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Two of many homes is Kenosha's historic districts.

CLANG, CLANG, CLANG!
Kenosha, Wisconsins

getaway-chicago logoRestored trolley cars making lazy loops to Lake Michigan’s shore: it’s Pike, later called Southport and eventually Kenosha. Settled in 1835, this Wisconsin city of 96,845 has known good times and bad. Not unlike many American cities reliant on a single industry, Kenosha was jilted when Jeep ceased production in 1988. Happily the story doesn’t end there and that’s why the Getaway Guys traveled to Kenosha to see what’s up. It’s a work in progress, but stuff’s happening.

Kenosha has two of the best documented historic districts the Guys have seen: The Third Avenue and The Library Park. Within easy walking distance of one another (or on bikes) and consisting primarily of residences (one is the birthplace of Orson Welles), the districts are must sees. Not, however, before a stop at the Simmons (think mattresses) Memorial Library (designed by Daniel Burnham) for a  packet of instructions about what to look for and where. A printout is also available at www.kenoshacvb.com.

kenosha1Within easy walking/riding distance of the historic districts are the Kenosha Public Museum (www.kenoshapublicmuseum.org) and the Kenosha History Center (www.kenoshahistorycenter.org). At the Public Museum, Alan got into the ethnographic material and Neil rhapsodized over Laredo Taft’s hypothetical recreations of legendary sculptor’s studios (Michelangelo, etc.). Taft called them “peep shows” (pretty racy). At the History Center, Alan dug the book selection (he would!) while Neil stood around looking at the AMC muscle cars and wishing there were more Nash sedans.

Did Alan (the bike enthusiast) know about the velodrome? No! Neither did Neil (the less enthusiastic). Apparently the oldest surviving velodrome (1927) in the U.S. resides in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Who knew? Out of town at Washington Road and 22nd Avenue, The Kenosha Velodrome Association (www.333m.com) operates one of these unique tracks.

Back in Kenosha a must do, and less arduous means of locomotion, is the Kenosha Transit Electric Street Car. Five restored 1951 PPC trolleys, painted in the colors of street cars once used in Toronto, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Kenosha, make a loop from the Metra Station on 11th Avenue to the Harborwalk at the edge of Lake Michigan. A stroke of genius, these resurrected and pollution free public transit vehicles, once common across the U.S., transport folks to what will be a crucial cultural nexus for Kenosha and Kenosha visitors. In the spring of 2008, the new Civil War Museum (presently under construction) will join the other museums in what will be a museum campus with diverse collections.

kenosha2A Kenosha getaway is very easy from Chicago. Metra trains run from the Ogilvie Center on Madison Street right into the middle of Kenosha’s renaissance. The Getaway Guys drove however, because they were going over to the Niemi Sculpture Gallery and Garden (www.bruceniemi.com) on 116th Street west of I-94. The Guys are always looking for a destination element to highlight their travels and this place was it. Bruce and Susan Niemi have done a remarkable job of presenting the works of many talented and deserving sculptors literally in their front yard. Neil (a former  sculptor) was deeply moved and Alan (the skeptic) was super enthused. The Gallery and Garden is a for-profit endeavor, but the Niemis operate both as a virtual public service, and it’s viewable whenever they’re in residence. Tour groups are welcome. Neither guy could think of anything comparable in their travels.

For food, Frank’s Diner in the heart of downtown was recommended to the Guys. Around since 1926, this place is a gas. For a quick cup of coffee and an all important dessert element, the Guys dropped into Common Grounds on 6th Avenue. July 2007

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