Near West Side author schedules book signing
July 4, 2013
“Stolen Christmas” is the latest book by former Near West Sider Arthur Cola.

When retired suburban school principal Arthur Cola signs his latest book, Stolen Christmas, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, July 13, at Al’s Beef, 1079 W. Taylor St., he will be no stranger to the Taylor Street community, as he was born on the Near West Side.

“We had family on Taylor Street and a family-owned fruit and vegetable store on Halsted Street,” Cola recalled. “All were torn down when the University of Illinois at Chicago [Chicago Circle Campus] was built.”

Even after his family moved to Oak Park, IL, Our Lady of Pompeii Church and Holy Guardian Angel Church (eventually torn down to make room for UIC) “remained a vital experience of my youth as we returned to the neighborhood every weekend to be with family and friends,” Cola said.

“Besides Al’s Beef, where my cousins and I had our beef sandwiches on any given Saturday, we also frequented Blondie’s,” he recalled. With Stolen Christmas, Cola sets his novel in the Taylor Street area, where a young boy overhears a conversation in the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii rectory about how a developer plans to raze the church buildings the day after a final Christmas Mass. Cola explained the boy decides to solve the problem by making it impossible to hold that final midnight Mass and soon gets some teens from Saint Ignatius High School involved. Cola also has tossed in some ethnic and romantic tension, as one of those Italian-American boys secretly is dating a Mexican girl whose family would not be happy if they found out.

Because of his ties to Near West Side places, “I chose to get their permission to use their actual names in my ‘David and Goliath’ story,” Cola said.

“It’s about current issues like immigration, the old neighborhood, and what it means to be an American,” Cola said, adding that he wrote Stolen Christmas “to raise questions and maybe answer a few, too.”

The one question Cola will not answer is if and how the boys and their friends manage to save the parish.

“You’ll just have to read the book,” he said. For more information, visit or e-mail Al’s Beef’s phone number is (312) 226-4017.

— Patrick Butler and William S. Bike