Carriage horses and their by-products are driving the Kinzie industrial corridor buggy.
By Ben Joravsky
No one complains when trucks rumble through the Kinzie industrial corridor spewing fumes. But a few horses have the neighborhood in an uproar.
Well, it's not so much the horses as what they leave behind. "The manure's awful," says Denis Vulich, vice president of Chicago Lift Truck Company at 322 N. Leavitt. "In the summer there's this constant stench blowing through the open windows and horseflies as big as bumblebees. I mean, these are big, tough flies--no matter how many you kill they keep popping up. It's disgusting."
The horse-stench saga's a new twist on an old tale regarding the conflicting demands placed on industrial zones. Typically, the loudest complaints come from residents who move into converted lofts next to factories and then whine about noise and dust and dirt.
This time the factory owners are complaining. They're upset about the horses kept in a barn in the 2000 block of West Carroll Avenue by J.C. Cutters, which operates carriage rides on the Gold Coast.
To their credit, the industrialists recognize the irony in their lament. "I know this is an industrial corridor, and there are other businesses that produce--how do I say this?--aromatic elements that are less than pleasing," says Vulich. "But say what you will about factories and whatever noise or dirt they make--no one else is leaving horse shit in the street!"
Most of the industrialists say they're thriving in the Kinzie corridor, which is roughly bounded by Halsted on the east, Kedzie on the west, Grand on the north, and Madison on the south. It's home to 515 companies that employ about 12,000 workers, according to the Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, a local trade association. The companies have felt particularly secure since the city passed a restrictive zoning code last spring limiting residential and commercial conversions.
"The neighborhood's become so interesting," says Vulich. "You have manufacturers that are 100 years old and you have cutting-edge Internet software designers that are just starting up. There's also a lot of movie-production and theatrical-set designers. The diversity's amazing.
"Then, right in the middle of it all, you have the clippity-clop of horses and horseflies and horse droppings in the street as high as you can pile it. It's just doesn't make sense."
J.C. Cutters moved its stables into an abandoned building about three years ago. In the winter the operation gets along with its neighbors. But come summer, some of those neighbors contend, the stench is unbearable. "The worst part is from 4 to 5:30 in the afternoon, when they take the horses out of the barn and put them in their carriages," says Patrick Spatz, who owns Panelglide Exhibit Systems across the street from the barn. "Once the horses take off for Michigan Avenue they have bags on their rear ends to catch the droppings. But there's that crucial moment before they put the bags on when they first take them into the street. That's when the droppings fall."
In the last few months the council and its members have been asking the carriage handlers to be more diligent about cleaning up. "As far as I can tell they're a nice bunch of dedicated people who work very hard," says Vulich. "They did a better job of cleaning up after we complained. But they can't get it all."
"For what it's worth," responds Larry Hermelee, president of J.C. Cutters, "before we moved in here there were flies because you had a scavenger and a garbageman across the street. They have now left. But a block and a half west of Damen you have National Scavenger, a whole garbage institution." And that's the source of the fly problem, plus any vermin that might be scurrying around, Hermelee maintains. "I'm not going to say the flies don't come here. But are we the originator? No. Have we escalated the problem? Probably not. Flies are mobile. The environment is not necessarily simple."
Cutter's lease runs until next March, and landlord William Kritt sees no reason to evict the stable. "I've never really noticed the smell that much. Of course, I don't go over there every day," says Kritt. "I did do some soul-searching before I brought them in as tenants, because this is not a common usage of space and I care very much about this area--I'm on the council and I own a lot of property around here. I even had a clause in the lease that if there were any complaints during the first year the lease could be terminated. Obviously, there weren't any complaints. I ended up thinking it was a quaint use of space with the carriages and the horses and the young people grooming them."
The horse barn's neighbors, however, say the smell recently got so bad they called the Health Department, which sent in inspectors who examined the piles and told the horse handlers to clean them up. But the horses are prolific. "I see it every day," says Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Industrial Council, which is located near the barn. "I've got flies buzzing around my office right now. They're the size of my fingertips. They come here once they're done feasting in the street--it's a smorgasbord for flies."
Romanelli wants the city to get tough. "If the city wants the horses as entertainment they should help them find an appropriate location closer to downtown," he says. "It's not just the flies, it's everything. We have 18-wheelers coming through this corridor to make deliveries and they're getting blocked by a small 19th-century horse barn. We're trying to develop and run a modern industrial corridor and we have 15 to 20 horses clopping along our streets."
Spatz suggests the city move the barn to the Lincoln Park Zoo. "You could put it in the petting zoo," he says. "That way you can kill two birds with one stone. You would put it where the kids can pet the horses, and you would get it out of here."
The stables hold 11 horses, says Hermelee. And when asked if his men can scoop up all the manure those horses drop, he replies, "I get 98 percent. We're out here trying as hard as we can." That's why he invited his neighbors to an open house this Wednesday, so they could get to know him and see what a clean operation he runs. And that's why about a month ago he applied for membership in the Industrial Council, which he says had left him alone until Romanelli took over as executive director a few months ago. "I thought it might be better if they knew who I was. We're all entrepreneurs, all small businessmen."
The application apparently is in limbo. "I have had no response and no communication from them," says Hermelee, "and they haven't cashed my check."
David Fremon, Ward Reporter
David Fremon's first newspaper job in Chicago was for a community weekly housed in a storefront next to a tavern on 22nd street in Little Village.
He knocked his stuff out on a broken-down manual. But he was where he had to be when the stories broke. He covered just about every critical aldermanic and mayoral election of the 80s, chronicling the ups and downs of Juan Soliz, Jesus Garcia, Miguel del Valle, and Luis Gutierrez among others.
His work appeared in countless publications (including the Reader). I met him in the mid-80s when we both freelanced for the Logan Square Free Press, a weekly freebie published by two neighborhood activists, Jane Harrison and Sally Levin. It was a blast. Harrison and Levin let their freelancers (there were six or seven of us) write almost anything we wanted. And we went after the local hacks with glee.
We all thought we were experts on Chicago politics, but Fremon knew more than any of us. Part of his edge came from age and experience (he was a few years older and had knocked about the world before coming to Chicago). Part of it came from his talent and skill. He had a phenomenal memory (for baseball as well as politics), a droll sense of humor, and an appreciation of absurdity. Everyone said he knew so much he ought to write a book. So he did.
Chicago Politics Ward by Ward came out in 1988 and became a local classic, a must-read for anyone interested in how politics really works around here. As the title suggests, it's an encyclopedia of facts and figures for all 50 wards, covering everything from demographics to who won what and by how much. It's also a love song, being full of stories about mavericks, hacks, and scoundrels, as well as the offbeat characters who run for alderman without a prayer of winning.
Fremon was a diligent researcher who spent hours in the old Municipal Reference Library reading back copies of community papers in search of quirky quotes and anecdotes. "Before I could write a book about Chicago, I decided I had to journey around every ward in the city and see just what is there," said his preface. "It took the better part of two months, visiting one or two wards a day, traveling on every street in the city."
He knew how to let a story tell itself. About former sewer boss Ed Quigley, Fremon wrote: "His qualifications to head a sewer department were, at best, questionable. When asked if he was ever a sewer worker, he replied, 'No, but many's the time I lifted a lid to see if they were flowing.'"
That's vintage Fremon, wry and revealing. He probably spent days in the library before he found Quigley's quote.
The Free Press went out of business years ago. But a few years back the old bunch got together for a reunion. By then Fremon was a caseworker for the Department of Children and Family Services, and freelancing on the side. Of course, he regaled us with new tales from the wards. Everyone agreed he should update Chicago Politics. He said he would, once he found the time.
Last week he ran out of time. He died of cancer at age 50. He's survived by his wife, Sonja, his son, Kent, three stepchildren, and his book. It's still in print and it's as relevant as ever. He wrote about what he loved, he enjoyed what he wrote, and his work lives on. A writer can't ask for much more.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.