#503: Three and 84 Years On

July 15th, 2015

The front door still appears to be boarded at the mansion-turned-apartment-building that once housed King Tut’s Tomb, “Said to be the hottest spot in town,” where “Al Bentley’s King Tut Syncopating Mummies, featuring Lee Collins, the jazz cornetist from New Orleans, provide music that would make a mummy come to life.”

The Golden Lily is still a long-shuttered Harold’s Chicken Shack.

Three years ago, I started two blogs. One contains interviews, profiles, vignettes, ramblings and, at least at one point, mayoral campaign finance paperwork expressed as world poetry.

The other one has a picture of a sports field and a note that I would be taking a “brief hiatus” starting three years and a month ago yesterday.

The other blog was an attempt to track down what’s in the locations of old restaurants from a 1930s dining guide I own. I broke down the book into chapters and created interactive maps and paired current photos I took with the 1930s description.

Then, life.

Work picked up. This site kept me busy. I got a $2,700 repair bill on a car with a $2,900 blue book and decided to see if carlessness would work for me. It became harder to run around snapping photos that Google Street View was already doing a better job on.

It was fun to find pickled pigs’ feet were served at a now-posh Gucci store, or that the big bohemian haunt is now an alley, but nothing gave me more pleasure than tracking down the restaurants of The Great Black Way.

“Way down south, around 35th Street, 47th Street, and Garfield Boulevard, lies Chicago’s great Blackbelt. It is a ‘city within a city;’ it speaks its own language and has its own churches, schools, dance halls, movie palaces and five and ten cent stores; also, it has such institutions unique to the locality as barbecue stands, East India herb shops, and black-and-tan night clubs. It is, in short, the Harlem of Chicago.”

The jazz history. The cultural appropriation. The writer who didn’t seem to see any contradiction in warning readers to treat black people with respect and equality while he called them “mammys” and “high-yellow.” The clear, honest laying out of which clubs were interracial “black-and-tans” and which allowed only whites. It repelled and fascinated me in equal measure.

Three years, a month and a day after that site’s vacation, and 84 years after the book that inspired it was published, still-carless I took to Google Street View to check on some of the places I re-found.

Club El Rado, “Made famous by Nora Holt, the internationally-known ‘blues’ singer,” is still a hardware store, as is The Sunset, “Last survivor of a day (or night) when black-and-tans were plentiful along 35th Street, which was then called the Rialto of the Blackbelt.”

The manager of the Ace that was The Sunset will let you see the mural that was at the back of the stage if you ask him. I did that once.

The bust-windowed frontis of the Blackbelt nightclub Grand Terrace Café has been boarded and spiffed.

Chapman’s, of the “white-tiled counter, a table lunch room, and quite a few Southern dishes, prepared by an expert chef,” was a menacingly empty storefront with a “NO CASH ON PREMISES” sign when I was there three years ago, but a beauty salon when Google Street View slid by back in September.

The Poro Tea Room is still Mollison school. The Ritz Club still a weed-choked field.

The Blackbelt has become the euphemistic Bronzeville. The area still struggles with low income and low property values. That mansion that used to house King Tut’s Tomb is valued at $101,000, a ridiculous pittance at city prices.

I don’t head down there much anymore, despite the surviving blog’s stated purpose to tell untold stories. That’s a failure on my part, carless status irrelevant.

A pledge and a hope that I’ll do better, that no one will read my lines 84 years on and chuckle at the racism I laced in them. I want to go back, need to if I’m ever to claim this site is more than another hipster’s pretense.

And I don’t want to wait another three years.

Read some of the South Side stories I have written:

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