Old Town, Crilly Court, and a Tree Named Ethel
It has been 35 years since we moved to Old Town. I came reluctantly. Norman practically ran here. We had been living in Evanston, a place Norman hated, but endured for me. I was heading off to the Cordon Bleu in Paris to learn to cook. Norman agreed to let me go on one condition—we move back to the city. He didn’t want to rattle around in our house in the suburbs alone. So, we packed up and moved into the North Park condos. A couple of weeks later, I flew to Paris. But that’s another story.
The move to the condo was supposed to be temporary, until we found a house. But plans have a way of changing. The condos turned out to be perfect in almost every way. The people who lived there were young, vibrant, interesting, and fun. We made friends we treasure to this day. When the weather was warm (and even when it wasn’t,) we got together on the back decks. You could pick a deck—any deck—and it was party on. We stayed for eight years, and they were the most wonderful years of our lives.
The House on Crilly Court
As time went on, we began to feel a little cramped and wanted that “one more room”. So, we went house hunting. We never intended to buy the house on Crilly. We had already entered into negotiations for a place on Menomonee when our friend Paul Kuhn called and said, “You’re not going to buy that house.”
“We’re not?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Well, what are we going to do?”
“You’re going to buy 1710 N. Crilly Court.”
“Is it for sale?”
“It will be tomorrow, so call Mary (the owner) right now.”
I made the call and was told the place was, indeed, going on the market the next day. “How much is it?” I asked. Mary told me the price and I said, “I’ll take it.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that. I’ll bring a deposit over tomorrow.”
And, suddenly, we owned the house of our dreams on the street we had walked on and loved since we first moved to Old Town. Well, we almost owned it. We had to get a mortgage. Which was another interesting development. The mortgage broker we saw was a young woman named Claudia Crilly—you guessed it—the great granddaughter of Daniel Crilly, who built the house. “Ill get you a mortgage,” she said, “if you’ll invite me to the house. I’ve never been inside one of the Crilly houses.”
“You’re on,” I promised. And so, in November of 1985, on the occasion of the house’s 100th birthday, I threw a party. The guest of honor was Claudia Crilly.
As you know, it is customary to bring a gift when you go to a housewarming party. Usually, people bring a plant. Not my friend Carolyn Blackmon. A plant wouldn’t do for 1710. It had to be bigger, more important. So she bought a whole tree. She staked out the back yard and decided what kind of tree we should have and where it should go. She went to the nursery, selected it, and had it delivered. She went one step farther, she named it, beginning a tradition of naming all our trees after old movie stars. This one was christened, “Ethel” for Ethel Barrymore, grande dame of the famous Barrymore acting family. When Ethel went in the ground, she was so small she didn’t even come up to the top of the back fence. I could see every apartment in the condos across the way, from the first floor up. That changed very quickly. Today, she rises so tall, I can’t even see up to the fourth floor.
In time, friends came to join Ethel—in both the back and front yards. In the back, we had Myrna—for Myrna Loy; and Lillian, for Lillian Gish. In the front, we planted Tallulah—for that glorious redhead, Tallulah Bankhead. And they have lived together, as it were, happily ever after.
The March of Time
Twenty-eight years have passed since we moved into 1710. A lot has happened in 28 years. My son, a confirmed bachelor, got married. My grandson was born, grew up, and is now ready to head off to college. My beloved Bulls won six championship rings under the one and only Michael Jordan. Hard to believe he grew older and left the game. Gods are not supposed to do that.
My wonderful Toyota Avalon, which I thought would last until death did us part, didn’t. She ran faithfully for 16 years, and then, she just stopped. Fixing her would have cost a small fortune. Sadly, I left her with Frank at Wells Automotive. He was going to send her to the junkyard, but at the last minute, even he couldn’t abandon her to that fate. He fixed her up and donated her to someone who needed a car to get to work but couldn’t afford to buy one. I’m glad for that. But I miss her.
I wrote four books extolling Old Town and Crilly Court. In 2001, the house at 1710 was declared a National Landmark because a gentleman named Henry Gerber, who lived here for one year in 1924, founded the first human rights organization in the United States here.
I am busy trying to master the mysteries of social media and establish some kind of 21st century relevance. Friends have come and gone. There is even a new tree on the front parkway. I haven’t named her yet. Through it all, there has been one constant: Ethel—springtime, summer, winter, and fall. She came here with us. She will be here when we leave. Nice to know some things go on.
Filed under: Living in Interesting Times