EDGEWATER — It's that time of the year again: out with the old, and in with the new.
But as we take a reflective look back at 2015 on the Far North Side, topics like a fascination with historic buildings, new real estate developments and some pretty impressive neighbors highlight bright spots throughout the year.
Conversely, crime, budget shortfalls and ongoing issues with Chicago Public Schools affected North Side communities in ways that inspired many residents to take a stand.
Here's a look back at the good, bad and ugly in the Far North Side's neck of the woods.
So long, 2015. It's been real.
1. New Businesses Brought in Burlesque, Brew Pubs, Breakfast and More: Several new businesses made a splash this year when they settled into the neighborhood. School of Girlesque brought in both group and private dance lessons along Sheridan Road, while adult toy shop Tulip sent waves through the neighborhood when it opened its third location on Glenwood Avenue. Food and drink-lovers also were treated to a new mom-and-pop brew pub on Devon Avenue, wine bar along North Broadway and the re-configuration of the former Deluxe Diner into Logan Square favorite Cozy Corner.
2. Historic Buildings Highlighted a Love for Architecture: The Far North Side has a ton of cool historic buildings, and this year they truly got the love they deserve. Open House Chicago let us get a glimpse inside the stunning Edgewater Beach Apartments and Frank Lloyd Wright's Emil Bach house in Rogers Park. In West Ridge, we honored the royal-looking Park Castle Condominiums, and saw a rare opening in the Manor House in the Bryn Mawr Historic District. Looking to the lakefront, in 2015 we also heard one business owner's plans to convert the Colvin House, one of the city's last lakefront mansions, into a comfy co-working space.
The Manor House on Bryn Mawr Avenue had a rare opening in its building. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
3. Crime Was Brutal — and Sometimes Bizarre: The murder of Rogers Park rapper Shaquan Thomas, aka Young Pappy, especially left a mark on the North Side — two innocent people had been killed in previous attempts on his life. Similarly, the effects of the Laquan McDonald case hit Far North Side residents and politicians, who met to discuss their feelings on the case and on the city's handling of police misconduct in general. While crime is never something to take lightly, this year saw a few, let's say, unique criminal acts. In West Ridge, one taxi company was robbed of its flower bed plants not once, but twice. An over-excited Cubs fan spray-painted an Instagram handle and anti-St. Louis Cardinals jeers across neighbors' vehicles. An apartment burglar left behind a cell phone with someone's picture on the lock screen depicting a one-finger salute.
4. State Budget Cuts Sliced Into Neighborhood Resources: It was a rough year for community organizations who rely on state funds to keep their doors open, and to continue providing the same quality of services as Gov. Bruce Rauner and other state leaders continue with a major standoff on the state's budget. Howard Area Community Center, a decades-old Rogers Park institution, said it's struggled to maintain programs that help immigrants and refugees adjust to American life, as well as adult education and child care services. One brave mother of triplets shared her story of finding out she was no longer eligible for subsidized child care. Children at Gale Elementary School were also hurt by the state budget when a free summer program relied on by as many as 100 families was slashed, though partially re-instated.
5. Neighbors Were Incredible: Probably the best part of 2015 were all of you — the people who make the community what it is. In Edgewater, one couple found a unique way to process the violence that has permeated the country in recent years with a giant, fictional letter to Santa, while another West Ridge woman spoke of how her friendship with actress Glenn Close helped her start an organization that works to de-stigmatize mental illness. Brielle Siskin, who runs the Peace Room at Sullivan High School and is known as the "Peace Queen," helped students deal with problems, which ultimately reduced the building's punishment rate. Antonio Thomas of the Becoming A Man program cemented himself as a key figure to both boys and girls in Edgewater. Residents conquered amazing feats, too, like John and Judy Fitzgerald, who visited each 3,143 counties in the United States.
Brielle Siskin serves as Sullivan High School's "Peace Queen." [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
6. Schools Suffered, and Triumphed, Through Change: For CPS schools, who are impacted by both the local and state economy, it was a struggle for many principals to make ends meet while staying supportive to staff and students. Some schools were threatened with crucial cuts to their special education department, like Mather High School in West Ridge, while students attending Decatur Classical School described how they could feel both the physical and emotional pressures of their small school facility. In Edgewater, Senn High School's the principal Susan Lofton was removed by CPS after an investigation by the district's Inspector General's office, and throughout the North Side families sounded off against the elimination of bus routes. Yet the everyday kindness of community members, teachers and students helped to counterbalance the negative. Teachers rallied at Swift Elementary for better district support, Senn students raised scholarship money for undocumented students, and Sullivan High School was selected for a potential $10 million re-building grant.
7. Major Real Estate Developments Came To Fruition — or Were Planned: The Col. Jennifer Pritzker-owned Sheridan Road parking garage made its debut at a sword-swinging ribbon-cutting ceremony (though shortly thereafter an explosion in the garage left five cars burned, some beyond recognition). After delays, the West Ridge Nature Preserve also opened its gates to the community, ushered in with an appearance by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Several developments, like a group of new apartments, mini-brewery and more are helping to give Devon Avenue "new life," while another Pritzker parking garage and condo building is currently underway on Morse Avenue, across from Mayne Stage.
A man and young boy take in the sights and sounds of nature on the day the West Ridge Nature Preserve opened. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
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