Promises of the Times
Putting out a magazine is a simple thing. You fill it with wonderful stuff and watch people line up to read it.
The founders of Chicago Times believe in this formula. In spirit, they're heirs of Margaret Anderson, who decided in 1914 that someone ought to publish the best new writers and it might as well be her. She did so well her Little Review soon was being edited in a tent.
The Times is moving more cautiously. Vol. 1 no. 1 of this new bimonthly should be in your hands late this summer -- assuming you want it there -- but the magazine's father, Timothy Jacobson, has been nursing his idea since 1984.
At the time Jacobson was editor of Chicago History, the Chicago Historical Society quarterly. He proposed something broader in scope for a broader readership. Intrigued, the trustees brought in Northwestern's Richard Koff to consult, and Todd Fandell, former editor of Advertising Age, to work up a business plan. The trustees finally tabled the idea because of a lack of capital. But they thought Jacobson was on to something. So did Fandell.
Fandell rented an office and kept planning. This was in September of '85. At the end of the year Jacobson resigned from CHS and joined him. They looked for financing.
One reason we're partial to the Chicago Times is that it's a sort of offspring of the Chicago Evening Post, the phantom daily that consultant John Malone has been on the verge of launching since at least 1974. Malone, we hear, is still at work, but success seemed likelier a few years ago, when Fandell had signed on as managing editor of the unborn Post, with a seat on Malone's board. Another director was Rob Small, publisher of the Moline Daily Dispatch; his family's Small Newspaper Group owns papers in several states.
Fandell approached the Smalls about the Times and found them persuadable. They put up about a million dollars, enough for a 51 percent interest in the Chicago Times Company, with guarantees of more if certain early benchmarks are achieved
"No magazine except a very rare one makes money in the first year, or usually in the second or third year," Richard Koff told us.
Fandell and Jacobson have assembled a small, intriguing staff. We met executive editor Jim Winters, the former editor at the Notre Dame alumni magazine whom Andrew Greeley accused of plundering his private files, who in turn is suing Greeley for libel. We met associate editor Laurie Gottlieb, who like Winters was hired away from Chicago magazine. We already knew senior editor Rick Soll, the erstwhile inquiring poet of the Sun-Times who's counted on to shake the grit of city streets onto the carpet every morning.
"The idea is to get at the city as deeply and broadly as possible," Winters told us over lunch. "The only thing we don't want to do is the service pieces -- where to get a hot dog -- that were invented for city magazines."
"They're now sort of the conventional wisdom," Jacobson said.
What's in the first issue? we asked. Winters responded with a list of eminences who will show up in the first few numbers: Mike Royko, Eugene Kennedy, Joseph Epstein, Martin Marty, Saul Bellow, Richard Stern . . . We said every new magazine flaunts its famous friends who write once and are never heard from again. They said Richard Stern already has sent in his second piece.
Jacobson said, "There are people in this town, famous people, who don't publish in this town. They've had something to say but never anywhere to say it."
We said successful magazines come up with wonderful writers no one had ever heard of. They told us about a kid from Stanford who looks good.
The new breed of slick city magazine -- Manhattan, Inc. or Regardie's -- has seized finance as its "edge" -- the blade that cuts the city to the bone. The Chicago Times editors say today's edge is tomorrow's butter knife. They hawk the glinting steel of the first-rate mind unsheathed. Its forum will be a mix of essays, short features, and articles that go on at length -- though perhaps not the length of the Reader's.
Richard Koff -- whom the Times has on retainer -- thinks it'll work. He told us Chicago magazine is "extremely vulnerable" now because it's locked into a service format. People who don't already get the magazine clearly don't want that kind of format -- and even regular readers might be tired of it.
Two years ago, Koff said, when the Times was still a historical society project, CHS bought some lists and did a survey. "The best response was from Chicago magazine readers."
There's a buzz to Chicago Times. Eager writers we know compare it hopefully to the Atlantic, a point of reference management encourages, up to a point. "The Atlantic is stodgy," said Jacobson. "Self consciously so."
Rick Soll said the Smalls invested because "they want to get into the Chicago market in a prestigious way."
"We will have a prestigious magazine," Jacobson said. "I'm sure of that. How long it will take to make money doing it, I don't know."
The Shadow of Our Mile
Like Lowells speaking to Cabots, skyscrapers prefer each other's company. The neighborhoods below are where they plant their feet while they talk.
The tower going up at 900 N. Michigan takes this principle and runs with it. It'll be 871 feet high, and William Pedersen designed it to commune with 333 North Michigan, about a mile south. Because of jags in the avenue, these two noble shafts will face each other.
But down below the note struck is imperious indifference. Pedersen's graceful spear rises from an elephantine urban mall that occupies two city blocks -- between Delaware and Walton from Michigan to Ernst Court to Rush Street.
The back end of the elephant is most astonishing. It's a car park.
"Fifteen stories of pollution," marveled Anne Baruch, who now runs the Jacques Baruch Gallery, named after her late husband. He died last December of emphysema. "Do you know what I thought when I saw it? 'If Jacques Baruch had lived to this point, it would have killed him anyway.'"
The Baruch gallery is located on the top floor of an apartment house directly across Rush Street from the new garage. Another apartment house is catercorner across Rush and Delaware, and the garage is taller than either of them.
"This is just a complete eyesore as far as I'm concerned," said Anne Baruch, disregarding the cheery green trim on the ground floor, where shops will be, and the two floors of office space on top. "They've overwhelmed the entire block."
We hinted broadly to Alderman Burt Natarus that he might have been sleeping at the switch when the edifice was approved.
"Oh, I've encouraged it! I absolutely wanted it!" Natarus boomed at us over the telephone. "It's the most terrific, wonderful development I've seen in a long time on the north side! I haven't heard of anybody complaining about that garage."
Natarus by his own admission is Chicago's "king of down-zoning," but he can aim for the stars when his 42nd Ward demands it. The public cried for parking. "I'm not interested in aesthetics," he snapped. "I'm interested in practical need."
As a gallery owner whose view is ruined, Anne Baruch probably can be forgiven her weakness for aesthetics. The poor woman has been haunted by the 900 N. Michigan development. For years the Baruch gallery nestled in the lovely old courtyard building that Urban Investment and Development tore down in 1984 to build Pedersen's tower. The Baruchs moved two blocks west and Urban Investment chased after them with a car park.
But it is not just the garage -- which opens next week. The whole project from Michigan to Rush is massive. Its walls loom over Delaware and Walton, walls that to please today's retailers, who covet artificial lighting, are virtually unbroken by windows.
"It's dark, gloomy, it's very New York. That's progress, I guess," said an employee of a gallery across Walton. A saleslady down the block explained that her shop can now show off its brightest clothes in the window and not worry that they'll fade. The shop no longer gets any sun.
The odd thing is that Urban Investment originally insisted the old building could not be saved because it stood on land that had to be excavated for underground parking. That plan changed when the developers bought the block between Ernst and Rush. Well, with all due respect to Anne Baruch, there is a garage outside our window too, although it is our own, and it isn't bigger than our house. We understand a price must be paid if Michigan Avenue is to claim its destiny. As we see it, that small price is the turning of Rush Street -- and Walton and -- Delaware as well -- into alleys.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.