Joltin’ Joe Reminds Us of the Importance of One Cleanup Hitter Batting for Taylor Street
March 1, 2019

Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame (NIASHF) has removed the statue of New York Yankees great Joe Di Maggio from the piazza at Taylor and Bishop Streets. It was a very disappointing decision, and we support the efforts of the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association to get to the bottom of the question of who has ownership rights to the statue. Especially in light of the fact that the NIASHF received a sweet deal from the City to come to Taylor Street in the late 1990s—and gave little in return to the community.

How the statue got there in the first place is an example of City government working for the benefit of the people.

When arrangements were made for the NIASHF to come to Taylor Street from the suburbs in the late 1990s, some local leaders came up with an idea for a piazza across the street to complement the hall.

Taylor Street was in one ward then, the 42nd, instead of being split up among three aldermen as it is now. The alderman was Burton Natarus then. The idea of a piazza was not universally popular, so Natarus actually pitched a tent on Bishop Street and listened to community concerns and community requests, and came up with compromises.

For those concerned about blocking off the end of Bishop Street at Taylor with the piazza, Natarus agreed to eliminate the old cul-de-sac in the middle of Bishop so emergency vehicles could reach all of Taylor Street from the north. For those living on Bishop and still objecting to the piazza, Natarus made the deal palatable by agreeing to have the City improve sewers and water service in the area. For those concerned about parking and traffic, Natarus made some adjustments on Taylor Street to improve conditions.

One alderman dealing with the situation could get various City departments to work in tandem to create a win-win for everyone.

Over in the South Loop, there are two aldermen, Pat Dowell of the 3rd Ward and Sophia King of the 4th Ward, and as Tina Feldstein of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance has said, what affects one ward affects the other in the South Loop. The South Loop/Near South area is a big and complex community, so the two aldermen know they have to work in tandem.

The South Loop recently scored a victory by having the aldermen change some parking regulations in the area. Certain regulations were enacted to reduce street parking during Wintrust Arena events. Local residents, business owners, and community groups told the aldermen these regulations weren’t necessary, the aldermen re-evaluated, reassessed, and listened, and came together to help residents and business owners by easing parking restrictions, and everybody won.

Two aldermen, who know that the community expects and demands them to work together, so they do.

Such victories for the residents such as the piazza and related issues for Bishop Street in the 1990s and parking improvements in the South Loop/Near South area in 2019 have been harder to come by in the Taylor Street/Near West Side area in this decade because the City after the 2010 census inexplicably carved up this relatively small neighborhood among three wards—the 11th, represented by Patrick D. Thompson; the 25th, represented by Daniel Solis; and the 28th, represented by Jason Ervin.

With three aldermen representing the area, people for a decade have been confused as to who actually represents them. When they have a complaint or input, whom do they call? They are not sure. And when good ideas come out at community meetings, the community has to get three aldermen to agree, two of whom were probably not at the meeting.

Taylor Street is not so big as the South Loop/Near South area that it needs multiple aldermen. That results in too complex of a governmental structure for a small area. Having one alderman, as in the days of Natarus, is what the Taylor Street area needs. We urge the City to put Taylor Street back in one ward after the next census, and we urge local residents to bring this up with the City as much as possible.

Like the Yankees of old, it’s nice to have a good team, but it’s even nicer to have one individual like Joe DiMaggio who can be counted upon in the clutch. It’s time that the Taylor Street/Near West Side area had one cleanup hitter to rely on for its needs, instead of a team whose members represent diverse interests and different areas.

Having to rely on three aldermen sometimes working at cross-purposes has local residents recalling a comment made by DiMaggio’s manager Casey Stengel after a frustrating loss: “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

While it is unfortunate that the Joe DiMaggio statue has been removed from Taylor Street, it is the loss of longtime residents of the community that truly leaves a void in both the neighborhood and in our hearts.

Recently, we were saddened to learn that Mary DeVivo, owner of Carm’s Beef and Snack Shop at 1057 W. Polk St., had passed away. The shop has been a Near West Side institution since 1929. Area residents and business owners and University of Illinois at Chicago faculty, staff, and students enjoyed interacting with Mrs. DeVivo, appreciating her homemade beef, meatballs, sausage, eggplant, and other specialties. Mrs. DeVivo was the matriarch of her family, and she will be missed by her relatives, by all the diners who enjoyed her wonderful food, and by the community, which has lost a little bit of its history with her passing.

Our condolences go out to the DeVivo family, and we remember Mary DeVivo fondly.