Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rails and Produce

If you saw the last post, you would know that Chicago had a major storm roll in last weekend.  In fact, Chicago had 7 inches of rain over 24 hours from Saturday to Sunday.  Cook County has been designated a disaster area because of all the flooding.  Some of my staff were unable to make it to work on time because the Kennedy and  the Ike had to be shut down Sunday morning due to flooding.  Not surprisingly, one of the people killed over the hot and rainy summer weekend  in Pilsen was found floating under a flooded viaduct with evidence of blunt head trauma.  Gentrification is incomplete.

Typical Viaduct in Pilsen

This one happens to be outside our front door.

Pilsen has the highest density of train viaducts in the world.  It is a legacy form the days when rail brought in most of the food and goods to the city.  Even today, Chicago serves as one of the largest rail hubs in the country.  Nearly every North American railway meets in the city and Chicago boasts the largest commuter railroad in the world (Metra) by miles of track.

View of the Track Beneath our Condo

wwwwww2gytr4w2)he building Kathy and I live in lies between two sets of rail tracks (about 17 tracks in total).  When it was built in the 1929 as the Produce Terminal Cold Storage Company Building, it was 11 stories of reinforced concrete with average ceiling heights of 10 feet and had a number of access points from the railways on either side.  As trucking took over the role of the railroads for food transport, the Market area declined and moved north toward Lake and Randolph Streets.  Many of the buildings also declined and were abandoned.  For years our building remained empty, with spalling concrete and exposed rebar providing architectural embellishment.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as the downtown area moved west and south, many of the derelict buildings became valuable under the moniker of "adaptive re-use".  Adaptive Re-use is the lowest level of historic preservation and allows developers to repurpose a building as long as they include the elements of the building which may have been historically significant.  In our building's case, there is some terra cotta decorative work and a water tower. Many of the city's water towers have been taken down because the wood that they are made of are old growth hardwoods which are no longer available today.  Our new water tower is a fiberglass replica, but it looks authentic from 12 stories below.  Adaptive re-use also allows the developers to save twenty percent of their costs in tax incentives for rehabbing old buildings.  In addition, Illinois benefits the new owners of the condos with an eight year tax freeze.  We pay 250 dollars a year in real estate taxes until 2014.  In return, the city has 231 units of housing, future tax revenue, and a derelict building cleaned up. 
(By the way... I do know how to spell "The".  All of the stuff in between the "T" and "he" was added by Lucky.  He is the most rotten dog in the world.)

The railways also affect the Statement of Legal Ownership for our condo association. In the property report, our unit is subject to the right of the Baltimore and Ohio Chicago Terminal Railroad Company to enter our building and maintain its retaining wall in perpituity as recorded in a Quit Claim Deed recorded on April 6, 1877.  (That right was transferred to the Union Pacific in the 1980s.)  April 1877 is about five and a half years after the Great Chicago Fire.  There is another easement, dated May 10, 1941, allowing for maintenance of the concrete embankment holding the tracks up.  In relation to the building's prior use as a cold storage facility, there is easement to use a tunnel that travels through the property for purposes of transporting goods into storage warehouses that was dated October 5, 1951. 

How does it affect us?  We just love looking down from the balcony watching the ebb and flow of train traffic.  And no, it is not too loud, although you can feel the thrum of the diesel electic locomotives as they fire up to begin moving train cars.

Railroad embankment from the condo's back lot

Produce from July 24th, 2010
Not as much as in the early days!

Bottom line?  I have no idea of how many tons of produce have passed their way through our building.  I suspect quite a few.  But whenever some small lot of two to three pounds of carrots come in, it is likely to be turned into Carrots in Beer and Dill.  Danny absolutely loves it and it has become one of those Thanksgiving Dinner things that are simply unalterable.

Multicolored Carrots

3 pounds of Carrots, multicolored or not, cut into coins about 3/16th of an inch thick.  (No, I cannot cut that accurately!  Make it as close as you can...)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (I make my own butter... it's easier than you think.  But that's another post.)
12 ounce bottle of American Pilsner (MGD works great)
2 tablespoons of sugar
1 teaspoon dried dill weed

1.  Saute carrot coins in butter until they just begin to brown.  (They begin to take on a tannish hue.)
2.  Add bottle of beer and dill weed.
3.  Turn heat to high and boil off the beer.
4.  When the beer is almost gone, add two tablespoons sugar and turn heat to medium high.
5.  Allow the carrots to carmelize and glaze.

For a different twist, you can use a bottle of hard cider (Woodchuck Amber).


  1. I love reading your posts, Dan!

  2. My real estate taxes are likely to be over $6000 for the year. I am a tad bit jealous. But not of all the dead bodies found in your neighborhood.

  3. Yeah, the most "Hmmm" producing one was in March when a body was "dropped" off with thirteen bullet holes where I walk Lucky. Some drug deal gone south, I would imagine.