Mike Royko Street Honor the Right Idea, Group Says
LOGAN SQUARE — Mike Royko, who grew up above his parents' tavern at 2122 N. Milwaukee, often tapped into memories of those colorful neighborhood streets when he wrote his famous columns.
"Saw a 130-pound lady bartender named Kitty in Logan Square knock a 210-pound hillbilly unconscious with one punch to his brow," Royko once wrote. "She had a quart jar of Polish pickles in her hand when she punched him."
Now, if one local group has its way, one of those streets will be named after the late, great, newspaper man.
The "Mike Royko Prospect Committee" — led by Dan Pogorzelski, vice president of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society — is leading the charge.
The committee saw opportunity in the reconfiguration of a dangerous intersection at Damen-Elston-Fullerton avenues, which under the city's makeover plan would reroute Elston Avenue just south of Winchester Avenue.
While the city plans to call the disconnected stretch of Elston between Fullerton and Winchester avenue "Old Elston," the group believes "Mike Royko Prospect" is a more unique and original name for the mostly industrial area on the northern edge of Bucktown.
A "prospekt" is a Russian term for an urban street derived from the Latin "prospectus" which means "view, outlook."
The son of Polish and Ukrainian immigrants, Royko had a sense of Chicago that was formed growing up in what was then a mostly white, blue-collar enclave. He died in 1997 at age 64, leaving behind a legacy of some 7,500 daily columns published in three Chicago newspapers.
Royko's son, David Royko, 53, believes his father would be "tickled" by the nascent effort to lobby city officials to name a small street in his honor — as long as no one's upset.
"The most important part of any street being named after dad is that it's not going to cause a problem for anybody," said Royko.
David Royko said that when he "heard it was a stub of a street with not many addresses on it" he thought it "could be terrific," though he said he was reminded of a plan to rename Evergreen Avenue in Wicker Park after famed writer Nelson Algren.
David Royko said his father "was all for it" until the people on Evergreen Street made it clear to the city they were opposed to the renaming because it would be too costly and too much of a hassle to change their addresses.
Joining Pogorzelski on the "Mike Royko Prospect Committee" effort is Patrick Steffes, editor of "Forgotten Chicago"; Jacob Kaplan, editor and co-founder of "Forgotten Chicago"; Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago and vice president of Logan Square Preservation; and Mark Dobrzycki, a former Associated Press photographer.
The men started a Facebook page called "Mike Royko Deserves a Street Named After Him in Chicago," which has attracted 77 likes since its launch Tuesday. Royko already has an honorary street named after him in the 500 block of North Michigan Avenue, just north of the Tribune Tower.
Pogorzelski said the next step after getting the word out and gaining more support behind "Mike Royko Prospect" is approaching Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), whose ward includes the intersection.
Bill Savage, who teaches Chicago literature at Northwestern University and has taught a class on Royko at the Newberry Library, said that the city "forgets about Chicago writers" when it comes to naming streets after them because "most who write about Chicago are critical of it."
Savage referred to the proposed "Mike Royko Prospect" as "a brilliant tribute to one of city's greatest writers."
"He was representative of Chicago's Everyman, of the neighborhood people who weren't powerful, the ones 'up against it in Chicago,'" Savage said, referring to the name of a collection of Royko's columns.
Savage said the choice of the word "prospect" is fitting, too.
"Prospect is an Eastern European name and it calls to mind ethnic origins. It also gives you a prospect, a view, and that is what Royko did through his writings," he said.
Location wise, Savage called the street "a weird nook, a spot that will never be gentrified because there's too much infrastructure in the way."
"The Vienna beef factory, the empty lots, the church spires and smoke stacks in the distance all viewable from the intersection gives a view of the industrial city [Royko] wrote about," he said.