Streeterville residents get safety update at May meeting

(Published May 30, 2019)

By Jesse Wright

The Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) held a safety forum in May that allowed nearly a hundred residents to get information from safety and security experts.

The forum included police commander Daniel O’Shea, computer security expert Andy Jaw and John Graeber, director of security at Navy Pier.

Residents mostly expressed concerns about  crime. Two women in the audience told O’Shea they or their families had been recent victims of violent crime. Others expressed concern over perceived crime in the area, including flash mobs, wherein large groups of young people have spilled out of the red line and onto Streeterville streets to wreak havoc and, in some cases, assault pedestrians.

O’Shea said police are handling those incidents.

“For large groups of kids that come down, we have a plan in place,” he said.

O’Shea said officers monitor social media looking for plans for a mob gathering, and then police will swarm downtown. In addition, O’Shea said if cameras catch a large group of young people jumping turnstiles to get on public transportation, the trains will stop and the police will order the group off.

“We’ll have that train stopped at the next station and have them all taken off,” he said.

O’Shea added that public school students get public transportation passes and some use those on the weekends to go downtown. And, he said, police do not want to profile people by age.

“We don’t want to arrest a bunch of kids,” O’Shea said. “We want them to come down and enjoy downtown just like everybody else. But we’re not going to allow criminal activity.”

O’Shea urged residents to remain alert when they’re in public and to report crime and file a complaint, if they are the victims. O’Shea said some robbers use weapons specifically because many retail stores have policies that forbid engagement with strong-arm robbers, meaning that store personnel won’t physically stop a thief with a weapon.

“The store employees will approach them to stop them and then they’ll pull out mace and it’s become a strong-arm robbery,” said O’Shea.

The commander encouraged residents to get involved with the CAPS program to stay abreast on local police issues and join the court advocacy program through CAPS.

Travelle to offer picnic baskets

Starting Memorial Day weekend, Travelle at The Langham launches picnic baskets for guests to enjoy outside the restaurant throughout the summer. Whether dining al fresco along the Chicago River, taking in a movie at Millennium Park, or traveling to Ravinia to enjoy a concert, these picnic baskets include everything needed for enjoying the warm weather in the great outdoors. With three different options to choose from, each picnic basket provides the perfect complement for savoring the beautiful summer days.

The contents of the picnic baskets range from stroll-worthy snacks and beverages to gourmet sandwiches and alcoholic pairings including wine and champagne.

  • City Tour Picnic Basket ($42 per person): The lightest of the baskets includes a variety of snacks and beverages for guests exploring the sights of Chicago during the day
  • Millennium Park Picnic Basket ($85 per person): Perfect for a sunny afternoon spent in the park, the standard package will include gourmet sandwiches and beverages with an option to add alcoholic beverages
  • Magnificent Mile Picnic Basket ($190 per person): Elevate an outdoor concert experience with an elaborate picnic basket including a delicious dinner for two complemented by wine or champagne

To order a picnic basket, please email Rachael at travelle@langhamhotels.com or call 312.923.7713; extension 4236.

Water department to install new mains soon

(Published May 14, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, managing editor

This May, the Department of Water Management and Reliable Contracting and Equipment Company will begin the work to install 1,056 feet of new 12-inch water main along Fairbanks Court, between Chicago Avenue and Ontario Street. Also, the water main will be replaced on a portion of Superior Street stretching 125 feet to the west of Fairbanks Court.

The old water main dates back to 1914 and needs to be replaced. All work is expected to be completed by mid-August 2019, which would include full street restoration. Dates may change depending on weather and other factors. 

Streeterville stories get told in new podcast

(Published May 7, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Managing Edito

A new podcast network will launch this summer to tell the stories of Streeterville, and other areas. A podcast is an audio file that can be downloaded onto a phone or other device.

Happenstance, a hyperlocal podcast app, will deliver short stories about little known subjects in various neighborhoods. When users enter an area, the app will geotag users and alert them to local stories.

Stephanie Chopris, the co-founder and managing editor, said the idea started as a class project several years ago when she was a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism. Years later, she said her project is set to launch.

“We’re shooting to launch in a few neighborhood this summer,” Copris said. “The neighborhoods are River North, Streeterville and Gold Coast. We might wrap another neighborhood into that, but those are the three target neighborhoods right now.”

At present Chopris is producing stories and seeking new stories to tell.

“We primarily focus on four editorial pillars of food, art, landmarks and sports and games,” she said. “All of our categories are flexible and we still want to cover it even if it doesn’t fall into one of those categories.”

She said sports and games can include things like yachting, darts and arcade games and the landmarks don’t need to be historic.

“They can just be places that people appreciate an have been in the area for a while,” Chopris said.  

So far, Chopris said she has Streeterville stories about Coco Pazzo Café and the Gold Star Sardine Bar, though more are coming.

Anyone interesting in suggesting a story can email Chopris at stephanie@happenstanceapp.com and the website is happenstanceapp.com.

The Langham offers calligraphy courses with brunch

(Published April 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

The Langham is hosting a calligraphy workshop at the restaurant Travelle, 330 N. Wabash Ave.

The brunch course is $65 and includes food, a glass of champagne and all calligraphy supplies.

The course premiered in April and student Aimee Gaspari said she attended the workshop because she’s getting married and wanted to hand-letter wedding invitations.

It’s also a hobby for her.

“I’ve been doing it for about a year,” Gaspari said. “And I thought it would be fun to take a course from someone with more experience than me.”

Workshop instructor Ricki DiCola said the class is geared toward the novice. She believes anyone can learn to write in calligraphy both for fun or to use it as a skill.

“A lot of brides like to DIY their weddings and so that’s how they begin doing calligraphy,” she said.

DiCola, a middle school teacher, said the art form can be appreciated by anyone, even if they don’t have a wedding approaching.

“This is what I do for fun,” she said.

The next class is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 18  and there is a workshop June 1 as well. To register, call 312-923-7705.

Besides the calligraphy workshop, the Langham is also offering a pastry dessert plating brunch workshop July 29 and a phone photography class with food photographer Huge Galdones Aug. 17. Both classes are from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Peregrine falcons find a home in Chicago

(Published April 29, 2019)

Abhinanda Datta, Staff Writer

If you spot a mid-sized raptor swoop in at incredible speed and catch another bird in flight, don’t be surprised—it is just a peregrine falcon.

Found throughout the world, these birds have found a home in the Midwest, with more than 20 American peregrine falcons in the Chicagoland area.

With a body length of 15 – 20 inches, the peregrines can attain a speed of 200 mph when diving on their prey.

According to Mary Hennen, collections assistant in the Bird Division at the Field Museum, an estimated 400-500 pairs of Peregrines once nested in the Midwest and eastern United States. But by the 1960s, the species had been wiped out regionally.

“The primary cause was the buildup of DDT and its byproducts in the birds,” she said. “These accumulated chemicals caused abnormal reproductive behavior in adults and thinning of shells, which led to egg breakage.”

The Chicago Peregrine Program began in 1985 as a cooperative effort between the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Lincoln Park Zoo, Illinois Department of Conservation and the Illinois Audubon Society, with the aim of restoring the population.

From a single breeding pair at a Chicago-Wacker site in 1988, Illinois had 12 breeding pairs in over 23 different territories by 2011.

“Although Peregrines still remain endangered in some states, in Illinois, the population has rebounded. In fact, our Peregrine status has been upgraded from endangered to threatened,” Hennen said.

In May, eggs that were laid during March-April, are incubated for about 30-32 days. The male and the female take turns looking after the eggs. Hatching begins in mid-May or around Mother’s Day.

“This is also the time period where the adults are most defensive of the nest site. Males will spend most of their time hunting in order to feed the female and chicks,” Hennen said.

In the coming months, especially around mid-June to July, people can see the peregrine fledglings’ first flight as they glide down from the nest site. People can also observe the birds through the Illinois Peregrine Webcams found on the Field Museum website. For more information, visit fieldmuseum.com.

A peregrine falcon from a 2018 webcam in Rockford. Photo courtesy the Field Museum

Summer fun for all: Parents have plenty to choose from in local summer camps

(Published by April 29, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

With summer around the corner, schools, museums and even watersport companies are offering summer camps for kids.

At Camp GEMS, kids can explore the city through a six-week program that mimics the school’s curriculum, although the program is open to all kids, even non-students. Through the camp, kids explore the whole city and the build and design the city features. Each week is $475 or $2,700 for six weeks. Camp Gems is open to kids 3-12.

Taneal Sanders, a GEMS teacher, said Camp GEMS aims to benefit the entire student.

“We focus on keeping the kids’ minds and bodies active,” she said.

Each week has a different theme, and students learn lessons based on each theme. The first week is “who we are,” the second weeks is “where are we in place and time,” the third week is “how we organize ourselves, the fourth week is, “how the world works,” the fifth week is “sharing the planet” and the final week is “how we express ourselves.”

Throughout the camp, kids explore the city, design model cities, visit a theater and visit various markets and festivals in the city.

“On Fridays, we do a share-out where all age groups come together and we kind of have a little assembly where we share what we learned during the week,” Sanders said.  

Last year, kids took a water taxi to Chinatown and on another day they visited the Field Museum.

“We don’t just stay right in the neighborhood,” Sanders said. “With the younger campers, we stay close to school, but for the older kids, we venture out on public transportation.”

In addition to the cultural diversity, Sanders said Camp GEMS is staffed by GEMS teachers and the ratio is five students to one teacher, ensuring the kids are learning as well as enjoying the city.

“It’s not just for GEMS students,” Sanders said. “We love that it brings in different people and different perspectives.”

A variety of other day and week camps are available for kids.

Sailing and STEM camp

The Chicago Park District is hosting its annual sailing and STEM camp in May, June and July.

Kids can learn to sail at Monroe Harbor, with no experience necessary. The camp is for 5th-8th grade students in Chicago and it requires a $250 donation, though low-income applicants can get in free. To apply for a spot, visit endeavourchicago.org.

The four day-sessions (Monday-Thursday) go beyond  sailing. Students will learn science, technology, engineering and math curriculum. The course opens May 4 and meets every Saturday at 9 a.m. A June camp runs from June 24 to Aug. 1.

Visit EndeavourChicago.org for more details and to apply online. Scholarships are available.

Urban Kayaks paddle and kayak camp

Urban Kayaks summer paddle and kayak camp kicks off July 29. The camp runs weekly from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and is aimed at kids ages 10 to 16. The course, at $550 per week with a 25 percent discount for siblings, is located at Monroe Harbor. For more information, visit urbankayaks.com or call 312-965-0035

Navy Pier’s Wiggleworms music program

While not a camp, Navy Pier is again hosting Wiggleworms, a free music program for children every Friday beginning June 21.

Wiggleworms, Old Town School of Folk Music’s early childhood music program, introduces young children and their families to a musical world. The program is at the Polk Brothers Park stage and it runs Fridays from 10 to 11:45 a.m.

A look at the numbers behind the Navy Pier fireworks


(Published April 29, 2019)

By Elisa Shoenberger, Staff Writer

With the warmer weather comes Navy Pier fireworks.

May 25 is the start of the annual Navy Pier fireworks and Melrose Pyrotechnics will again produce the weekly displays, just as they have for the past 15 years.

For the audience, it’s 10 minutes of fun filled with fire, smoke and dazzling colors all set to music. But the behind the scenes is real work and somebody has to do it. One of those somebodies is Jonathan Gesse, a soundtrack producer with Melrose Pyrotechnics.

Gesse said “a minimum of 30-hours preparation goes into each Navy Pier display, which includes everything from soundtrack design, choreography, labeling, packaging, setup, product testing and transportation.”

The day of the show, five technicians set up about 10 hours beforehand, including monitoring the equipment in advance of the show.

Each show is a “unique pyromusical experience,” Gesse said. “Our team of choreographers uses industry software to ‘script’ each display according to the musical soundtrack by listening to the music and building scenes of light and color.” Once the show is ready to start, Melrose sends a “coded radio signal from Navy Pier to the fireworks crew, which the firing computer receives and synchronizes itself to the music that plays through the speakers at Navy Pier.”

Melrose gets fireworks from all over the world including China, Italy and Spain. They use 500 new products each year and more than 1,400 feet of XLR cable for the shows.

Gesse said the heights achieved by fireworks depends on the diameter of the shell. Three- and four-inch shells will generally explode from about 300 to 400 feet in the sky, and 10 inch shells will rise to well over 10,000 feet in the air before they break.

“At Navy Pier, we use aerial shells ranging from two-and-a-half inches up to 10 inches in diameter,” Gesse said.

This year, there will be 31 firework performances, each Wednesday and Saturday from May 25 to Aug. 31 with additional shows July 4 and New Year’s Eve. Wednesday fireworks are at 9:30 p.m. and Saturdays are at 10:15 p.m., weather dependent.

The displays last 10 minutes while the July 4 and New Year’s Eve displays last 15 minutes. Last year, CBS reported that nearly 100,000 people attended the July 4 celebration and that the fireworks performance had 2,000 firework shells go off with “300 different effects.”

May the fourth celebrations to include free light saber ‘fight’ at 360 Chicago

(Published April 29, 2019

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

For millions around the world, May the fourth isn’t just a date on the calendar. It’s a day to celebrate one of the most beloved films of all time: “Star Wars.”

May the fourth plays on the phrase “may the force (be with you),” the popular farewell among the film’s rebels. In this world, May the fourth is an international day to celebrate Star Wars and all things Jedi.

And that goes for downtown Chicago, too.

Chicago Jedi, one of the largest fan groups in the city, will demonstrate lightsaber fight techniques at 7 p.m. May 4 on the observation deck at 360 Chicago, 875 N Michigan Ave. Entry will be free for anyone who wants to see the Jedi battle.

Ross Greenberg, the second in command at Chicago Jedi, said everyone is welcome to stop by and take pictures or even participate in the fun.

“We usually do a freeze mob or a force battle,” he explained.

In a freeze mob, participants pose in a fighting positions. Greenberg said this is safer than public battle recreations.

“We don’t want people to get whacked and get hurt so we came up with the idea that we do what’s called a freeze mob,” he said. “What we do is we have everyone get together and play some music and when you hear the musical cue, everyone freezes in place.”

The group has done this at Millennium Park near Cloud Gate, but this year 360 Chicago offered their space to the group.  

Greenberg said he hopes kids and families come, because everyone is welcome.

“The event is BYOL, bring your own lightsaber,” he said.

Greenberg said the event is a good introduction to the group, if residents want to join.

“If people come to one of our events to become an active member, they have to show up to six or seven meetings, not in a row but just to show they’re serious, then after that, they’re a member or a Padawan,” Greenberg said.

Group founder and leader Gabriel Calderon said they offer a unique community for “Star Wars”-obsessed fans.

“On the surface, people gain an immediate sense of community—connecting with others who have a shared interest in all things Star Wars,” Calderon said. “As you get to know one another, you realize how deep and varied the life of each member really is, people you may not have met in traditional settings. We have writers, doctors, teachers, gamers, professionals, and so on.”

Greenberg said members can take Jedi fighting courses.

“I am a 40-year veteran of martial arts and I’m a martial arts master and a six-degree black belt,” he said.

Historic anchor adrift in Streeterville

(Published April 1, 2019)

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Streeterville was undergoing a real estate boom in 2007 and developers were looking toward a bright future when a piece of the past surfaced for the first time in more than a century at the corner of Illinois Street and Grand Avenue.

It was an anchor, and it was 35 feet underground.

Realtor and neighborhood booster Gail Spreen believes it could be a relic from George “Cap” Streeter’s boat—a direct link to the eponymous founder of Streeterville.

“It’s the same style anchor that’s on Cap Streeter’s boats,” Spreen said.

Even if it’s not that exact anchor, it is an historic piece that represents a time when the McClurg and Grand Avenue area was underwater, well before it was under condominiums.

Above ground at last, the old anchor needs a home.

Spreen acquired the anchor in 2011 from the man who owned the property where it was uncovered. She’s hopeful someone will help find a permanent home for the artifact.

“Someday this anchor is going to go someplace where people appreciate it,” she said. “But until we have a location for it, it’s staying with me.”

The anchor is in two pieces and it came with a 35-foot chain attached, covered in rust and barnacles. Spreen said she’d like to see it near the eight-foot statue of Streeter, at the corner of McClurg and Grand near Yolk, where it was found.

“The best case would be where we wanted it, next to Cap Streeter,” she said. “However we’re open to other places that would appreciate it.”

This historic anchor might once have belonged to Cap Streeter. Photo courtesy Gail Spreen

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