...And That's My Opinion©
By Sandy Goldman
(Another in the series of Rogers Park yesteryears)
We had just finished, in 1979, a cantankerous, acrimonious, malevolent Mayoral and Aldermanic political campaign (sound familiar?). Jane Byrne slid past Michael Bilandic in the Mayoral primary and David Orr slid past Homer Johnson to be elected Alderman of the 49th Ward. Slid is the operative word as the winter of 1978 was the year of the Big Snow and Mayor Bilandic’s total lack of control or knowledge of the issue.
After the election a small group met to forge some community melding (some thought gelding would have been more appropriate). They met in the office of the Rogers Park Community Council (RPCC). They were not, however, a committee of the RPCC or, for that matter, were many of them even members. They were a politically, economically, ethnically diverse group who decided to have a street fair on Morse Avenue on a Sunday afternoon.
Some of the popular pundits prophesied that the committee would become a political ploy for one side or the other (they never said which) to gain control of the fair as a means of keeping their position or names in the public eye.
In addition to some non-political volunteers (yes, they did exist in those days), the committee was composed of a high-ranking former campaign worker for David Orr, the former campaign manager for Homer Johnson and a person who would later announce her candidacy for Alderman of the 49th Ward, among others.
But I can tell you from first-hand experience that if there was such a plan it did not work. Other committee members and cooperative community participants prevented any kind of political perverseness. The committee just wanted to provide fun in Rogers Park and they did so for four years. In present times street fairs happen all over the city. They used to happen here
The first Rogers Park Art and Music Street Fair was introduced on Sunday Sept.14th, 1980 on Morse Ave. The streets were closed from Ashland to Lakewood including Morse and Lunt. There were 28 business donors who contributed from $10.00 to $100.00 to be used as seed money. Another source of revenue was ads sold on the give-a-way programs in additions to small fees paid by vendors and exhibitors. All the monies were used to stage the event and cover expenses. There were twenty Rogers Park artists exhibiting, sixteen food booths, three variety stages, a children’s area, a wandering balloon man and roaming street performers completed the configuration. It was great and work began almost immediately for the next year.
The second Annual Art and Music Street Fair took place on Sunday Sept. 13th, 1981. Although there was a governing and planning committee the program said, “Organized by the citizens of Rogers Park”. There was not a scintilla of political overtone in evidence (I’m not sure if that was the melding or the threat of gelding).
Now, there were five stages including a family stage featuring puppets, kids performing acrobatics and various song and dance performers. The senior stage presented speakers dealing with issues that interested seniors. Music stage #2 at Glenwood and Lunt featured a new, young, local folk singer named Tom Dundee who would eventually become internationally known. Music stage #1 featured the jazz interpretations of Linda and Tommy Ponce. Tommy and I went to Lake View H.S. together. Sometime later he and his sax would tour the world with several well-known jazz bands. At Music stage #3, in addition to Jim Hobson’s Disco Party there were two performances by Sophia the Belly Dancer. Jim Hobson later finished a tour as supervisor of Kiwanis Park on Ashland Ave. north of Howard and then became the supervisor of Garfield Park where he turned the park from a zero to a ten.
There were forty artists and twenty-two food vendors including a beer garden and twenty community information booths scattered around the area. Every imaginable food was available from apples to tamales and the entire alphabet in between. The city donated the Jumping Jack and the Bookmobile. One of the highlights was a Dunk Tank, which featured community leaders and local politicians (I suppose that’s better than gelding). It was a VERY popular attraction!!
The second year was judged to be better than the first year.
To everybody’s pleasure Port-a-Potties were added to the third Annual Street Fair which took place on Sunday, September 12, 1982. Also, to everybody’s delight Jim Hobson’s Disco Party occupied it’s own special stage with two performances: 11 AM to 1 PM and 2 PM to closing. Other additions were the St. Jerome Adult Theatre group, the Greenleaf Dance Company, the Unicorn Dance Studio and the Police Department canine and mounted police units, as well as the distribution of emergency I.D. bracelets at the Senior Stage. The Jewel Food Stage introduced a little-known Rogers Park harmonica player named Corky Siegel. Years before I had contracted with an aspiring Corky Siegel to do a fundraiser for the Sullivan H.S Parents Athletic Assoc. While he would become a world famous impresario of the harmonica, he never forgot Rogers Park. There were twenty-four food vendors and forty-six artists, ranging from bonsai tree creators, to knitters, to potters, to photographers, to stained glass creators.
In the last two hours of the fourth and final fair on Sunday Sept 11,1983 only a torrential downpour staved off the gathering clouds of a potential gang rumble. Various gangs assembled at the corners of Morse and Ashland and waited or wanted action. But Mother Nature intervened—the rains came and the gangs fled and the fair was over.
Sad to say—the high cost of liability insurance, the fear of gangs, concern for personal safety and changing neighborhood demographics made it impossible to continue. The Rogers Park Art and Music Street Fair was no more. It became a part of history. There never was another.
More’s the pity!
...And that's my opinion.
And I'm Sandy Goldman
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