Monday, November 29, 2010

The Death of Historic Preservation in Peoria

Historic Preservation in Peoria was officially euthanized last Tuesday when nine shortsighted politicians voted to "delist" a designated Historic Landmark. 

Led by Second District councilwoman Barbara Van Auken, these so-called civic leaders gave the green light for the demolition of the Roanoke Apartments.

The Roanoke is a beautiful example of the Prairie School influences on early 20th century construction.  With yesterday's buzzwords of "New Urbanism" all but forgotten by this current council, this building is a wonderful example of urbanism when it was truly new - luxury apartments convenient to the city center. 

Portrayed by a Journal Star hack as "blighted", the building is in remarkably great condition, with its beautiful marble foyer, mission style woodwork and doors, and many original fixtures intact.  Despite efforts by the building's owners at "demolition by neglect" (leaving windows open. etc.), the structure easily could have been restored to its original glory.

By "delisting" a Landmark, the council has, for all practical purposes, completely gutted the Historic Preservation Ordinance. 
Since the adoption of the ordinance over thirty five years ago, it always has been assumed that Landmark status was forever. 

If it can be undone by the whim of any future council, then what meaning does Landmark status have?
The answer now is "ABSOLUTELY NONE."

Ms. Van Auken, who was responsible for this atrocity, has evolved into the consummate politician.  She long ago gave up any pretense of actually representing the wishes and values of her Second District constituents.
Instead, she has become a classic 'quid pro quo' politician.
She has managed to politicize the Historic Preservation process like no one else before her.  Over the past few years she has packed the city's Historic Preservation Commission with her drinking buddies and toadies.  Indeed, the current HPC president is her own campaign manager. 
(And in this process, more historic structures have been lost under this commission than any other in recent memory!)

In her current crusade to repay political favors and campaign contributions (Brian Meginness, et al)  by demolishing the Roanoke Apartments and gutting the ordinance in the process, Van Auken even made willing pawns of the Central Illinois Landmarks Foundation.
Along with her buddy, Henry Holling, she arranged "secret" meetings between the CILF leadership and Trinity so that she could go to her colleagues (and the PJStar) and say that all parties were involved in the "solution". 
And thus another of Van Auken's casualties is the credibility of the CILF and its officers in particular.

The only surprise in this debacle was that the council vote was 9 to 1. 
I thought that perhaps there might have been a couple others who would support principle over politics.  But only Councilman Sandberg had the balls to stand up for Peoria's history and for the Historic Preservation Ordinance.

So where do the true preservationists go from here?

With the process now completely politicized, we have no choice but to join the political fray.  Van Auken is clearly a politician for sale, and preservationists definitely were outbid on this one. 

ALL the district council reps will need to be replaced in 2013, particularly those in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd where most of the city's historic properties are located. 

The 4th district person lost his credibility when he tried to force a major city contract to his brother-in-law, and his action here seals that fate.

The mayor and the 5th district representative may well be in jail by then.

Of immediate concern, however, is the at-large contest coming up in the spring. 
Cumulative voting makes it difficult to target any one incumbent, but at this point I am urging folks to vote for anyone BUT Turner and Spain.

As for the other candidates, I am one preservationist ready to put my money where my mouth is.  Sandberg is a given, but who among the other candidates will commit to a firm preservationist agenda? 
Summers?  Akeson?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks - 2010

Thanksgiving is absolutely the best holiday on the calendar.

No church-going obligations (or guilt for not going!).
No stress and rush with shopping for gifts or addressing cards.
No flags to hoist or parades to attend.

Nope, Thanksgiving is only about eating and visiting with loved ones. And these just happen to be two of my very favorite things in the whole world.

My mother was the glue that held our family together. When she passed at a much too early age, my brothers and sisters and I divided up the holidays with a promise to never drift apart. I was fortunate to claim Thanksgiving as my holiday to host. Although most of my family live 90 miles south, this is the one day of the year when most of them drive up to spend the day at my house.

It promises to be a day of good food and good times...a little reminiscing, a little looking forward, a little laughing, and maybe even a tear or two.

Like most of you, my family and loved ones are at the very top of my things-to-be-thankful-for list.

I could write more, but there's a turkey in the oven, and a ham to glaze, and potatoes to be prepared, and vegetables to chop, and....

Here's wishing everyone a great day with family and friends!

Don't forget to stop and consider ALL the things you have to be thankful for.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Great First Lines

If a poll were taken for best first line of a novel, I am betting that Charles Dicken's "A Tale of Two Cities" would be the top vote getter.  It is a pretty amazing sentence:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

My vote, however, goes to John Irving's "A Prayer For Owen Meany".  This is one of my favorite books and it begins with this line:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

Who can read that line and not want to read the rest of the book?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

- Theater Review - Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead

The Corn Stock Winter Playhouse continues its current season with "Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead".

This play debuted at the 2004 New York Fringe Festival and was the hit of that year.  It is not often performed since, so I was thrilled to find it in Corn Stock's line-up.

The hilarious premise of the play is based on the trials and tribulations of the Peanuts gang during their teenage years; although the names are (slightly) changed to protect the innocent (from lawsuits from the Charles Schulz estate?). 
Charlie Brown is simply C.B., Linus is Van, etc.

It seems the gang has turned out a little differently than we might have imagined.

The play opens with Charlie and his sister at the funeral for Charlie's dog.  Good ol' Snoopy contracted rabies and killed Woodstock before being "put down".
Sally is a Wiccan goth flake.  Linus is a tweaked out pothead, who smoked his blanket long ago.  Peppermint Patty and Marcie are loose party girls.  Schroeder is perceived as gay and constantly bullied by Pig Pen who is now a germaphobe as well as a homophobe known as Matt. Lucy is incarcerated in a sanitarium after setting fire to the Little Red-Headed Girl's red hair.

As Charlie seeks spiritual answers in regards to Snoopy's death, he stumbles onto some unexpected answers to his own sexual identity.

I was pleased to find Jeremy Behrens in the lead role as Charlie Brown.  Mr. Behrens has lit up the Hartmann Center stage over the last few years, most recently as the demented dentist in Bradley's production of "Little Shop of Horrors". 
In this role he is given the chance to expand his dramatic chops and he indeed rises to the occasion.

Alex Larson as the stoner Van Pelt is the comedic favorite, garnering the biggest audience laughs.  Megan Runyard and Bridgette Richard are equally funny in the roles of Marcie and Patty respectively.  Ms. Runyard's facial expressions will make you smile before she speaks a line.

Melissa Grimson turns in a great performance as Charlie's sister Sally.  This character has a bit more depth that some of the others, as Sally changes from flakiness to self-assured maturity.  Her performance piece within the play emphasises this metamorphosis.

Michael David Luchies is convincingly mean as the villain of the piece.  Landen Zumwalt is effective as a young gay man struggling with his sexuality and the pressures of being bullied.  And as Schroeder ought to, he plays a mean piano.

While Heather Dyer is fine in her portrayal as Lucy, the character is somewhat problematic.  She does not quite fit into or contribute to the underlying themes of the play....nothing against Ms. Dyer's performance, but perhaps a flaw in the play itself.

The truly wonderful thing about this play is how it so perfectly straddles the line between comedy and drama.  There are plenty of funny situations full of laughter.  At the same time, its themes of coming out and of gay bullying are seriously examined; and given current headlines, they are particularly timely.

The production is dedicated to The Trevor Project, a nationwide not-for-profit supporting acceptance of GLBTQ youth that aids in crisis and suicide prevention.  Learn more about the organization here.

And please see this delightful play at the theater in upper Bradley Park now through November 20th. 
Call the box office at 676-2196.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November Poetry Corner

Death, Be Not Proud
                    - John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

- Theater Review - subUrbia

Bradley University Theatre's second offering of their 2010 - 2011 season is Eric Bogosian's intense drama "subUrbia".

Set in the early 90's against a soundtrack of grunge rock, it is the stark tale of a group of disaffected youth in a dead-end suburban town, appropriately named Burnfield.

And believe me, by the end of this play all that remains is scorched earth.

This group of young losers spends most of their waking hours hanging out in the parking lot of the corner convenience store. 

There is Sooze (Erin Kennedy), a wannabe performance artist who longs to move to New York in order to pursue a career.  Her boyfriend Jeff (Kevin Logsdon), is an unmotivated slacker who is negatively influenced by his friendship with the mean and dark Tim, played excruciatingly well by Ross Cochran.
Other members of the idler gang are Buff (Brian Zinda), whose life is one constant party quest, and the emotionally fragile Bee Bee (Katy Robinson).

This night marks the return of Pony (Dakota Kuhlman), the one member of the group who was able to get out of Burnfield and make something of himself as a minor rock star.  His lingering affection for Sooze brings him back to his former local haunt.  He returns along with his sexy publicist Erica (Janice Gerlach) in a stretch limo, which serves here as a symbol of success, the trophy for finally "getting out".

The cast is rounded out by Raj Bond and Arianna Brown, who play the Pakistani brother and sister 'Norman' and Pakeeza, owners of the convenience store and the targets of Tim's racist aggression.
Mr. Bond turns in a perfect performance as the hard-working immigrant in search of the American dream.

The cast is made up of some newer faces and all the acting here is excellent, without exception.  As is often the case, the stand out performances are those of the darkest characters. 

Ms. Robinson is superb as the damaged, self-loathing Bee Bee, who is fresh out of rehab and destined for destruction.

Mr. Cochran is exceptional as the loathsome Tim.  This character is a drunken, racist, self-destructive loser.  After watching this performance, I felt like I should go home and shower.  Mr. Bond plays the part with such dangerous precision, I can only imagine that he will require an extended beach vacation to get this guy out of his head.

Such performances as these must be partly attributed to the excellent direction of Steve Snyder.

Special mention must be made of the setting as well.  The designers have constructed an entire 7-11 style store on the Hartmann Center stage, and the effect is simply incredible!  Kudos to the set designers.

This play is rooted in such gritty reality as to make it difficult to watch in places.  Some of the rants, heavy with the N-word, the C-word, and the F-word had the audience squirming in their seats.  There were many in the already sparse audience who did not return for the second act.

Regardless, the performances and set make this show well worth a look. 

It runs through November 21st.  Tickets can be purchased at the door or by calling 677-2650.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Now THAT'S Historic Preservation!

I recently returned from ten days in Greece.  Most of that time was spent in Athens, with a one day tour of three of the nearest islands - Hydra, Poros, and Aegina.

Athens is a city overflowing with history.  It is home to many museums and I do believe I visited them all.  Chief among these is the brand new (2009) Acropolis Museum, situated a few blocks from my hotel at the foot of the Acropolis.  This amazing building was built directly over active excavations of early Christian sites.  The first level effectively uses glass floors so you can see directly down into these sites.

While in Athens, I saw pottery that was 8,000 years old.  How incredible to look at these pots (intact and reconstructed) and think that they were molded by human hands, fired, and decorated with intricate designs for utilitarian and religious purposes a full 6,000 years before the birth of Christ!
I was struck by the similarity of the geometric designs of these vessels to those of Native American pottery.  It seemed to underscore a common humanity that originated there in the cradle of Western Civilization.

I also visited buildings and structures that were a couple thousand years old.  This made me think of the difficulty encountered by preservationists here in Peoria as we try to save structures that are only a hundred years old.
Thank goodness the Athenians had the forethought and respect for their culture to save these structures, that are visited by throngs of tourists daily. 
I am not saying that people will travel from around the world to visit a restored Madison Theater, but what a shame that our city leaders have such limited vision that they are unwilling to fight for those symbols of Peoria's identity and rich cultural history.

Another of the museums in Athens is dedicated to the Battle of Marathon and the birth of democracy.  As an American, it was humbling to stand in the land where democracy was "invented", and realize how different the world would be if that single battle had gone differently.  If the Persians had been victorious, the entire Western world would be different and America as we know it would not exist.
It was a reminder not only of what we take so easily for granted, but of the fragility of all political and social structures.

It was a most exciting and expanding vacation.  You can see my poor attempts at photography on Facebook:!/profile.php?id=100000416750539&v=photos