Finkl Steel

Finkl Steel

As recently as two decades ago, Chicago was famously a steel mill town. Vast south side factories belched smoke and fire by day and night. Those days are gone now, for better or worse; the last of the city’s great mills is in the final stages of demolition down on S. Torrence Avenue, leaving only the Gary mills further south to carry on.

But on the near north side, one last vestige of the steel industry remains within the city limits. A. Finkl & Sons Co. continues pouring steel, only a mile or two north of downtown, as they have for over a hundred years.

Finkl Steel

But what makes this comparatively small-scale operation so remarkable is not just its location amid the heavily gentrified near north side, but the proportion of its operation that remains visible from the street. Wander past on any weekday evening, and you’re liable to see all sorts of heavy industrial equipment at work, up to and including molten steel being poured from vats the size of an automobile.

Finkl Steel

You’re also likely to see folks with cameras, as this amazing sight naturally attracts attention. W. Cortland Avenue is a smallish but busy route to the west side of the Chicago River, so plenty of people pass by. The steel workers are grudgingly tolerant of the attention; if you’re a sociable type, you might even be able to chat some of them up. If not, well, the factory alone is an incredible show.

Finkl Steel

The nonchalance of the workers is also amusing. Sparks are flying, huge pieces of metal are swinging on chains and rolling along on overhead gantry cranes, molten metal is being poured, blue-flame blowtorches are cutting at steel, and it’s all just another day of work for these guys. Such dangerous, difficult, and intensive work is a rare thing in our post-industrial society.

Finkl Steel

In 2006, there was talk of the Clybourn corridor plant closing down to relocate to more spacious facilities elsewhere, on the city’s south side perhaps. A quick Google search turns up no forward movement on this, but Finkl & Son’s present operation is such a rarity in this day and age, it seems proper to treat it as an endangered species regardless.

A stormy day by the sea

Lakefront path indeed

This may not impress you if you live near the ocean.

But this Lake Michigan, and one thing I’ve learned in my eight years of living by Lake Michigan, is that Lake Michigan doesn’t do this.

Lake Michigan does not rise up and send waves crashing over the sea wall and onto the bike path. Lake Michigan does not churn up waves that rise up higher than your head. Lake Michigan is not violent or dangerous!


Living by the placid shores of Lake Michigan, it’s easy to forget that it is a lake in name only; in actuality it’s a vast inland sea, large enough to affect local weather patterns, and large enough to do whatever the heck it feels like. Newcomers like me have only seen it at the low water levels of recent years, but in the early 1980s waves were actually crossing Lakeshore Drive and crashing against apartment buildings.