Reporter's Notebook: From neon to newsprint

One Curious Citizen wants to know whether Lincoln Avenue’s Motel Row deserves its seedy reputation and what brought them there in the first place.

September 10, 2013

Logan Jaffe

Nicole Kirkwood has lived in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood for over 10 years. But, whenever she drives down that one stretch of Lincoln Avenue between Foster and Peterson, she asks herself the same question: What are all of these old motels doing here?

It’s a good question, one that’s been investigated by a number of Chicago news outlets (especially in the early 2000s, when Mayor Richard Daley called for a number of the old motels to be demolished to help kickstart the area’s redevelopment).

So, Nicole is well aware of Motel Row’s reputation for seediness. But she’s still curious — maybe optimistic, even — about what keeps them in business. As for the rumors she’s heard? “Well, they’re the ones you hope aren’t true … local commerce … and whatever,” she says.

By “local commerce,” she means prostitution, drug trade and violent crime. And while there may be some truth in that, we both agree the motels couldn’t have first opened with that intention. So, what went wrong? How much do the motels actually rely on the “things you hope aren’t true” for survival?

We’ll keep you posted on what we find out in the reporter’s notebook below:

Logan Jaffe is Curious City’s multimedia producer. Follow her @loganjaffe.