To the editors:
Unfortunately, I was unable to respond to the inaccuracies in Lewis Lazare's [July 21] Culture Club piece regarding HotHouse earlier but I had my hands full moving and relocating HotHouse, an endeavor hampered by the miscasting of our business as tenant deadbeats. However for the record it is important to dispel the damaging falsehoods left to stand in his piece. The assertion that we are moving because we are unable to pay the rent, "balked" at paying additional charges or that we asked Ms. Berger to "finance" our business contains a biased reading of the dispute. Sure we resist extortion of a bogus $28,000 in added claims contested by us and our attorneys. But so do the other numerous tenants of the Flat Iron Building that have ongoing lawsuits against Berger Realty, who have similarly been presented with exorbitant unitemized bills. Whether Berger calls these "pass through" charges or whatever other convenient name she has for it, the fact remains that upon repeated requests both by myself and my attorney, those charges were never justified. Additionally to claim that Andrews and Lubinski never collected those fees from former tenants is a fantastic rewriting of the contents of the lease agreements and history. The assertion that HotHouse was nine months in arrears in rent is a patent lie closely resembling libel. As part of their predetermined plan to flip the building and evict HotHouse, Berger refused acceptance of payment of these sums then staked the claim that they were unpaid. This kind of distortion of the facts, whether bracketed by quotation marks or on their own, creates in the public mind an impression damaging to our business and reputation and in the very least deserved confirmation by the Reader. Again for the record, after six years of occupancy in the Flat Iron Building, HotHouse has paid in excess of $100,000 in rents and other charges (about a third of the total price of the building when it was sold to Berger) and upon leaving was $1,000.00 in arrears, a point worth reiterating as it needs a context.
More importantly however, we have made the decision to leave because the continual harassment visited upon us and many other tenants of the Flat Iron Building (Mark Thomas withstanding) created a climate of hostility and instability that made it impossible to function. The criminal disconnection of electrical, air conditioning and water services (chronicled in a previous article in your paper ["The Panic in Wicker Park," August 26, 1994]) has an undeniably negative effect on our business and the morale of people employed here.
Secondly, this is not an individual dispute of one person versus Berger Realty. During the interview, Mr. Lazare was given the names of seven other tenants and former tenants of the Flat Iron Building that have experienced precisely the same methods of quasi-legal tactics to drive them out. It doesn't take a genius to understand that Berger Realty wants to make more money and the old tenants who had signed leases with Lubinski and Andrews were in the way. Perhaps if the Reader were not collaborating with Berger Realty in their sponsoring of the Around the Coyote Festival that point would have been more in the meat of the story.
Thirdly, there is a mean-spirited underlying implication in the piece that artists and arts organizations do not want to play by the same "hard-nosed" business rules as everyone else. As an employer of 16 part-time workers, operating a small business that has an annual budget of $400,000 that additionally pays out to musicians and other artists about half of that, we are as aware of the bottom line as anyone.
The point which was eluded which needs reiterating is simple and increasingly universal amongst arts organizations and small businesses. With the disappearance of an industrial and manufacturing tax base, the city more than ever depends on the revenue that businesses provide through higher taxation and increased license fees and the assessment of penalties for "noncompliance" of regulations. This coupled with real estate speculation and the unspoken dictum to ethnically cleanse the inner city, along with a governmental backtracking on the funding for the arts and other social services, equal the extinction of a certain kind of democratic culture.
With a weekly column devoted to the demise and precarious survival of a long list of organizations, I suggested to Mr. Lazare that perhaps asking the bigger question as to why MoMing, SouthEnd MusicWorks, Body Politic, the International Theatre Festival, Lower Links, Guild Books (to name but a few) cannot sustain an existence in Chicago. He instead preferred to focus on the more sensationalist twist of our plight, the draining dispute with Berger Realty, which we are eager to put behind us, and although it is more compelling for its quotient of gossipy intrigues, does little to serve the readers of your paper.
My own involvement with HotHouse notwithstanding, the fact that we have an uncertain future signals in my estimation the dire need for support for these kinds of venues. Including support from the press. It concerns many of us that the Reader, which has long enjoyed a reputation as an alternative newspaper chronicling the arts, would hide behind the sham idea of "objective journalism" (the need to present both "sides" of a story) especially when one "side" is so aggressively demolishing a flourishing arts community in the guise of supporting it.
It has been our policy to present music, poetry, forums and other kinds of media events to a population that cannot afford the kinds of admission prices charged by other institutions. The result has been the initiation and the accessibility of diverse, wholesome and creative programs to many disenfranchised pockets of the population including families and youth. It has been the sole venue in Wicker Park and the city to consistently be a vehicle for international artists, with an emphasis on showcasing African, African-American and Latino culture and consequently a meeting place for a diverse racially mixed audience.
When queried by reporters as to whether Subcommandante Marcos (of the EZLN army in Mexico) was gay, he replied, "Marcos is gay in San Francisco, black in South Africa, an Asian in Europe, a Chicano in San Ysdio, an anarchist in Spain, a Palestinian in Israel, a Mayan Indian in the streets of San Cristobal, a gang member in Neza, a rocker in the National University, a Jew in Germany, an ombudsman in the Defense Ministry, a communist in the post Cold War era, an artist without a gallery or portfolio, a pacifist in Bosnia, a housewife alone on a Saturday night in any city in Mexico, a reporter writing filler stories for the back pages, a single woman on the subway at 10 PM, a peasant without land, an unemployed worker, a dissident amid free-market economics, a writer without books or readers, and, of course, a Zapatista in the mountains of southeast Mexico."
HotHouse stands with those that Berger and their historical allies want disappeared. We are the Puerto Rican youth named gangbangers, the Damen Avenue displaced factory workers, the panhandlers on Milwaukee Avenue. We are Roberto and Larry, pushcart hustlers dying alone with AIDS in the alleys of West Town. We are Friar's Grill and Hitos Liquors. HotHouse is a microphone for the persistent voices, the bugaboos, the jigaboos, the annoying chatter of those that just won't go away. Victims of gentrification? Just a reminder of which side we are on.
The opportunity to be interviewed in the press has not been the experience of most people gentrified out of Wicker Park, and so I feel it is incumbent on me to speak with a larger voice. Unfortunately, the questions not asked, not printed or broadcast are basic and compelling.
In a climate where the poor are asked to just die and the free market is the terminology justifying survival of the fittest, what happens to those who can't comply? Is there space for the uncommodified, the marginal consumer, the broke and ugly, the stories and lives in the shadows? HotHouse is committed to the music, the poetry, the language and articulation of all these voices. We rededicate our existence to the repudiation of the manipulated truths of the greedy and the shameless. We rededicate our work to the joyous celebration of the immense creativity of the artists in the margins of the market. We feel fortunate to work in this capacity, heads unbowed, with our brothers and sisters in the struggle. We have lives with purpose. How many speculators can say the same?