Who are these people? How do I get my own street sign? No, really, who are these people? Solving the mystery of the honorary brown street signs in Chicago is the most requested topic I have received for this column.
Understandably, those ubiquitous brown signs are baffling. As geographic markers, they serve no real purpose. And, as I have described many times in this column, many of Chicago's streets are already named after the city's famous dead. So why are we giving secondary (and sometimes tertiary) names to our streets, one block at a time?
Think of the honorary street signs as the visual equivalent of the official proclamation. Official proclamations issued by the governor or mayor pay homage to a person, organization or other group by honoring them with their own special day, week or month. For example, February 2005 is Land Surveyors' Month in Illinois, in honor of the 77th Anniversary of the Illinois Professional Land Surveyors Association.
Honorary street signs, however, have one unfortunate characteristic that the innocuous official proclamations do not: they're permanent. A couple of years ago, the number of honorary street designations in Chicago numbered around 800. Today one can safely say that number is approaching 1,000, with no evidence of slowing.
Just call your alderman if you know someone you think deserves an honorary street designation. Aldermen love the signs because they are an easy way to appease their constituents and create goodwill in the neighborhood. Final approval comes when an honorary street sign proposal is rubberstamped, er, voted on by the City Council's Transportation Committee.
If you are curious about an honorary street name in your neighborhood, please call your alderman's office. However, by popular request, here is a very brief sample of some of the famous and not-so-famous names gracing honorary street signs around the city:
Location: Clark and Montrose
Huh?: Stands for the 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, three of the segregated Japanese American military units that served during World War II. Honors the nearby Japanese American Service Committee.
Barbara Taylor Bowman Place
Location: Wabash and Hubbard
Who?: Co-founder of the Erikson Institute and national expert in early childhood education.
John B. Duff Way
Location: Balbo and Wabash
Who?: Former president of nearby Columbia College Chicago.
Cynthia Eckner Way
Location: Western and Wilson
Who?: Long-time crossing guard who served students from the nearby Queen of Angels School and Waters School.
Ludwig Erdbeer Way
Location: Lincoln and Eastwood
Who?: Owner and founder of nearby Ludwig Interiors.
Bob Fosse Way
Location: Montrose and Paulina
Who?: Legendary choreographer. Location of sign honors nearby birthplace.
Ben Hecht Way
Location: Dearborn and Walton
Who?: Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago writer.
Hugh M. Hefner Way
Location: Michigan and Walton
Who?: Founder of Playboy Enterprises. One of the only honorary street signs to raise any public objection.
Italian Village Restaurant Way
Location: Clark and Monroe
Huh?: Honors the nearby Italian Village Restaurant, a staple of the Chicago Loop since 1927.
Dr. J. Jayalalitha Way
Location: Devon and Broadway
Who?: Indian actor turned politician, who is currently the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, India.
Frankie Knuckles Way
Location: Jefferson and Adams
Who?: Grammy Award-winning DJ acclaimed as the "Godfather of House Music."
Harriet O'Donnell Way
Location: Rockwell and Leland
Who?: Local community activist and co-founder of the Greater Rockwell Organization.
Morton A. Paradise Way
Location: 6600 block of Fairfield
Who?: Former Deputy Sheriff for the Cook County Sheriff's Office and Precinct Captain for the 50th Ward.
Stanley Paul Way
Location: State and Goethe
Who?: Well-known Chicago pianist and bandleader. Sign located outside the Ambassador East Hotel, where he started playing music in the famous Pump Room.
Wally Phillips Way
Location: Rush and Delaware
Who?: Popular long-time radio personality for WGN Radio.
King Sargon Drive
Location: Devon and Western
Who?: Ancient Mesopotamian ruler and the "world's first emperor." Honors Chicago's Assyrian community.
Victor Skrebneski Way
Location: LaSalle and Schiller
Who?: Chicago photographer who achieved international acclaim.
Cardinal Stepinac Way
Location: Princeton and 26th
Who?: Croation cardinal falsely imprisoned in communist Yugoslavia after World War II for defending the Catholic faith. Died while still under house arrest. Honors nearby St. Jerome Croation Catholic Church.
Maurice Sternberg Way
Location: Michigan and Walton
Who?: Honors the nearby fine art dealer, Galleries Maurice Sternberg.