Welcome GapersBlock readers!

If you’ve arrived at this site via my GapersBlock piece, “Maxwell Street, Ellis Island of the Midwest”, I’d just like to welcome you to DanielHonigman.com.

I’m a 23-year-old aspiring journalist. I’m also Google’s #1-rated blog on Chicago 2016 and the #4 site overall. I’ll also post some of my favorite hip-hop videos.

But enough of that. Thanks for coming and please check out some of my favorite blog posts:

The Bridges of Cook County – Here’s a piece I wrote for the April 2007 issue of North Shore magazine.

Here are all of my Chicago 2016 posts.

Some thoughts on the CTA, which were also run on CTAStories.com.

Interesting sites from around the Web, compiled in a regular Site of the Day feature.

Enjoy!

8 comments

  1. Anonymous

    That piece about Maxwell Street was well-written, but pretty lame, content-wise.

    Here’s a little “truth” for you to ponder:

    “When the University acquired the property a long time ago, they let it fall apart,” Portincaso says. “When it finally came time to tear it all down in the late 1990s, the people who wanted to preserve it looked like fools, not realizing that the politicians probably wanted to make it look that way.”

    The University did NOT acquire the property in the 1960’s. The University first sent out notices of intent to exercise eminent domain around 1967. It was the decision of the individual property owners to not fight it, just like it was their decision not to maintain their property after they recieved it. You can find this stuff documented in the books “Jewish Maxwell Street Stories” and “Survival in a Bazaar”.

    He is right about the people trying to preserve it looking foolish, however. If you read the chapter in “Survival in a Bazaar” discussing the first wave of demolition, you will see how totally delapidated the buildings were, and keep in mind that it occurred almost 20 years before the final wave of demolition.

    “All that’s left are the preserved brick facades of two buildings on the northeast corner of Maxwell and Halsted. (The facades were originally torn down and new buildings constructed in the rear. Then the brick exteriors were put back on.) “At least four blocks’ worth of buildings were demolished,” Portincaso says. “It’s a shame that so much had to be physically destroyed, but it was the only surefire way to get people out. I think more could have been done…”

    I think this guy (and you, for that matter), need to get out of your cars and walk Maxwell and Halsted. If you can’t count more than two facades or buildings, you need glasses.

    The buildings and facades, by the way, were only preserved to appease the preservationists.

    “”Maxwell Street used to be such a vibrant area and now it’s like a ghost town,” Ranstrom says. “You used to be able to go down there any day of the week and there would be thousands of people. Now, the shops are half-empty. I wonder how long this can last.””

    This is the biggest lie of them all. From at least the 1960’s forward, the market only operated on Sundays. The rest of the time, the neighborhood was a depressed, sleazy business district, and at night the only people around were at the polish sausage stand. This hardly qualifies as a “vibrant area” by any reasonable definition, but if you never actually spent any time there (like Phil Ranstrom, who NEVER set foot in the place until he started the docunmentary in 1994) you wouldn’t know that.

    As for the economics of the current situation, the businesses on Halsted are doing extremely well, as is the new market. Wrong again.

    In fact, Ranstrom is wrong about so much that I wonder if we are talking about the same place. The street musicians, FYI, were for the most part AWFUL. Trust me, it wasn’t Junior Wells playing down there for quarters.

    Phil is essentially documenting a place that never really existed, or existed only in the mind of a sheltered suburbanite.

    Maxwell Street was the coolest flea market that ever was, but that is all it was from the 1960’s onward.

    Before you write anything else on this subject, make sure you at least read the following:

    “The Gem of the Prairie” – read the chapters about the near west side and “bloody maxwell”.

    “Barney Ross” – It will give you a sense of you of how tough the neighborhood really was, and how difficult it was for some kids to grow up in.

    “Survival in a Bazaar” – THE definitive book on Maxwell Street, written in 1977, which will give you a sense of what the post-Jewish ghetto was really like.

    “Jewish Maxwell Street Stories” – You can read about the people who made fortunes here but didn’t see fit to take care of their property.

    The accounts contained should dispell any mythology about Maxwell/Halsted being an “urban paradise”.

  2. Daniel

    Thanks a lot. I really appreciate the suggested reading!

    Please, however, post your name or a URL next time you comment.

  3. Phil

    In response to the cowardly, “Anonymous”, your comments are ridiculous and untrue. You have no credibility whatsoever, as you have not identified yourself or your credentials. But here’s a brief rebut of your lame comments.

    This simple fact is, I started this documentary in 1994 and interviewed virtually everyone at the Maxwell Street market — vendors, blues artists, residents, store owners, patrons. No other film or book about Maxwell Street has reached this level of depth or accuracy. Having amassed over 54 on-camera interviews, I documented the oral history of the Maxwell Street neighborhood from those who grew up in the area and knew it better than anyone else. I also read virtually everything ever written about the area. The documentary “Cheat You Fair” is the culmination of the best works produced previously and is by far the most comprehensive, thorough and accurate piece about Maxwell Street in any medium, ever.

    My work has been acclaimed by other journalists and historians who have covered Maxwell Street and the UIC incursion, since it began in the ’60’s. This is, in fact, the definitive Maxwell Street document, whether you like it or not, “Anonymous”.

    I have in my possession a copy of the letter written to Chicago’s Planning & Housing Committee in 1961 by UIC President, David Henry, assuring them that UIC had no plans to expand south of Roosevelt Road. Of course, this later proved to be false, as UIC expanded far beyond their original promise. UIC had clearly already landed in the area and DID, in fact, acquire property. Their invasion into the neighborhood was a point of dispute from the beginning, which is why Mr. Henry wrote the letter in the first place! The fact that UIC arrived in the area in the early ’60’s is indisputable and anyone can find it in the public record.

    Anyone who was ever at Maxwell Street knows how vibrant and alive the area was. Just drive down to Maxwell and Halsted today and see what it’s like. The businesses are largely empty. There are students milling around, going to and from classes, but it’s like walking through a Disney set, something surreal and empty. When you figure that an average of 20,000 people visited Maxwell Street on an average Sunday, these tacky townhouses and empty stores are a sad replacement.

    I’m not sure how “Anonymous” miraculously knows that I never stepped foot on Maxwell Street before 1994, but Ken Burns didn’t fight in the Civil War, either, though he was still able to produce a credible, accurate and compelling film. Having lived in Chicago since 1980, I was very much aware of the controversy surrounding Maxwell Street throughout the years. No “sheltered suburbanite here”. I strongly suspect that “Anonymous” is an employee at UIC and, naturally, doesn’t like the fact that I busted them for what they did and is now on the rant!

    Yes, Maxwell Street was in a ghetto, which is what made it all the more incredible. Maxwell Street was a refuge, an oasis, in the midst of a violent, racist city, a place where the only color that matter was green. It was the people’s place, the “Ellis Island of the midwest”, as well as the “New Orlean of the north”, the birthplace of the modern blues. It was here where partnerships between black and Jews were created, which spawned recording studios and the well-known delicatessen, “Nate’s Deli”, the only black-owned deli in Chicago.

    Maxwell Street was a unique place, probably the most interesting spot in Chicago, certainly one worth preserving. UIC should have preserved the area, cleaned it up, studied it, promoted it as a tourist attraction. Maxwell Street is still world-famous and more Europeans know about this amazing place than most Americans. Tourists coming to Chicago want to see the blues, the real thing, not some pasteurized form, and Maxwell Street was the place to find it. This is also the place where the American hot-dog was invented and this was truly Chicago’s most historic and important area.

    In Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics, preserving this multi-cultural haven would have done more to show the world that we were, indeed, an “international city”, one worth hosting the Olympics. But, sadly, we’re on a course to destroy our neighborhoods and “third places” that define Chicago as a unique city.

    “Cheat You Fair” and it’s companion film, “Electrified” (which details the birth of the electric blues on Maxwell Street) will be available on DVD soon. I urge anyone who is interested in learning about the real history of Maxwell Street to check out these important works. Please visit cheatyoufairthemovie.com and electrifiedthemovie.com

    That goes for you, too, “Anonymous”!

    Phil Ranstrom
    Writer/Producer/Director

  4. Phil

    P.S.: Here’s a recent review of “Cheat You Fair” by Steve Prokopy, which played at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The last two paragraphs are worth re-reading:

    Cheat You Fair: The Story of Maxwell Street

    I don’t have many regrets about the things I’ve done or haven’t done in my more than 20 years living in Chicago, but the one thing I wish I had done was visit the Maxwell Street Market before it was essentially forcibly shut down and demolished in 1994, thanks to the urban renewal schemes of the city and the land-grabbing greed of the University of Illinois–Chicago. Narrated lovingly by Joe Mantegna and magnificently researched and directed by Phil Ranstrom, Cheat You Fair is a fitting and perfect tribute to the history, culture, spirit and lasting legacy of Maxwell Street.

    Sure there were great deals to be had at every vendor’s booth at this open-air bazaar, which operated every Sunday, but people from all over the world came to hear live urban electrified blues in the birthplace of the music. It was here that Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Junior Wells and others got their start playing on the streets. But people also came for the food (Maxwell Street was the birthplace of Vienna Beef and polish sausages); the interaction with people of every ethnic and religious background; cheap socks (a dozen pair for $5); and the constant haggling. Hell, even Al Capone bought all his hats at a Maxwell Street landmark called the Mad Hatter. The film acts as a terrific history lesson of the city and the neighborhood, where survivors congregated after the Great Chicago Fire, immigrants landed and southern blacks took up residence when infestation killed cotton production. But Cheat You Fair also works as a commanding piece of investigative journalism that uncovers the money and influence trail that took this historic street fair and turned it into a souless, gentrified, white-washing area for student housing and chain restaurants.

    There was clearly some sort of glorious energy to the place, and Ranstrom and company capture that magic in their movie, which goes after both generations of mayor Daleys and a largely faceless UIC, which comes across as an extremely racist and anti-ethnic neighborhood. The film’s premiere will happen at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 8pm with director Ranstrom on hand for a post-screening Q&A. For lovers of Chicago history, this film is a must-see. I hope Cheat You Fair gets a shot at an extended run sometime in the near future or perhaps a showing or two on PBS. This is a glorious way to get to know your city a little better; take advantage.

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