10 November 2015

Work, Working, Worked: An Experimental Walking Tour of Bridgeport

A little over a week ago I participated in Work, Working, Worked - an experimental walking tour of the Bridgeport neighborhood co-organized by Paul Durica and Lumpen Radio in conjunction with Chicago Artists Month (thanks DCASE!). As part of my research methodology for audience engagement and audio guides, this tour was a really fun departure from the more traditional headphones in, passive movement, contained within a set architectural space.  What made this tour experimental was that rather than the audio component being pre-recorded for us to simply push-play on, the audio was live. That's right, a live audio experience, streamed through the Lumpen radio app, beamed right into our smartphones! And to make this even more inclusive, a portable loud speaker was provided by our tour facilitator, so we listened together as a group as we walked, talked, and visited our tour stops throughout Bridgeport.
[Man standing on a gravely path, pointing in the distance. He's standing next to a portable radio. This is Andrew, our tour facilitator for the day. He made sure we stayed on track time-wise, and helped us reach out to the radio station when we needed to check in.]

Per the emailed instructions, we met in Canal Origins Park along the border of Bridgeport and McKinley Park. The live-stream started, with Durica and one of his guests telling us the early history of the neighborhood, and the importance of the Chicago River to the early industry of Bridgeport. It makes sense that folks would settle near the water, but I totally forget that because the river is this pretty dirty thing that isn't really used in the same way it was centuries ago - due in part to the pollution from the industry that was build upon it.

[A view of the skyline facing north along the Chicago River. To the left is a pathway, with trees and foliage changing color with the season in Canal Origins Park. To the right is the calm deep blue Chicago River, and the construction site for the new boat house build by Jeanne Gang Architects.]

After visiting the river, we made a b-line for the Ashland CTA stop to hear about the importance of the early railway lines to this neighborhood. I had no idea that some of the Orange line trains are running on tracks that were originally used for industrial rail transport.

[Six people standing under an overpass along the Chicago River. They are gathered around a small portable speaker on the ground listening to the live broadcast.]

From the train station we walked to a place called Hamburger Heaven to hear about the meat packing industry. On our walk over, we heard a singing telegram, made small talk about the neighborhood, and played our first round of LINGO (Lumpen BINGO), because Bridgeport has a serious BINGO culture. In order to immerse ourselves in all things Bridgeport, we played BINGO on our own cards, as Durica read numbers out to us from the live-stream. It was bizarre, wonderful, and none of us won.

[Six people standing around a portable speaker outside of Hamburger Heaven. The restaurant building looks like a small house, painted white with red trim. A bright yellow sign listing the daily specials can be seen in the background.]
[A hand holding a BINGO card. The BINGO card only has a few numbers checked off.]
After briefly stopping at Hamburger Heaven, we headed over to Duck Inn, making a shortcut along one of Bridgeport's diagonal streets. I'll admit that when we were in transport between locations, there was a lot less listening to the live-stream and a lot more small talk between the tour participants. But, along this portion of the walk, our guide let us in on a really interesting fact! That there are a lot of diagonal streets in Bridgeport, and that the neighborhood departs from Chicago's famous grid pattern in order to wrap itself around the Chicago River. We even passed a house that seemingly had no right angles - it was a strange trapezoidal house on a corner lot along a diagonal street.

Once we arrived at Duck Inn, we waited for Chef Kevin Hickey to call into the station. While we waited, we ordered a round of beers, and hung out on the gorgeous back patio. Chef spoke to Durica (and us) about the history of the building, and the importance of making and continuing community spaces like Duck Inn within the fabric of the Bridgeport neighborhood. I'm adding this restaurant to my list, because food, community, and mid-century modern decor.

[The interior of Bridgeport's Duck Inn restaurant. Hardwood floors, with a line of two-top tables. A cushy leather booth lines the wall, with tables and metal chairs facing it. The space has beautiful clean lines, and sculptural exposed lightbulbs. A soft afternoon light is trickling in.]
Following our visit to Duck Inn, we walked over to Benton House - an early 20th century settlement house that's still in use today. Benton House took inspiration from the social work happening over at Hull-House, opening its doors to the Bridgeport community in 1907. While the architecture is a little bit different than that of Hull-House (founded in 1889), the message and the work conducted is fairly similar. Residents move in, offering social services to the community. 

[The front entrance to Benton House in Bridgeport. Red brick walls, large old windows, and a doorway with a curved barrel vaulted window design around it.]
While at the Benton House, we listened to Ben Noetzel speak to Durica over the phone (his phone call was streamed over the radio). Currently, Benton House is operating a community theatre, library, gymnasium, after school programming, audio/visual technology courses, a community garden, and a food pantry. Having spent so much time reading about Jane Addams and the work done at Hull-House, it was really exciting to visit a space that's still in use. I noticed the ways in which the home felt really lived in. There was a striking difference between the old furniture and sun-worn murals of Benton House, and the vitrines, display cases, and preserved manner of the Hull-House which is now a museum space. Visiting Benton House gave me an understanding of the kind of work that's happening in community spaces in Chicago, and the value of preserving these programs for neighborhood residents. Standing in the basement library, full of the repurposed furniture from the much loved (now defunct) Ramova Grill - we could hear the sound of an intense basketball game being played above us. The home was well worn, lived in, and loved. 

[Sitting in a basement library space. The walls are lined with books, while the furniture is that of a restaurant - the Ramova Grill. Bar stools and a lunch counter act as some of the furniture in the library. A vintage BINGO sign hangs in the corner.]
[The dining room at Benton House. Pale green walls, hardwood floors, and a beautiful old hardwood table and chairs sit at the center of the space. There's a vase with flowers on the table, and a chalkboard to the side of the table. A soft afternoon light filters in from the left. This space is used and lived in every day.]
[Hand-painted murals telling biblical and mythic tales line the walls in the living room. The central panel shows a bucolic hilly landscape, painted in hues of pale green and a soft browns. A variety of foliage dots the landscape, tall skinny trees, short squat bushes, and conical trees in the distance. A fawn-like man and a figure in a blue tunic are pictured in the foreground, in conversation. These murals were made by residents in the house in the 1930s or 1940s.]

Our final stop was Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar, where we concluded the tour over happy hour cocktails and "mystery shots" paid for by the $40 discretionary fund given to us by the tour organizers. We toasted to a wonderful 2 hour experimental experience, having walked the streets of Chicago's historic Bridgeport neighborhood. Then we told ghost stories about Benton House and Hull-House, because we're only human. And who doesn't love a good ghost story?


  1. What a fun tour! I love that Bridgeport has a serious BINGO culture.

    1. I'm seriously crushing on the neighborhood. I want to move into an old brick building and make it my own!