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.
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.]|
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.
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.
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?