Photo by Richard Nickel
I have had the great pleasure in the last few days of reviewing the manuscript for a soon to be published book by an old Chicago friend, and former client. He’s the writer Ed Zotti, and his book, “The Barn House: Confessions of an Urban Rehabber” comes out in September, published by New American Library/Penguin. It is the story of his rehab of a wonderful old Queen Anne house in a north side Chicago neighborhood. I played a small role in his story – we were the architects for his rehab. Ed and his wife Mary worked on the house for over a dozen years, from their original encampment in a barely heated shell with their kids, to final fit-out and finishes many, many years later.
Ed writes quite hilariously about their trials and suffering – amazing the man could keep his very sharp sense of humor after all they went through. Anyone who has rehabbed an old house will more than appreciate his tale.
But not only does Ed talk about the restoration or recreation of his house. He talks about the restoration of Chicago – its revival and reawakening as a robust and vital place. He calls it the maturation of the city. His discussion of cities, their lives, their arcs of change, their growth and decline and revival, and about what it takes to turn things around, is really a wonderful part of the book.
When he and Mary started into their project, their neighborhood was part of a disappearing city, a layer in Chicago’s life that, more than a dozen years later, has pretty much totally vanished. Thinking back, I remember how sketchy things were then – empty lots, abandoned buildings, crime, lots of messiness. That part of north side Chicago is gone.
The image at the top of the page is from another book about Chicago. It’s called “Richard Nickel’s Chicago: Photographs of a Lost City,” and it’s by Richard Cahan and Michael Williams. Nickel’s photos in this book depict a different, but equally vanished, Chicago. And because he was such a master, they are all very powerful images.
It’s been a nice few days, getting in touch with one of my own lost cities, a city vivid in my memory, and now invisible.