Clare Knipper by the Healthy Food
By John Greenfield
[This article also runs in the current issue of Momentum magazine, http://momentumplanet.com.]
When Blue City Cycles co-owner Clare Knipper calls Bridgeport the “Community of the Future” she’s only half kidding. Sure, this quaint, meat-and-potatoes South Side neighborhood is known for the Union Stock Yards, the Daley dynasty and the White Sox. But recently the area’s seen an influx of forward-thinking artists, activists and entrepreneurs, and it’s become an unlikely hotbed for bicycle projects and green initiatives.
Why? “It’s affordable and close to downtown,” says Knipper. “But it’s a little off the map so it draws the intrepid, people who are more in tune with bike and environmental concerns. And it’s got a lot of fun old-timey stuff.” As such, it’s a great destination for a pedal-powered daytrip.
Settled in the 1830s by Irish immigrants who dug the I & M Canal, and now home to large Chinese-, Mexican-, Italian- and Lithuanian-American populations as well, Bridgeport is bounded roughly by the Dan Ryan to the east, Pershing Road (3900 S.) to the south, the Chicago River to the north and Bubbly Creek to the west. The latter is so called because slaughterhouse workers used to dump offal into the water, causing it to bubble with gas from decomposing carcasses.
Ground zero for Bridgeport’s bike and sustainability endeavors is Bubbly Dynamics (bubblydynamics.com), named after the fetid creek, a former paint warehouse at 1048 W. 37th St. “Green developer” and cyclist John Edel completely rehabbing the derelict three-story structure, using salvaged building supplies that otherwise would have wound up in landfills. Other eco-friendly features include energy-efficient heating and ventilation systems, a green roof for storm water management, and showers and indoor parking for bike commuters.
John Edel on Bubbly's green roof
Officially called the Chicago Sustainable Manufacturing Center, the building houses a number of light industrial workshops and community-oriented businesses. “All the tenants are learning to be more sustainable by operating here,” says Edel.
Edel is currently shopping for a space for his next project, called the Plant (plantchicago.com), which will include larger manufacturing spaces, a warehouse for salvaged construction materials, and a “vertical farm” that will grow food in the air, inside the building.
Yuval Awazu of UV Metal Arts (uvmetalarts.com) moved into Bubbly five years ago. He fabricated his own sandblasting booth and powdercoating oven for painting bikes custom colors. He’s also built some unique rides: choppers, tall bikes, and a six-wheel vehicle called the “Sex Cycle.” He contributed his metal working talents to the building rehab; in exchange, Edel gives him a break on the rent. “For me and the guys who build bike frames upstairs, Bubbly is like an incubator,” says Awazu.
Owen Lloyd, one of the five frame builders from the Bubbly Bicycle Works cooperative, agrees. Each pays only $200 a month for workbench space and shares equipment like “jigs” used to shape frames and forks, and the “surface plate,” a perfectly flat 3,000-pound slab of granite for checking alignment. “John Edel’s the reason we’re here,” says Lloyd. “If he was a regular landlord and I was paying regular rent I wouldn’t be able to do this. He’s a visionary.”
Lloyd at Bubbly Bicycle Works
Not that Lloyd has much time for frame building these days. Along with Clare Knipper, he’s busy running Blue City Cycles (www.bluecitycycles.com) which opened at 3201 S. Halsted in March (see Momentum issue #42). This winter they’re offering a $100 winterizing tune-up package and hosting a maintenance workshop series.
Nearby at 32nd and Morgan, artist John Salhus operates a different kind of bike shop, refurbishing old rides in his painting studio. “For me working on bikes is like Prozac,” he explains. He also wrenches for low-income neighborhood folks who stop by. Recently Salhus built a shrine to randoneurring pioneer Paul de Vivie, the “patron saint of cyclists,” for the Day of the Dead exhibit at the nearby Museum of Mexican Fine Art.
Down the street at 3219 S. Morgan, the Co-Prosperity Sphere (coprosperity.org) is an “experimental culture center” that’s an anchor of the local arts community. The building’s home to founder Ed Marszewski’s Lumpen and Proximity magazines, as well as gallery and performance space.
The other lynchpin of the Bridgeport arts scene is the Zhou B. Arts Center (zbcenter.org), 1029 W. 35th. Founded by brothers Shan Zuo and Da Huang Zhou, this huge space houses galleries, studios and a stylish café.
Sox/35th Red Line station
A mile east on 35th is the CTA’s Sox/35th Red Line station, one of four stops that recently got high-capacity indoor bike parking. The double-decker racks at Sox/35th, with space for 42 bikes, are located in the “paid” area of the station for extra security.
If you bike to Bridgeport, a new green space called Stearns Quarry Park, 2700 S. Halsted, is a great place to take a break. Formerly a limestone quarry, then a landfill, the space has been reclaimed as an urban oasis with a fishing pond, a waterfall and a hilltop 33 feet above street level offering a breathtaking view of the Loop – perfect for a picnic.
Halsted Street, the neighborhood’s backbone, feels like the main street of a careworn small town, except nowadays the roadway is striped with bike lanes and lined with parking racks. The Pants Store, 3513 S., is a great place to buy Dickies and have them shortened into cycling knickers while you wait. Monster Island Toys, 3335 S., features an amazing collection of sci-fi and horror action figures, including a three-foot-high plastic Godzilla. Augustine’s Spiritual Goods, 3327 S., sells books on religion and philosophy, incense and scented oils.
Bridgeport also boasts many historic houses of worship worth a gander. Founded in 1882 for Polish stockyard workers, St. Mary of Perpetual Help Catholic church, 1039 W. 32nd St., features soaring bell towers and a domed cupola. Reflecting the recent influx of Chinese immigrants to the neighborhood, Ling Shen Ching Tze Buddhist temple, 1035 W. 31st, is a vibrant red building with fluttering prayer flags outside and an ornate golden altar within.
Another nearby sight worth pedaling to is the Stock Yard Gate, just west of Halsted at Exchange St. (4200 S.), a massive limestone arch crowned by a steer’s head. It once marked the entrance to the huge packinghouse district, setting for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
Ready to refuel? Next door to the defunct Ramova Theater, Ramova Grill, 3510 S. Halsted, is famous for Cincinnati-style chili. Meals at Taqueria San Jose, 3253 S. Halsted, include a side of pickled carrots, onions and jalepenos. Healthy Food Lithuanian restaurant, 3326 S. Halsted, belies its name with dishes enriched with butter, bacon and sour cream. [Sadly, the Healthy Food recently closed.]
Ed’s Potsticker House, 3139 S. Halsted, serves unusual Chinese entrees, like sautéed lamb with cumin, and fried fish with cornbread. Just opened at 3267 S. Halsted, Nana is a sunny café serving organic breakfast and lunch. Bridgeport Coffee House, 3101 S. Morgan, in a beautiful corner space with a hammered tin ceiling, is a cozy place to laptop.
Thirsty? Bridgeport’s famous for corner taps and “old man bars.” Tucked away at 3200 S. Wallace, Redwood Lounge is a dive with cool retro signage outside, and redwood paneling and Christmas lights inside.
The mother of Co-Prosperity Sphere’s Ed Marszewski owns Kaplan’s Liquors (AKA Maria’s), 960 W. 31st, which explains why the bar sports a creepy collection of marionettes and ventriloquist’s dummies.
Why not hop on your bike and find out why the “Community of the Future” is a great place to hang out today?