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  • Writer's pictureZachary Blair

Fieldwork Flashbacks

As Treasure Island closes its stores and union workers sue the grocery store chain, I began to reflect of all of the changes that have occurred in Boystown since my fieldwork from 2006-2011; the stores that have gone out of business, buildings that have been bulldozed, and other transformations in material space.

Here is a photo I took of the Treasure Island grocery store located on N. Broadway between Cornelia Avenue and Stratford Avenue:

I used to love walking through Elaine Place to see the metal nanny goat and giraffe sculptures that were designed by artist John Kearney in 1978. The three statues were removed from Elaine Street in 2012 after Chicago developer Milton Zale sold his Elaine Place properties to Chicago Apartment Finders who were not interested in purchasing the artwork. After being cherished public art for decades, one of the giraffe statues was last seen being sold as part of a $9.25 million home in Lincoln Park.

Another change in the neighborhood has been the disappearance or repurposing of its SRO's (Single-Room Occupancy Hotels), which provided affordable living options as the neighborhood continued to gentrify. Hotel Chateau at 3838 N. Broadway was sold to investors in 2013, remodeled, and units are now being rented out as studio apartments with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Here is a photo I took of the Hotel Chateau during my fieldwork:

A more popular SRO in Boystown was the Abbot Hotel at 721 Belmont Avenue, which became one of the neighborhood's historical gay landmarks. In 2012, it was purchased by the same Park Ridge-based investors (BJB Partners, LLC) as Hotel Chateau. In December of that year its 37 residents were forced to find new housing. Here is the Abbot Hotel as it once stood:

Some of Boystown's gay bars have changed owners, changed names, or are still going strong. Here are a few snapshots, including photos of Roscoes (still in business), Charlies (still in business), and Circuit (out of business).

During my fieldwork, Barrack Obama ran and was elected President of the United States. Local gay businesses celebrated both of the Obamas with window displays. Here are some photos of pre- and post-election North Halsted Street showing Sidetrack and Batteries Not Included:

Gentry, a gay piano bar on North Halsted Street that also had a location at 440 N. State Street in the Near North, closed both of its locations during my fieldwork. It became the popular gay bar Scarlet, which still exists today. However, the building burnt down in February 2009 so it looks a little different. Here's what it looked like when it was still Gentry in 2007:

Here are some photos of the old Town Hall police station. During my fieldwork, this was still an active police station. However, it was closed in after the redistricting of the Chicago Police Department . It is now the lobby of an affordable housing project for LGBT seniors. Here's what it looked like when it was still functioning as a police station:

The neighborhood's festivals, Gay Pride and Market Days, always packed the neighborhood with people. Here are some shots from Market Days 2009:

Here is what the aftermath of Gay Pride looks like, trash everywhere! However, they sweep the streets soon after the festivities are over.

Lastly, I'll share some random shots and the stories behind them that never made it to my dissertation.

I love this shot of a performance inside of Kit Kat Lounge, "the Girls in cellophane."

One frigid night I was walking down Broadway alone at like 3 A.M. It was eerily quiet. No one was on the street. Then all of a sudden I turned and saw an abandoned car accident. No one was around. No driver. No store owner. No sirens. No police. It was the weirdest thing.

Store window displays of some of the neighborhood's sex toy stores were sometimes the source of conflict. Tulip usually refrained from provocative window displays and, instead, opted for murals that would partially conceal the contents of the store (a large table of vibrators and dildos). This was one of my favorites. I had Marlene Dietrich's "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" playing on my iPod for days.

When I began my fieldwork in 2006/2007, I intended on studying gentrification and the displacement of LGBTQ+ people out of the neighborhood. However, when I moved to the neighborhood I discovered that the story of Boystown was way more complex. Still, I have a lot of photos of moving trucks from the early days of my fieldwork. I loved this one because of the symbolic irony of the Crate and Barrel box peaking through the moving boxes. Crate and Barrel was one of the first stores (1962) on Wells Street in Old Town (the old gay neighborhood) that is symbolic of the gentrification there that pushed gay men and lesbians north to Lakeview.

I did a lot of work at the neighborhood's numerous coffee shops. Caribous Coffee on North Halsted Street was right across the street from my apartment on Cornelia Avenue. So I often went there. One day, I was sitting outside and a young woman came up to me and offered me animal crackers. She was just joyously walking around the neighborhood passing out animal crackers because she wanted everyone to have a good day. She didn't even work for the animal cracker company. I asked her if I could take her picture. She obviously said yes. While Cruise-a-Boy became a site where I recorded numerous experiences, I always preferred the Cruise-a-boo location on Broadway as it was much more cozy. Neither remain today. Here's how I experienced these spaces:

I was surprised that the old video store on North Halsted Street made it as long as it did with the digitization of everything. The space went up for lease in 2009.

And here are some more photos. I'll share the stories behind them soon...

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