are there other projects??

SL: I think something has to be done about the traffic. I think that we have to have, Edgewater needs to have nicer amenities. The park, the bike paths. Bicycle riding is a terrible problem on Sheridan Road. Getting the people to stop riding their bikes on the sidewalks, especially when you have a lot of seniors. We have a lot of disabled people on Sheridan Road because we have elevator buildings. Bikes on Sheridan Road do not go together well at all. The traffic is a problem. It should be diverted to College Street, sent down Ridge not down Sheridan Road. These are residential streets. But the amenities, we’ve always wanted to do more at Hollywood, make it beautiful.

We’ve got a start now with the new beach house. Landscape that area. Unfortunately for us the last Alderman, authorized the planting of dune grass on the beach, which turned out to be the wrong species. It’s invasive. It’s spreading across the beach. The rats live in it. It catches all the dirt that flies by, requires a lot of cleanup, although I have to say that in the last few years the Park District has gotten some equipment that’s keeping it much much cleaner. The Osterman Beach is returning to its pristine glory. We have the gay beach. It’s interesting. It used to be Hollywood Beach. Mayor Daley renamed it Osterman Beach, but it seems like Osterman Beach is the section closest to the buildings where the families go and Hollywood Beach is closer to the pier out east where the gay community congregates. Now Sheridan Road has always been extremely receptive to the gay community, to the minority communities. We’ve had several black presidents. Right now on the board of directors we have several minority people on it. We get along very well in the condos because it’s not a class question.

DN: Interesting… interesting.

SL: What else can I say? At one time when I moved onto Sheridan Road the majority groups were Greek, Jewish and gay. Now there are not as many Greeks on Sheridan Road. St. Andrew’s does not have a Greek school anymore. The Jewish community is a little smaller but it’s holding steady because Emanuel Congregation is here and Emanuel Congregation is growing. It’s getting larger. But also you have Loyola, which is buying up a lot of property and coming on Sheridan Road also.

DN: Would you like to comment about how you feel about that?

SL: We love what Loyola is doing except for the kids that ride their bikes. Actually, one of the biggest complaints, even more than bike riders is their running teams. They run out on the sidewalk in packs.

DN: It becomes a public safety issue.

SL: Yes. It’s a public safety issue. They run down the sidewalk in packs. We’ve written to them. They promised to have the coaches talk to them. But, Loyola as a university is a good neighbor. We have many cultural events that are free that people of the community are welcome to attend, and do attend.

DN: Do you want to comment about the North Lakeside Cultural Center at all?

SL: Well, I can comment on it. I don’t know if you want to use it… The Viatorian fathers decided to sell the two mansions that now compose Berger Park and they were ready to sell to a developer. Now actually there were three mansions there. As soon as they heard that there might be community pressure not to tear down the mansions, they tore down one mansion, the fanciest, overnight thinking that that would stop the community.

Now this was strictly a Kathy Osterman project. She led it. She contacted the Bergers, who had a tiny little park at Granville named after one of their ancestors and she got them to put up some money. She mobilized the Park District, mobilized the community and Berger Park was bought by the Chicago Park District with the help of the Bergers. Miles Berger was, I think at the time, head of the Chicago Planning Commission maybe. Anyway we saved it. The Edgewater Community Council wanted one of the buildings for their headquarters… and that didn’t happen. ASCO supported and assisted Kathy, and I’m not trying to take away from what she did, but we were in support of what she did. We wrote letters, etc., came to meetings. But it was for public use. There were two coach houses and two mansions. And there was empty land. We wanted that that to be for the public. There were no real parks here. This was before Broadway Armory. They were so close together, I can’t quite remember which one came first. They couldn’t have one building for their headquarters. So they decided to create the North Lakeside Cultural Center.

They don’t have a very good track record. The North Lakeside Cultural Center failed. The Edgewater Community Council failed. They lost their building. Maybe, you know, if they had worked for the community instead of for themselves… The biggest fight we had over Berger Park was where they decided… and this was the same woman who is on the Lincoln Park Advisory Council… they decided to build a parking lot on the property so they could meet. They wanted to have all their meetings at Berger Park and they wanted to have a parking lot so they could drive there. Nobody wanted to walk past Kenmore Winthrop. So they tried and we said no. So Jesse Madison who I think was still head of the Park District at that time, he didn’t want to get involved so he decided. He had created the system of advisory councils. He decided that the Berger Park Advisory Council would make the decision. They came in one night and took over the Advisory Council. They walked in with a written set of bylaws. They had a crowd. They voted themselves in charge. They adopted the bylaws, which said that other people could not vote and they took over. And then they voted to have a parking lot. That’s the way they operated.

People in the community, Mimi Harris was one of the leaders, decided that they didn’t like it. She was not a Sheridan Road person. And they hung in there, you know. They say that Trotskyites would be able to take over organizations because they had the ability to set through interminably long meetings. Mimi’s not a Trotskyite. I don’t mean that. But there were people who would come to meetings and sat and sat. The other people were just marshaled there for one night. They dropped out. And pretty soon the public got control of the Berger Park advisory Council, built a beautiful play lot there. We have flowers; we have a garden club, a coach house that we went through three or four owners before we got the right operator – the same operator who operates the Waterfront Café now operates the coach house at Berger where they do productions. So it’s falling into place.

DN: And those are all efforts on the behalf of the community. Not for special interests.

SL: Right and when the issue of closing the North Lakeside Cultural Center came, they mobilized a couple of theater groups who said we have to keep this because we want a place where we can rehearse. The community said, “No. This is not a private club.” The Berger Park Cultural Center is overcrowded. Registration is always closed for the classes. They don’t have enough room. We have to take the building back. The ECC did not comply with its contract to maintain the building because they didn’t have the money. The building was falling down. So we asked that the Park District take it back and they did. They did not renew their lease and they have cleaned it up. They are going to rehab it. It’s going to be very expensive. ASCO submitted an application last year to the State for environmental money to put a new boiler and repair the roof at the Berger Park. But we didn’t get it because the money that they were going to give to Chicago they gave directly to the Chicago Park District.

DN: There is still work to be done.

SL: A lot of work; very expensive work. Rehabbing Berger Park was a heck of a deal. They hired this guy, Hasbrook, who is a specialist in restoration. They took out the stained glass windows, they had magnificent windows, and they took them out and put them in storage while the building was being repaired. They were put in storage for safety. They were stolen from storage. Nobody knows where they are. They were probably sold in some artifact place.

DN: What do you see the future of Edgewater being? Do you see continual dissension or do you see organizations working together?

SL: No. I see organizations working together because the political environment has changed. We had twenty wasted years and now we are really moving. It’s amazing how fast things are happening here. For a country that supposedly has economic problems and were underwater and Edgewater allegedly, according to one statistical report, has 38% of the mortgages underwater. We’re doing really well.

DN: Why do you think that is? The leadership?

SL: I think the leadership changed here. I think the Edgewater Community Council has bugged out of the way. They weren’t very good to the Historical Society either. They started them and then the Historical Society rented from them just like the chamber rented from them. Different groups are moving out from under their thumb. The Development Corporation is pretty irrelevant.

DN: The Edgewater Chamber of Commerce is taken on a life of its own. Also, hasn’t it?

SL: Oh, very much taken on a life of its own. But, it’s also kind of under the thumb of Loyola. So was Rogers Park. Both of them are run by Loyola now.

DN: But do you think it’s a good thing that Loyola is investing more in the Edgewater community? How do you see that?

SL: Loyola has done some very positive things. When I first got active in this community, there was one block on Granville that had fifteen liquor licenses. Now it has one. You can really attribute that to Loyola buying up buildings and closing them down. It will be interesting to see what they do with the Sovereign now that they own it. There hasn’t been much progress since they bought it. The purchase was a long stretch south.

Loyola can be a little bit tutorial, but then they can turn around and be the most open-minded community group possible. They have done some pretty good things; but people are afraid of them. Some people call them the 800 pound gorilla. Some people are afraid that they will do what the University of Chicago did. I think it’s more likely that they will follow the Marquette college model. Marquette had some bad neighborhoods adjacent to the campus and they bought them up.

DN: I’d like to ask if you think that Edgewater is a special neighborhood. Chicago has been characterized as a city of neighborhoods, usually because it represents one ethnicity or race. Edgewater is its own neighborhood. You think it’s special among them or just like the other ones?

SL: For years, they used to call Edgewater the zebra capital of Chicago. And that was because it was so liberal, so open-minded – you could help multiracial couples living in a building next door to Chicago born executives. There was a building with Somali immigrants and they all seem to get along very well. I think a really good example of that is the Ethiopian community which is so integrated into everything here. And I think that Edgewater will continue that way. I don’t think anybody is going to dominate Edgewater.

DN: You think that the various groups, balance each other out and collectively help improve the community? No one group dominates Edgewater.

SL: When I came here, according to the census the largest population group was German. Nobody dominates now. The census shows it. But the thing is they get along. We are going to have a home for transgenders in Edgewater. It will be the only one in the city. As long as we have good leadership, and as long as people understand that when you’re fighting for nice landscaping and you’re fighting for good streetlights, that doesn’t mean you’re a racist. That doesn’t mean you want to gentrify. I know a woman once was a lifelong member of the Communist Party and she lived in one of the high-rises in a very nice apartment. And I said to her, “How do you justify living like this being a communist.” She said, “There is no contradiction. I want everyone to live as good as I do.

DN: I think that’s a great statement. Sheli. Looking back at things, what would you regard as your most significant personal achievement in your life so far?

SL: I would say the revetments.

DN: A long, hard battle and won for the good of everyone who lives here. And hopefully they’ll stay another fifteen years. What advice would you give young people?

SL: I think young people should get involved young. I was a Scout. I went to the synagogue. They should do all those things. I know they get a lot of homework nowadays, but when they finish their homework. But when they finish their homework, They should be doing things other than staying within their own shell. Don’t go playing video games all day.

DN: Get involved with people out in the real world? Get involved in the community.

SL: I think that they should get involved. I think they should have community service projects. When we have cleanup days twice a year in the ward, I think they should come out with their friends and participate.

DN: I think that would be excellent. I wanted to ask you about this drawing that you have here and discuss that.

SL: This is not my drawing. This is from some Edgewater residents. This is someone you should be talking to probably – Paul Boyd. Is he on your list?

DN: No. He is not on our list for this year, but actually, you can nominate people for next year. I take that back. He was nominated for this year, but he wasn’t chosen by the committee and he will be considered for next year.

SL: He was president of the Edgewater Community Council. There were only two people in the Edgewater Community Council were ever friendly to ASCO – Paul and Robert Remer. Robert Remer. And Robert Remer didn’t get such a good deal either.

DN: So, I have asked you all the questions, Sheli. It’s been delightful. I really enjoyed it. This is your story is there anything else you would like to contribute before we end the interview?

SL: Yeah. We came to Chicago when I was eighteen months old. We came from Israel where I was born. My mother was an American citizen and it was the start of World War II. We came here because I had an uncle here and we were en route to California, where my father had been admitted into the PhD program at Stanford. We didn’t get past Chicago because they passed a federal law which said that foreigners could not study at the University during the war. But he was good enough to get drafted. They took him in the U.S. Army and off he went overseas. My mother and I were here with my uncle.

I spent a lot of my life with books. When I was in fifth grade I won the city championship on a radio program called the Battle of Books. Where they had to ask questions on books and our team from Holdren school, we were all eighth graders, we won the award for four years in a row. And then I went on to Roosevelt High School. I had a good education in the Chicago public schools. It can be done. Chicago public schools get a hard knock. Kids should take advantage of it. They should talk to their teachers, pay attention. But I would change the Chicago public schools a little bit. Like my nephews went to the suburban schools and they had mini-courses which I thought were great. That’s how my nephew got to be a big cinematographer. He started out with the mini-course for two weeks in photography.

DL: Something aroused his passion – gave him a little start for it?

SL: I would like to see more programs for the gifted. I don’t think we have enough. I taught for twenty seven years, I taught the mentally handicapped. We have good programs for them. We have programs for all kinds of disabilities, but we don’t have enough programs for the gifted. They would sit in the back of the room. I remember when I sent the library to read on my own because the teacher had to work with the people – children who were behind. So I’d like to see a lot more emphasis in the schools on the gifted. And that’s it.

DN: I’d like to ask you about what you see as being the differences between community organizations and civic organizations and how Edgewater fits in.

SL: Edgewater probably has more community organizations than any community I know. But that’s good. It’s good because it gets what people want on the public agenda. A community organization is one that works statewide, countywide, citywide. For example we have people that are at the state level who are active in Environment Illinois. If you take it down to the community level we have the Edgewater Environmental Sustainability Project. That would be a good way to compare them. We have block clubs. Those are community organizations. We have the Development Corporation, Andersonville Chamber of Commerce – those are community. If you were on the Board of the Lyric Opera, that would be civic.

DN: Good distinction. And good to know Edgewater has so many community organizations.

SL: Right, and we also have community churches, synagogues. We have Edgewater Artists in Motion, which is a community group. And these groups do wonders. Look how nice it is to walk down Granville or down Thorndale and see the beautifully decorated windows. That was a project started by Rae Ann Cecrle and a group of artists. And look at the beautiful windows which are a lot nicer than dirty old yellowing newspaper on the windows.

DN: Good point. I think I will conclude the interview at this point. Thank you, Sheli.