Tony Hays unlocks his bike from the rack near the entrance to the Blue Line at Logan Square. For Hays, a music performance major at Columbia College, this is an everyday occurrence. Ride over, catch the train downtown and then reverse it all at mid-day. Ignaz Schwinn would be proud.
At the turn of the last century, the bicycle manufacturing giant lived in Logan Square and his legendary two-wheelers were put together under the name of Arnold, Schwinn & Co. just beyond the reaches of the neighborhood.Today, Logan Square residents still cycle for pleasure or as commuters. Three shops keep their bikes of choice in working order -- Armitage Bike Shop, Boulevard Bikes, and Oscar Wastyn Cycles. With historic boulevards, tree-lined side streets, connections to city trails and the Bloomingdale Rail-to-Trail under development, Logan Square is a neighborhood designed for wheels.
Balancing his bike, Hays says that he used to live in Wicker Park in an apartment that was just as close to the elevated train as his current apartment is to the Logan Square stop. "But the noise [from the "L"] got to me, " he said. "Over here, I am just as close to the train but it is [underground and] much quieter."
It is the quiet that keeps families in Logan Square for generations and it is this quiet, small-town atmosphere that attracts new residents seeking to start a family and remain in the city.
Paul Levin, executive director of the Logan Square Chamber of Commerce, lives in the neighborhood. He pedaled to work the morning we met in his office at the Logan Square Auditorium building.
Levin says there's another historic connection to cycling in addition to Schwinn. He attributes it to the large Belgian settlement that once dominated the area.
"Cycling was the national sport of Belgium," Levin said as he retold a story about an annual Chicago to Rockford to Chicago bike race that started at the Belgian Hall on Fullerton Avenue. "It was huge," he said.
The biking culture in Logan Square has outlasted the immigrant evolutions in Chicago's community area No. 22, which sprawls from the Metra Milwaukee District North Line rails to the west and the north branch of the Chicago River to the east, with Bloomingdale and Diversey Avenues forming its south and north boundaries, respectively.
Today, the majority of Logan Square residents are Hispanic (the largest composition of Puerto Rican, Cuban, South and Central American populations in the city) followed by Caucasian (Northern Europeans), then African American and Asian. A variety of languages are heard on the street; the most dominant are Polish, Spanish and English.
This is a churchgoing neighborhood with 32 churches, including an outpost of the Norwegian Lutheran Church on Logan Boulevard. Ministers from Norway tend to the congregation. The church was one of very few stops made by Norway's King Olaf during his 1976 visit.
"This has never been an entry neighborhood," Levin said, referring to historic immigration enclaves. "This is where you move when you are on your feet. A 'second place' for you to live."
In 2006, the median sale price for a single-family detached home in Logan Square was $603,250 -- a 95 percent price increase from five years earlier and a 385 percent price increase from 1996. Rehab permits that year were four times greater than new construction permits: 1,008 to 280.
A walk along the boulevards that are part of the city's 28-mile "Emerald Necklace" designed in 1870 provides a glimpse of the landmark mansions of that era. These homes make the difference for buyers and rehabbers who, in other neighborhoods, would be enticed by access to Lake Michigan. There is no lake in Logan Square. The architecture and the slightly wider lots used for one- or two-flat homes provide the clincher -- less density when compared to other Chicago neighborhoods. The low crime rate is another.
Logan Square residents can get to where they want to go with ease. There are three CTA elevated train stops, 13 bus lines and easy access to the Kennedy Expressway and the main thoroughfares of Milwaukee, Diversey, Damen and Western.
Yet staying in the neighborhood has its pluses. When it comes to the arts, the Chicago Ballet is in Logan Square. Intimate Opera Chicago, a not-for-profit group, is on Altgeld. Live entertainment can be caught at the Logan Square Auditorium or Congress Theater.
Food and drink possibilities are growing. Lula, a cafe on North Kedzie Avenue, offers an upscale menu of organic and vegan selections and Fonda del Mar on Fullerton Avenue specializes in Mexican seafood. Friendship Chinese, a second-generation Chinese restaurant with French accents, is set in euro-chic surroundings.
Noodles certainly rule at Urbanbelly on North California Avenue where Le Lan chef Bill Kim has also hung his hat, but dumplings a la lamb and brandy or duck and pho spice offer their own reward. It's BYOB with communal seating for 40.
Be prepared for a double take at Johnny's Grill. It is a dead ringer for the diner in Edward Hopper's painting, "Nighthawks." It is so similar, the Art Institute of Chicago staged it for a photograph.
By the way, there are bike racks near each of these restaurants.