A warmhearted melancholy washes over me as I stare out the window. Eighteen years ago this month I returned to the neighborhood of my childhood to begin a new chapter of my life. Today I taste the bittersweetness of my life as I sip my first cup of dark roast in the newly opened coffee shop. I’m surrounded by tall ceilings, brick walls and laptops as I admire the view from the window.
I’m in Little Bohemia on South 13th Street. It was the heart of the Czech immigrants with Little Italy being its cozy neighbor. My family moved to Little Italy when I was four. I joke that we got in under the poverty guidelines not our German heritage. St. Frances Cabrini, site of more than one sacrament for me, is just up the hill.
I look out at what was once Emil Cermak’s apothecary built in 1898. Emil spoke multiple languages so he served not only the Italians and Czechs but also the Polish and German. When my late husband and I bought what we now call the Koenig Building, it was filled to the rafters with thrift store finds that Mr. Martinez sold under the guise of antiques. It had deteriorated dreadfully from decades of neglect and many questioned the sanity of the acquisition.
I notice the lushness of the green flowing from the second floor window boxes. My eyes turn to the adjacent building with charming black awnings and bright red geraniums running across the entire front. It’s the Dunne Building which our law firm expanded into two years ago after our team had tripled in size. That structure had demanded a similar savior, and my law partner took it on.
Today both buildings are gems of Little Bohemia and transformations like ours are happening all around us.
Last year the Bohemian Café closed after decades. People from around the country planned their family vacations around a return for one last oval plate brimming with dumplings buried in gravy and sweet and sour cabbage. During the restaurant’s final month I donned my apron and my sturdiest shoes to bus tables with them for a night, just to savor some final hours of history in the hood.
Last week we heard the Donut Stop was closing. It’s been a landmark on this street since my childhood. Each morning the same group of men gather to drink the coffee they poured themselves into small plastic cups held by brown plastic holders.
The cat lady’s Mystery Bookstore has been replaced with a design studio and a hipster men’s clothing shop. A long abandoned warehouse now houses a nonprofit for working artists. Colorful murals are sprouting up on the sides of buildings. New trees appeared last week.
It’s more than a half century since my arrival here. So much and so many are now gone, including my father, my brother, my mother, my husband. I stare out at the brick building that is home for both my business and me. I’m lost in my reverie when I’m interrupted by and enthusiastic hello from a mustached millennial whose just moved into the neighborhood.
There are changes happening here. Some bitter. Some sweet. An evolution unfolding.
What changes are happening around you?
What can you appreciate about the old and the new?
What might be transformed?