Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where's Chicago?

233 Where’s Chicago?

No, this is not one of those geography quizzes, where you ask a high school kid to find Austria on a map and he comes up with Australia, or even worse, starts looking at the Asia side of the globe.

Chicago is still where it always was, around 41 degrees latitude, around 87 degrees longitude. (We’ve left off the “minutes” so there would be space and time to say “we’ve left off the minutes.”)

It’s still what passes for the world’s hog butcher. It’s still “stormy, husky, brawling.” And it’s still the City of the Big Shoulders. All those things Sandburg called it.

It still has the Loop, it still has the Tribune (sort of,) and it still has (sort of) the Palmer House.

But there are changes that make people wonder, where’s Chicago?

This started a long time ago. But it’s picked up its pace.

It’s biggest hotel, the Stevens, became the Hilton. It’s still the Hilton. But now, it has about 1500 rooms instead of its original 2,000. Once it was the world’s largest hotel.

The Palmer House is now the Palmer House Hilton.

Creeping homogenization has been creeping a little faster these days.

We all expect the sprouting of McDonald’s and Starbuck’s. That’s hardly an example, because that’s happening everywhere.

But the Tribune makes more money and sells more papers in Los Angeles than it does at home, and it has more television viewers nationwide than it has readers. It’s also been sold, although the buyer is local.

Marshall Field’s flagship store is a Macy’s. That drew protesters, even though you can now buy those “famous” Marshall Field mints in EVERY Macy’s in America. About 800 of them.

The latest: The LaSalle Bank is now Bank of America. And BOA says it “never gave any thought” to keeping the LaSalle name, even though it’s been around forever and is the city’s second largest financial institution.

BOA doesn’t have much loyalty to tradition. After all, it’s not even really BOA. That was a San Francisco bank that was bought by a North Carolina bank which changed its name so that it would have some history and tradition that it otherwise lacked. Plus, “Bank of America” sounds so much statelier. Unless, of course, you’re a LaSalle loyalist.

Out on New York’s Long Island, the stuffy old Second National Bank of Hempstead was gobbled up by the then-voracious Security National Bank which more or less got gobbled up by one of the majors. They kept the stuffy old office and the stuffy old officers for awhile, but it just wasn’t the same.

But, back to Chicago, no more Capone, no more Sandburg, no more Marshall Field. (Oh, the original Marshall Field was born in Massachusetts. But so long ago, it doesn’t count.) No more major railroad passenger traffic. No more Stevens or Palmer House, no more Original Tribune, no more LaSalle bank.

But one thing hasn’t changed. One thing that’s almost exclusively Chicago that no body advocating “shareholder value” or “we need to make a national chain out of your dinky local department store or hotel” can change.

You can still walk on Lake Michigan. Even when it’s NOT frozen.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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