Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Flamingo's Pizza in Gary's Miller Beach

Two UIC grad students, Rich Balsano and Joe Van Dyk, interviewed me at the Archives yesterday for a paper they’re doing about urban revitalization in Gary. I emphasized that urban planning ideally should be a decentralized process and involve the community. They looked at a couple Gary master plans that archivist Steve McShane had laid out for them and three books by Chilean photojournalist Camilo Vergara, including “The New American Ghetto.” When I pointed out photos Vergara had taken of the interior of City Methodist Church, they mentioned having viewed the ruins in person themselves. I mentioned how Vergara would visit Gary annually and photograph various abandoned buildings in order to document their decay and slow return to nature. Sometimes Camilo and I would go out together on jaunts and show each other out of the way places. For instance, he hadn’t known of the Swedish cemetery in Miller and I hadn’t been to an old German burial ground near Tolleston. One of my (and Camilo’s) favorite buildings is Four Brothers Grocery on East Twenty-First that was founded by four Palestinians a quarter-century ago who in turn sold it to another Palestinian set of brothers who still run it. One time I stopped in, and although it looked like an old-fashioned mom and pop store, the most popular items appeared to be cigarettes and lottery tickets.

I took Rich and Joe on a tour past several housing projects including the recently built Duneland Apartments in Miller, which was quite impressive, with an outdoor pool and a massive playground. On the way to IU Northwest, at my suggestion, they had visited the Horace Mann Apartments near Seventh and Adams. The half-century old Delaney project also looked to be well kept. The Gary Housing Authority, in my opinion, has done a good job providing for senior citizens (rehabbing, for instance, the old Gary Hotel into Genesis Towers) as well as poor people. Their hope with the newer apartments is to attract middle class families willing to pay fair market rent as well as providing subsidized housing. That was also the goal for Miller Village Apartments across County Line Road from where we live, and for a long time the plan seemed to work. At Marquette Park, looking out at Lake Michigan, Rich and Joe gawked at the distant mills and the Chicago skyline clearly visible. I showed them the house Patrick Lee built that I was tempted to bid on and the place Dave and Angie rented a decade ago that was but a hop, skip and jump from the beach and got sold to Chicagoans who mainly use it on weekends.

Rich had read “City of the Century” two years ago for another class and still recalled what I had written about pioneer Drusilla Carr and the Arlene Draves rape-murder case. I gave both of them “Gary’s First Hundred Years” and pointed out that my goal for the later chapters was hopefully to strike a balance between Gary’s problems and the resilience of its people and institutions. I told them the book had information on the urban revitalization efforts (called Gary Genesis) under Richard Hatcher, which might have succeeded in accomplishing more things had Republicans not been in power in Indianapolis and in Washington, DC, for most of his 20 years in office. Incidentally Mayor Hatcher’s 31 year-old daughter Ragen filed papers indicating that she plans to run for mayor next year.

Rich and Joe wanted to treat me to lunch, and Joe had already eaten at the Bakery Café, so after showing them some beachfront homes along Lake Shore Drive (the day was gorgeous, sunny with the temperature in the mid-sixties, and the winter ice mounds were still present but breaking up) we ended up at Flamingo’s. Once a pizza joint and smoky bar, under imaginative management it has become an “in” spot and expanded to include a nice dining area. On Thursdays we often order a carry-out pot roast meal for $7.95 that feeds two of us twice. The last time I was in the bar area was to watch a Phillies play-off game last October against the Dodgers. I had a great Italian Beef sandwich and fries for five bucks and took half the meal home. The waitress said tomorrow they’d be serving corn beef and cabbage (one of Toni’s favorite meals) all day for St. Patrick’s Day, so we went there for lunch. It was delicious. Near us were six ladies in their 70s or 80s with green party hats on. Flamingo’s success probably hastened the demise of the Beach Café, which had been a Miller watering hole for probably 75 years, with their Friday perch dinners once attracting overflow crowds. Flamingo’s has built a loyal clientele by having special events such as pig roasts and the like and by keeping their food prices low and the quality of menu items high. After all, booze is where bars make their profits. And they still make a darn good pizza.

In my retirement journal (Shavings volume 40) I mention taking granddaughter Alissa to the now closed restaurant La Dolce Vita for pizza and finding that they were down to two menu items, that their pizza oven was not working, and that they had lost their beer and wine license. It was late and there was no cook in sight, so I asked Alissa if we should leave. “Your call, Jimbo,” she said. We opted for a pot roast meal from Flamingo’s. It was delicious, and as we were enjoying it Alissa said, “Good call, Jimbo.”

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