Lincoln Square’s house of mystery

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2515 W. Carmen Avenue has intrigued me from the moment I saw it. It’s a peculiar little box of a house, a simple rectangle covered in stucco to make a sort of Pueblo Revival style.

Nothing too strange yet… but the house sits next to a huge yard. Most of it is raw dirt under a canopy of trees. It’s fenced off for what would be privacy if the fence weren’t collapsing at the street.

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And then there’s the alley building. At first it might seem like an old garage with an apartment above… but there’s only one garage. And on the side that faces the yard, there’s some sort of strange barbecue pit.

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What did this place used to be? When was it built? Who lived there? What was it used for?

A sign on the fence notes that the place is for sale by Sperry Van Ness realtors, though it appears to have changed hands a couple of times in recent years.

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Friday Photo Special: Critical Mass, August

Leaving Daley Plaza

I have a lot of mixed feelings about Critical Mass. This was my second time riding in one, but I’m familiar enough with the dynamic from the LATE Ride and other such events. Inevitably, when you get thousands of bikers riding en masse on city streets, some conflicts with drivers occur.

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I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I can totally sympathize with a bunch of angry, stressed out drivers slogging through traffic, trying to get somewhere, maybe late for a date or a meeting or a train or a flight, and then getting held up through multiple green lights by this mass of bikers going nowhere.

On the flip side… well, how many of these drivers really have somewhere so important to be that it can’t wait five minutes? It’s a good thing to get pulled out of your little driver world every once in a while. Driving is not the be-all end-all of tasks in life, and cars do not have exclusive rights to public streets.

Anyway, Critical Mass is generally a joyous occasion, full of thousands of happy bikers. At some kind of tipping point, don’t sheer numbers give them the right of way?

But if there’s one true flaw with Critical Mass, it’s that it just doesn’t ever stop itself to let some traffic pass. At all. Considering the mass of riders can be strung out for many, many blocks, it’s not very fair to drivers to make them sit through the whole thing. It’s small wonder that a handful get impatient and start nosing their way into intersections, resulting in the inevitable and pointless confrontations.

View large to see two more bridges' worth of cyclists

All that said? Riding in this enormous group is a heck of a lot of fun.

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This was the coolest thing on this ride – a newlywed couple getting their photos made, who happily got out into the middle of the street to mingle with the passing bikers.

Happy bride

The driver blew the whistle for us!

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Holy crap, Western Avenue!

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Additional photos at my Flickr space.

Aren’t you just a little bit curious?

For years, I held the section of Golf Road that slides under I-90/94 in a degree of reverence. Seen from the highway, it seemed like a little downtown, a place where great and interesting things must surely be happening. What gave it this mythical aura? One and only one building: the Optima Condominiums, a veritable floating city that hovers over this stretch of crowded highway.

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I do have to wonder what kind of perverse, photographer-hating architect orients his building so that the best views are from the highway.

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But that’s no slight against the building’s non-highway-facing facades. From almost any angle, Optima Old Orchard Woods is an incredible mass of glass-walled homes, layered and piled upon one another in a magnificent symphony of space and materials. If ever there was a building to convince doubters of the merits of glass facades, this is it. It’s a structural feat as well, with cantilevers in every direction and even a massive multi-story bridge in the middle.

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The Optima building is in a tense location: on one side, the roaring Edens Expressway, one of the most traffic-choked Interstates in the nation, with the suburban detritus of the Skokie Golf Mills area beyond it. On the other side, a Forest Preserve – undisturbed wildlands coursing like a green river through the suburbs.

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Impressive by day, this building truly comes alive at night, with facades that are an ever-shifting checkerboard of light and dark.

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Like its cousins in Evanston, the Optima Old Orchard derives much of its sense of place by piling inhabitable spaces one on top of the other. The breezeway roof is a sun balcony. The pool is on the second story and looks over the entry court. Balconies and terraces are everywhere.

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With only one small retail store in the base, it’s not quite a self-contained city (nor is it terribly urban – there’s no rail transit anywhere closeby). But it does a good job of looking like it!

Aren't you just a little bit curious?

(The title of this blog post, by the way, comes from a rooftop banner which adorned the building for a time. Intended to stir up the interest of potential residents, it instead came across as a plaintive plea for attention, perhaps explaining why it didn’t last very long.)