Charleston: Charming, Cultured, Cultivated (And Fortunately, Not Curated). A Travelogue

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Quick: What do you know about Charleston, South Carolina, that is.

Well, we didn’t know much about this colonial coastal city until we spent five days there earlier this month. We knew there would be lots of history, great food and Southern heritage in this Low Country town known as “The Holy City.”

But we didn’t expect to be somewhat overwhelmed by just how charming, cultured and cultivated we found Charleston.  So what follows is a stream-of-consciousness account (in modern poetics this could be considered “lyric poetry” — I am in the graduate program for English, you know) of our trip to Charleston, followed by some original images.

From the steps of our hotel, I counted four church steeples, some with spires rising majestically to the heavens
in the distance I view three construction cranes, all a safe distance outward.

The first morning; a walk along Calhoun Street to the Fort Sumter National Monument
a dozen or so people wished me “good morning.” I didn’t have to ask.

A decidedly human scale with 18th and 19th century structures not repelled by the modern,
harmony between the Guilded Age and the digital.

Low Country cuisine, honest and unadorned, subtly delicious,
no places named for false royalty or known by AU/curved symmetrical structures.

Within the peninsula, a sense of decorum, unhurried,
thoroughfares like Zig Zag Alley leading nowhere and everywhere.

Flora, subtle but majestic at times, in full bloom,
emerges to buffer the persistent breezes.

The honest greeting of an honest server,
proud to share history on the restaurant that once was a church for longshoremen.

Designer names equitably share King Street
with Asian noodle shops and a haphazard liquor store.

Stately and elegant, woven into the quiet fabric,
College of Charleston, seat of learning and culture.

The muscular side, cargo vessels in the harbor,
honor the colonial heritage.

Solemnity, most of the time,
broken by church bells, seemingly from all directions.

(Okay, had enough? Enjoy the images below. Visit Charleston soon. There’s a lack of pretense, but an abundance of reality.)

 

Handsome buildings like this one are everywhere.

Many private homes have impeccable small gardens.

A view of the quad at the College of Charleston, voted as one of the most beautiful campuses in the nation. I would agree.

Charleston Bay is an active port.

This classic structure was completed in 1879 and is still in use.

The world’s biggest pineapple? No, a very cool fountain in Waterfront Park along the east bay.

Read closely, and you’ll learn that Charleston was once one of the busiest ports in the colonies.

Why is Charleston called the Holy City? Yes, there are a lot of cool, well-maintained churches. But also, the peninsula was a bastion of freedom for many religions.

Just outside of Charleston, one can get a glimpse of the country life. This image was shot at the Magnolia Plantation.

Yes, the azaleas were in bloom during our visit. We found these everywhere.

Yes, right there on the grounds of many churches; final resting places for Charlestonians.

The view from the Fort Sumter National Monument.

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One Question, One Image March 18, 2018

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka the PRDude)

This headline from last week certainly jumped off the page, so to say, for me and perhaps a million or so other Chicagoans who care about the future of the city:

Amazon HQ2 search team visiting Chicago March 21-22

As noted in the accompanying article published by Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago city officials are keeping the visit somewhat hush-hush, as requested by the folks from Amazon, who are considering my fair city along with 19 others for its “second headquarters.”

The under-construction Academic and Residential complex on the UIC campus.

As noted in this post from November of last year, I’m a solid supporter of Chicago gaining this once-in-a-generation corporate prize. I even liked the Chicago is all in Facebook page dedicated to helping communicate civic boosterism towards the HQ2 competition. (And, for the record, I shared the above post from last year, but it has yet to be included.)

Given the projected number of permanent jobs (50,000), high salaries for new Amazon employees (average of $100,000), and residual economic benefits (who knows for sure, but it will be a lot), there’s no question winning the Amazon prize would be tremendous for Chicago. (Although many claim the purported $2.25 billion incentive package is way too steep.)

So on to today’s question. The image above reveals progress made on the new Academic and Residential Complex at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  (Full disclosure: I work at UIC.)

This $100 million development, which I observe daily when exiting the CTA Blue Line UIC/Halsted station, is rising at remarkable speed. It’s a tangible example what Chicago does very well: Build stuff.

Since its inception and evolution in the late 19th Century into a truly world-class city, Chicago has built more than just iconic structures. Chicago has built industries — food processing and manufacturing, transportation, supply chain logistics and others — that rival those any place on earth.

That’s why I want to ask:

Does Chicago really need to win the Amazon HQ2 to maintain its position in the world today?

Regardless of the low profile hoped for during the meetings between the city and Amazon this week, I’m confident there will be many, many projections on where the bid stands.

 

 

Bravco Conjures Memories of the Old Rush Street

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Cities evolve and grow or fade into obscurity. But oftentimes, little parts of the urban fabric refuse to change, clinging to what made them special or memorable in the first place.

The Rush Street district on the Near North Side of Chicago has evolved and grown dramatically since I first was exposed to the area as a high school kid in the early 1970s.

The name, the two aisles, the fireplace, the ambiance, the permanence. Much the same as when I first arrived at Bravo as a high school stock boy in 1971.

The once bohemian quarter ran roughly from Chicago Avenue on the south to Division Street on the north and was home to cabarets and night clubs in the 1940s through the 1970s — legendary places like Mr. Kelly’s, Faces and Rush Up. In the decade or so that followed, Rush Street evolved to become Chicago’s disco scene — mirrored balls and lots of polyester included.

But there was more of a neighborhood back then. Along with the nightlife and denizens of party goers, Rush Street also housed small shops and restaurants, most decidedly Chicago in nature, and even modest apartments above the retailers.

Today, it’s a much different scene; the narrow streets are lined with soaring modern high-rise apartments and internationally-known designer stores, with just a few longstanding clubs and bars still in business.

And then, there’s the Bravco Beauty Centre at 43 E. Oak St.

The sweetest pension one could imagine.

I first walked into the unassuming two-aisle store one day in 1971, joining my neighborhood buddy, Steve, as a stock boy. It was my first real job, one I held after school and during the summer months for two years. Back then, the store was run by an engaging retailer named Milton Brav and his partner Jack Finley.

Working at Bravco put money in my pocket, and I got to experience the waning years of a now-gone pocket of Chicago history and culture.

Last week, while attending an awards reception at the Drake Hotel, another iconic presence on the North Side, I strolled into Bravco and met current owner Howard Gordon, who purchased the shop in 1980. Outwardly, not much has changed in the two-aisle store, shelves full of health and beauty aids.

“I used to work here!” I told Mr. Gordon, who commanded the cash register. “But that was in the early 1970s, when Mr. Brav owned the store.”

We engaged in a spirited conversation, waxing nostalgically about long-gone establishments like BurgerVille, the Acorn on Oak and even the scary-from-the-outside strip clubs on State Street; and I noted how I would try to flirt (mostly unsuccessfully) with the often stunning women customers seeking exotic hair and beauty products.

“I need to buy something,” I told Mr. Gordon, placing a package of Juicy Fruit gum on the counter. “This is on the house,” Mr. Gordon said. “Think of this as your pension.”

Now, one might wonder: How does this tiny specialty establishment remain in business in an upscale location during this era of online retail options and dominant national chains?

Through a quick Google search, I found a Crain’s Chicago Business article on Bravco from 2000 and learned the store’s continued success is the result of Mr. Gordon’s business savvy and selection of desirable beauty products. And, I’d like to think, Mr. Gordon’s personality and character. Why else would customers still patronize Bravco?

As I left the shop that Friday evening, I was proceeded by an elderly couple, both toting shopping bags branded by Treasure Island. I trust they had lived in the neighborhood for decades and been around when Rush Street was a thriving urban strip, less sanitized, more truly Chicago.

Like Bravco, the man and woman are still grasping to the remnants of what once was a truly singular part of the city.  I made my way east on Oak Street, quite happy at what I had discovered.