DEMOLITION: THEN AND NOW

BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven”–
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Turn, turn, turn. A time to laugh, jump, play; a time to build, tear down, and rebuild.

Our family used to live in Chicago, at 1623 West Van Buren, near Ashland, with the “L” behind our building. But:

Demolition for Congress Street Expressway

Demolition for Congress   Expressway

The Congress Street [Eisenhower] Expressway made us move.

I went to 1st and 2nd grade at St. Jarlath’s on Jackson Boulevard.

Saint Jarlath Catholic Church and School

Saint Jarlath Catholic Church                 

(St. Jarlath: Ethnic Origin: Irish. Date of Origin: 1869. Neighborhood Location: West Town, 1713 West Jackson. In September 1969, the church closed. [“Heavens to Purgatory: Imploding Churches Flatten Chicago”: “Over the decades, grand churches such as the Catholic St. Jarlath’s, St. Leo’s, and St. Charles Borromeo, along with Protestant houses of worship and synagogues are demolished, erased from the cityscape.” –Lynn Becker, arcchicago.blogspot.com/2013/01])

When the demolition of our neighborhood began, I cannot remember. I cannot recall wrecking balls, bulldozers, or men working. However, what I do recall vividly are the fires from the piles of wood that remained after demolition of the buildings.

What are brothers and sisters playing together supposed to do? Their playing field now looks like a World War II bombed-out neighborhood in Berlin or in Hamburg. What to do? The alleyways are gone. A few abandoned cars under the “L” tracks. But the rubble fires?

What is there about a campfire that attracts us and keeps us nearly frozen in time, mesmerized, as the flames rise, the embers glow, the wood crackles and pops, perhaps even shooting tiny missiles of fire, sparks. Sparks that might be dangerous to little hands or clothes or long blond hair of a fourth-grade girl.

Campfire Fun

             Campfire Fun

Picture me in second grade, my play-pal sister, Janice, two years ahead of me, stirring up the fires of demolition. What fun! Feed the fire with other sticks of wood. Make the fire come to life: “We have fire!” We are entranced.

Someone reported us to our mother.

The playtime ended. No more Fire Starters in the rubble on Van Buren. What to do now? Put pennies on the streetcar tracks? Did that. Play in the car, swinging on the steering wheel. Got too big for that. I am sure that we found something else to do–and were informed that our building was next to go. We moved to the South Side.

So long ago, so many great memories of childhood.

Here in my Ohio neighborhood, I am seeing trucks and equipment. Demolition is occurring. Not for an expressway but because a cottage is old and rotten and decrepit. So the buildings, perhaps some nearly seventy years old or more, are coming down. Part of a renewal-scape project.

Here is what it looks like:

Demolition of Cottages #7 & #8

Demolition of Cottages #7 & #8,  Epworth Park, Bethesda, Ohio

And so it goes, for life goes on. It is for the best. It is time: turn, turn, turn.

But that pile of wood…. I need to call my sister. Can she come and play?

© James F. O’Neil

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