News & Politics » Letters

Complex History

by

comment

cohen.qxd

To the Editors,

As a denizen of the College of Complexes almost from its inception, a longtime friend of Slim Brundage, and a sometime business associate, I enjoyed Cara Jepsen's article in Our Town [September 19]. (For the record, I helped book speakers and ghosted some of the "ravings" and part of one of his autobiographies.)

I must, however, dissent from Franklin Rosemont's overblown sociological analysis of what led to the demise of the College. Ultimately it was Slim's lack of business acumen, what Mr. Rosemont acknowledges to be his cantankerousness, and television.

When the College was first established, Wells Street was totally deserted at night, and it was no problem to park within 50 feet of the front door. Eventually, the whole Old Town complex grew up around the area, which Slim attributed to the College, and never mind about Sandburg Village. Inevitably, the rent was raised (a truly modest amount) and Slim decided to move, feeling himself a victim of capitalist exploitation.

The new location was on State, very close to the old Dil Pickle Club. Here he was denied a liquor license by the police commander on the grounds that the College would be detrimental to the morals of the district, which at that time was one of the most vice-ridden areas of the city. Despite appeals which included testimony by some distinguished previous speakers, including a member of the Illinois Liquor Control Board, the license was denied, and the College subsisted on sales of coffee and snacks. Eventually he was rescued by a man in a pinstriped suit who suggested that his problem could be solved by putting in a jukebox. He did, and a few days later he had a license. So much for the "no television, no jukebox, no 26 game" logo.

The cycle repeated as the area became what we now call gentrified, and once again the rent was raised. Slim decided to move again, and now overreached. He bought a slum building in what was then a skid-row area on North Clark, and many of his regulars became apprehensive of attending, often with good reason. Except for some well-publicized events, patronage dropped. And a lot of money was drained into trying to fix some very legitimate code violations. This was part of his tax problem, as employee tax deductions were diverted into this area.

Finally, as I implied earlier, television became an enemy. When the College was founded, there were few avenues to hear dissenting views on politics or social issues. Speakers such as Madalyn Murray (O'Hair) would appear for a mere honorarium. By the 1960s they could be well paid for expressing the same opinions on talk shows. The speakers at the College, however valid their views, were more and more on the fringe and out of the public eye.

Ed Cohen

W. Chase

Add a comment