Goodbye Lexington House

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins


Memories, memories and more memories came flooding back to Mike Herman, lighting the corners of his mind, as he recalled the way it was at the Lexington House for the past 44 years.

Open since 1968, the Lexington House will close its doors for the final time as it hosts two events on Saturday. The property has been sold to DriveTime Car Sales Company, LLC and it will be used as a used car showroom.

Many people have memories of the place, but Herman may have more than anyone.

This is a place that Barack Obama threw a party long before he became president and Ray Charles performed. Members of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears held a fashion show there. Former governor Jim Thompson's helicopter touched down in the parking lot right next to the hall.

And Herman was there to see it all.

Herman, 61, started working at the iconic banquet facility in Hickory Hills during his junior year of high school, helping out his Dad, John, who worked there part-time doing maintenance and often serving as a Maitre d and bartender.

“My dad was good friends with the owner, Jack McGann and worked here a lot in addition to being a firefighter. I learned a lot from him.”

Of the 44 years he has been there, he has spent 35 of them as the chief bartender for the many large events held there. However, bartending didn’t sit well with him in the beginning. Working alongside his dad one day during a fashion show with more than 500 women attending, he was trying to keep up with the waitresses returning with trays full of ten or so glasses to be refilled.

“The orders were all blended drinks, apricot stone sours, pink ladies, etc., I threw my hands up finally and said, that’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this,” he said.

He took a brief break from the bartending aspect of the job, but after a year or so, he took it up again and has been at it ever since.

Many events at the Lexington were annual affairs, often with 500 to 600 people attending.

And when the parties got swanky, Herman was more than happy to put on a tie.

“People may not have always remembered my name each year, but they remembered me as the 'bartender with the Three Stooges tie' because I always wore it when I was working the bar,'' Herman said. "I would tell them I wore it because the owners said I had to dress up for the party.”

After a few  years, the tie became a little ragged and one of the owners came out and said, ”It’s time for a new tie, here’s a few bucks, go out and buy a new one.”

Herman said he has been through a number of the black and white ties over the years. He still has one very crisp, clean tie for the last events planned at the Lexington. He said he has been offered money for the Stooges tie, but it is not for sale.

Herman said working at the Lexington has always been exciting with the parade of big names that have come through the doors.

“When Barack Obama was running for the Senate, he held a meeting here,’ said Herman. He added that every Illinois governor since the 1970s has been to the facility.

Herman said one of his biggest thrills was when Thompson was there for the ribbon-cutting of the southbound exit on the I-294 Tollway, which is just down the street from the Lexington. Thompson’s helicopter landed in the parking lot of the banquet hall. While it was sitting there waiting for the governor, the pilot asked Herman if he wanted to sit in the governors seat in the cockpit.

“I said sure, so I climbed up and sat there in the cockpit. I thought it was pretty cool.” Herman said.

Governor Rod Blagojevich also visited in 2005, the year the White Sox won the World Series.

“I may not have made the best impression on him,” said Herman who said he is a dyed-in-the-wool White Sox fan. He said Blagojevich, who was known as a staunch Cubs fan, strolled into the kitchen and Herman greeted him with “Go Cubs!”

“I don’t think it set well with him” Herman said, laughing.

Other well-known visitors have included both Mayor Daleys and Cardinals Joseph Bernadin and Francis George.

Herman said his favorite sports celebrities who showed up were the Chicago Bears, after they won the Super Bowl in  1985. “They came to a lot of special events and they were just great guys. I remember Gary Fencik and Michael Singletary being here a number of times.”

Big name entertainers also have a place in his memories. Ray Charles, Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, all appeared at the Lexington. Also a local popular group, Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows performed there.

“The night they were here, in the 80’s, it was a very, very cold night in January and 800 people came out to see them in spite of the weather.” Herman said.

For many years, New Year’s Eve saw parties of 1,000 people being held at the Lexington. “It would be pretty wild,” said Herman. “It would be so crowded we would have people seated at small tables in the balcony area.”

Other large parties with more than 500 guests were held annually at the facility for more than 20 years, including the Polish Prince Charming Ball and the Hispanic Rodeo Club.

Hundreds of weddings, anniversaries retirement parties, baby showers, high school proms, and company parties have been held at the Lexington House. Herman said, couples who have held their wedding receptions there, often return for their children’s wedding receptions. He himself was married there as was his sister, his step-daughter and many of his friends.

Herman said the big draws of the Lexington House were its convenient location, the fact that it had one ballroom, so there would be no overflow from other parties, and it had a huge dance floor. 

But, times change, the economy changed, companies no longer hold large holiday parties and  many people choose to hold house parties on New Year’s Eve instead of going out.  Herman said things began declining in the late 90’s. 

There was a time when the Lexington could not book a party without a minimum of 400 people. Then it dropped to 300, then 200, he said.

Since word has spread that the Lexington House is closing, people have been stopping by just to take a last look around or to show their grandchildren where their own wedding or senior prom was held, Herman said.

“It has been a good run and I am going to miss the people I got to know through the years and the people I have worked with,” he said. On a personal note, he added that he wanted to thank the McGann family, founders of the Lexington House, for all they have done for him and his family through the years.

Asked what his future plans were, he laughed and said, “If anyone is looking for a mature, experienced, loyal bartender, I’m available.”  He said he can be contacted through the Beverly Woods Restaurant in Beverly, which is also owned by the McGann family.

'Forget Michael Jordan' -- OL biz owner says his statue is best in the nation

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

When it comes to that 30-foot Indian that stands outside his store, Jim Sharizi pulls no punches.

After a week of having his prized statue painted by Oak Lawn resident Dave Ithal, the Cardinal Liquor Barn owner let the bragging begin. And he pulled no punches.

 “It’s probably the most beautiful statue out there,” Sharizi said Friday afternoon. “I would like to see if someone could say there is a better statue. They can’t. I have the best statue in the United States. It’s iconic.’’

Better than the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center in Chicago?

“Forget Michael Jordan!” he said. “Who is Michael Jordan?  This statue is better than Michael Jordan’s. His statue is only popular because of his sporting career. More people know about him.’’

Sharizi said bought the statue in 1998 when the Cook County Tobacco Warehouse closed its doors. Roadside said that Big Chief was built in the 1970s by Creative Display, which is the same outfit that erected the world’s largest fish in Hayward, Wisc.

Big Chief is believed to be the largest cigar store Indian in the world.

In an age of political correctness with sports teams with Indian names and logos being asked to cease and switch, Sharizi said he has not heard a peep about Big Chief.

“No one has ever protested,” he said. “We treat this statue with respect. We are not using him to sell anything.’’

Ithal, the one-man painting machine on this project, is a longtime Oak Lawn resident who is not really a painter by trade. He is a carpet cleaner.

But he has enough painting chops to convince Sharizi he was the man for the job.

“He’s a customer of mine,” Sharizi said. “We talked. I told him I would pick the colors and I did a lot of research online. The last painter (15 years ago) made it very basic. I didn’t like that. This is brighter and more colorful.’’

Ithal said he was happy to take on this project. He had some hot, but dry weather to work with last week and at one point on Friday, he stepped back and took a look at the work he had completed, smiled and said “It looks great.’’

All week people have been stopping by 9630 Southwest Highway,to talk with Ithal and Sharizi about the painting project. Many others honked horns, seemingly in approval of Ithal’s work.

“I been driving by this Indian for years and I always wanted to paint it,” Itha said. “I’ve done a few other things --- I like doing art, but I’ve never done anything this big.’’

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Not sure was to think of 30 songs in 30 minutes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

The Band 7th Heaven has been around 30 years, rocking fans from all over the Chicago area.

In their 30th year, the fellas have on their schedule everything from the lighting of Buckingham Fountain in Chicago to Cheese-A-Palooza in Kenosha.

I caught their act at Taste of Orland for the first time on Aug. 1 and during their first set, they played 30 songs in 30 minutes. In recent years, it’s one of the tricks they have been known for.

There were snippets of tunes by Billy Idol, Elton John, Pink Floyd, A-Ha, Hall and Oates, Tom Petty, John Mellancamp, Rush and many others. They closed it with a couple of Queen songs.

I liked it and hated it at the same time.

I liked it because the set flew by – it didn’t even feel like a half an hour. With the exception of the Rush song “Spirit of the Radio” morphing into an Eagles tune, the transitions of songs flowed nicely.

I liked it because if there was a song or two in the bunch I didn’t like, I didn’t have to listen to the whole tune and the next thing you know, another song is up.

Then I realized I hated liking it.

The old geezer in me thinks that this is a tool to placate the younger generation which has a pretty short attention span.

It was almost like allowing my kids the control of radio or iPods in the car – song change after song change after song change…

My daughter Lauren will usually latch onto a song, sing with it for about a minute and then move on. I am not sure these kids ever listened to a full song unless it was at a concert.

Not that I long for the days of Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” (which is one drum solo that occasionally took up to almost 30 minutes when played live) but I hope in the future that 30 songs in 30 minutes will continue to be a novelty and not the norm.

SUBHEAD – Lolla-Paul-Looza

Well, Paul McCartney played Lollapalooza on July 31 and didn’t take much of my input from my column in early April, suggesting his setlist.

I thought he should be as cutting edge as possible since this was supposed to be a cutting edge festival.

My set list was “Revolution,” “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Another Day,” “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey,” “Helter Skelter,” “I’m Down,” “Ballroom Dancing,” “Transpiritual Stomp.” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” “Rock Show,’’ “Live and Let Die, “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “I Saw Her Standing There” with an encore of “Hey Jude.’’

But nooooooo…

He waited until his 21st song into the night to take one of my suggestions when he played “Back in the U.S.S.R.” He closed the regular part of the show with “Hey Jude,’’ opened the encore with “Hi, Hi, Hi” and also had “Helter Skelter” in the encore.

He had some good songs in his 31-song set (why didn’t I think of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”?) but played it pretty safe with hits such as “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Got to Get You into My Life,” “Blackbird,” “Lady Madonna,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “Something” and others.

Maybe next time he comes to an edgy fest, he should play more daring music and pick 30 of his hit songs and play them in 30 minutes.

Cup to make its way to Marist, Standard Bank Stadium and Bourbon Street

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

The Cup is coming back again.

Chicago Blackhawks fans will have a chance to celebrate their team’s third Stanley Cup championship in six years with the Stanley Cup itself when the southwest Chicago area gets its day with the Stanley Cup today, Thursday.

According to Chicago Blackhawks trainer and Oak Lawn resident, Mike Gapski, the first public appearance in the area for Lord Stanley’s Cup will be Marist High School,  4200 W. 115th St., from about 10 to 11:45 a.m.

The cost to see the cup is$10 and those tickets will be sold today. Only cash will be accepted; no checks or credit cards. 

All visitors who enter the building must pay for a group or individual ticket. The viewing includes professional photos with the cup courtesy of Quality Plus Photography located in Worth. Each group can pick up a single, free 4 x 6 photo at the Worth location.  Additional prints and custom gifts will be available for purchase at the store as well.  

The viewing will be held in the school’s main gym. Fans will line up at the east end of the campus. Parking is free, but limited. St. Terrence Parish, 4300 West 119th Place, will also allow visitors to park during the viewing. Visitors should be aware of parking restrictions throughout Alsip. No one is allowed on the premises and the parking lots will be closed until 7 am.

According to school officials, the time that the cup will be at the school is limited and a large crowd is expected.  Marist hopes to have as many people see the cup as possible, however, the school cannot guarantee everyone in line will be able to see the cup. Those who do not see the cup will not be charged.

From there, he said, the Cup will proceed to Standard Bank Stadium, where it will be on display from about noon to 2 p.m. at the home of the Windy City Thunderbolts baseball team, 14011 S. Kenton Ave., in Crestwood.

T-Bolts officials said there will also be a $10 fee, cash only, today. Photos will be taken by Quality Plus Photos in Worth.

In the evening, following a private party in the afternoon, the cup will spend a few hours at 115 Bourbon Street, the restaurant and entertainment complex at 3359 W. 115th Street in Merrionette Park. That venue is a favorite place to watch Blackhawks games for many hockey fans, especially during the playoffs. Following a private party there for family and friends from 6 to 9 p.m., patrons will be invited in to see the Cup from 9 to 11 p.m.

Gapski said that although a fee, usually $10 is charged to people who want to get a photo with the cup, the money is donated to good causes.

“Any funds generated goes to charity,” he said. “It is a way of raising money for non-profit organizations. That is what it is for.”

Gapski said that with the last two Stanley Cup championships appearances, in 2010 and 2013 raised a lot of money for organizations like Special Olympics and Make-a-Wish Foundation.

Midway expansion ready to take off

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Recently announced plans for a $248 million expansion of Midway International Airport will mean speedier trips through the security lines, and a wider choice of concessions for local travelers using the airport on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the wide-ranging plans last Thursday, explaining that the project will take several years to complete. This is the largest investment made in the airport in nearly 10 years, The mayor said the project will include an expansion of the concession facilities, the terminal parking garage, and security checkpoints, addressing several concerns commonly raised by travelers. 

            “Midway is more than an airport. It is an important economic engine for the city of Chicago so with this modernization we are making an essential investment in the future of Midway but also the future of Chicago. This modernization allows and ensures that Midway will remain a world-class airport in a world-class city,” said the mayor at the airport.  “These enhancements will create jobs for Chicago’s residents, provide an improved experience for travelers from the garage to the gate, and ensure that our world-class city has two world-class airports.”

            According to city officials, Midway generates approximately $7 billion in economic activity each year and 90,000 jobs for the region. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier at Midway, which serves 75 airports, including eight international locations. It is considered to be one of the fastest growing airports in the United States. 

            The project, which will not expected to be completed until 2019, is slated to begin with the city issuing a request for proposal for a single-entity concessions operator in September. Studies have found that travelers passing through Midway spend less on concessions than at other airports, and the stated aim of the improvements is to “enhance the experience for travelers, create good-paying jobs for residents and help achieve higher Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise participation goals.”

Following the issue of the RFP, bids would be received through mid-December, and evaluated in the first quarter of 2016. Then, if all goes according to plan, the proposal would be brought before the City Council in the second quarter of  2016.

            Plans call for renovations to be made to concessions areas, stores, and restaurants, and shopping, dining, lounge facilities, spa services, and medical services will be added. Officials said the added 20,000 sq, ft, of concession space will feature iconic Chicago brands and concepts while providing opportunities for local businesses and residents.

Expanding Midway’s security checkpoint area, with the creation of a new 80,000 sq. ft. security hall, is expected to resolve the bottleneck that frequently occurs in the current security area, frustrating travelers. Plans are also in the works to widen the existing 60-pedestrian bridge over Cicero Avenue from 60 feet to 300 feet, which is also inclined to get congested. 

“This is all about improving the customer experience at Midway. It is a lot more than adding concessions,” said Owen Kilmer, Chicago Department of Aviation deputy commissioner for communications. He said the airport authorities will be working the Transportation Safety Administration to coordinate the improvements to the security area.

            As for the terminal parking garage expansion, which Kilmer said is in the design phase, four levels and 1,400 parking spaces are expected to be added to the terminal garage. The added parking spaces are meant to —making it easier for travelers to get in and out of the airport. 

“Obviously, we will not do anything to infringe on flight paths,” said Kilmer, when asked about the feasibility of height being added to the parking garage.

“It is still in the design phase, but levels can be added horizontally. That is most likely how it will happen,” he said, explaining that the parking garage will be built out rather than up.

Emanuel said at the press conference that the expansion project is expected to create 1,000 construction and 700 permanent concession jobs, as well as a 50 percent increase in concession space. Revenue generated by concessions is expected to double by 2019.

“Our proposal will make Midway Airport more efficient and more customer friendly for years to come,” Aviation Commissioner Ginger S. Evans said, whom Kilmer said realized the need for improvements as soon as she was named commissioner in May. “In order for our airports, and our city, to thrive we need to remain competitive—and that’s what this plan will achieve,” she said.