I’ve got an interesting selection of stuff for you this month dear readers. Let’s jump right in!


A BUILDING
The “Hidden House of Campustown” 509 ½ E. Green St.

If you’ve ever been down Green Street between 5th and 6th, you’ve definitely seen this building:

The facade of a building with rectangular windows across the top and three storefronts with glass doors and windows across the bottom. A wide sidewalk runs along the front of the building, and there are two small thin trees. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Storefronts on the first floor, some apartments on top, but did you know that behind this bong shop, bubble tea spot, and convenience store (which also conveniently sells bongs) there’s actually a house? Yes, nestled on a small plot, entirely surrounded by larger buildings, is this house, 509 ½ E. Green.

A birds eye view of a house that is nestled behind four larger buildings. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

I assume it once was a residential home, but it was long ago turned into student apartments, currently managed by Bankier Apartments.

The front of a house with taupe siding. It has a square face with a triangular outcropping at the top. It has small, vertical rectangular windows and a glass front door. It is surrounded by other taller buildings. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Bankier has done an…admirable job on their website trying to hide the fact that this house is completely enclosed by brick and concrete.

A photo of the same house, the facade has been lightened and it has been photoshopped with a blue sky background. Photo from Bankier Apartments website.Photo from Bankier Apartments website.

You may laugh, but I’ve seen a lot of photoshops in my time on the internet and this is one of the better ones.

Also, I love the fact that the tiny yard is actually landscaped. Like, I don’t think this plot of dirt has gotten actual sunlight since like 2004, but here’s a few trees and bushes here doing their very best to look presentable despite the litter that appears around them constantly.

A dirt patch with several low shrubs and three taller cone shaped bushes alongside a house. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
Concrete stairs with a black metal railing leading up to a concrete surrounded gravel patch with a couple of shrubs on the back side of a house. Photo by Tom Ackerman.vPhoto by Tom Ackerman.

I was very curious about the history of this building so I took a look at the City of Champaign Historic Map (a very awesome tool!) to try and figure out when it was built. It’s a bit hard to tell from these old aerial photos, but it looks to me like 509 ½ E. Green was built between 1940 and 1948! It has spent the majority of the intervening years surrounded on three sides by larger counterparts.

VERDICT: 10/10 an absolute local legend. 509 ½ E. Green has stood for like 80 years, and I hope it stands for 80 more. 

A FEELING
Being a part of (CU)rbanism Club

An orange business card with a white silhouette of a city along the bottom. It says (CU)rbanism Club in white lettering. It's resting in the palm of a hand. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Last fall, a friend invited me to join (CU)rbanism Club, an all new local group that was being formed to meet, learn, and organize around different issues in Champaign-Urbana.

The (CU)rbanism Club advocates for:

  • A variety of housing choices.
  • A variety of transportation options.
  • Building connected communities where people can easily live and visit with or without a car.

As a long-time bike commuter, I immediately joined the group to push my radical cyclist agenda which involves banning all cars from city streets to make more room for cyclists, pedestrians, unicyclists, donkey carts, roller skaters, rickshaws, plus buses, trolleys, and motorcycles, but only if they have a side car. It also seemed like a pretty good excuse to go to Quality, meet new people, and drink beers.

I’ve now been to a few (CU)rbanism Club meetings and I’ve learned a ton about city planning, zoning, traffic policy, and C-U history.

Much of the discussion and action so far has been around Champaign’s Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) proposal. The (CU)rbanism Club strongly supports Champaign allowing the creation of ADUs once more. They would be a great way to increase affordable housing options in a number of neighborhoods, and could provide independent living for adult children or elderly parents of homeowners. The zoning amendments are supposed to be presented in May, and there will be more opportunities for public comment.

VERDICT: It may seem weird that the guy who made his name trashing apartment buildings is advocating for greater housing density, but I fell in love with C-U for its parts that seem like a hip city, and not a sprawling suburb. If you care about stuff like this, I hope to see you at the next (CU)rbanism Club meeting! To find out when that is, join our facebook group, or the email list on the website.

A LATRINE
The Men’s Room at El Toro

Some months ago, the El Toro restaurant on Neil Street moved a few blocks to a brand new location on Neil Street. I only recently made it over there to try out the new bathroom.

As you’d hope for a restroom in a new building, the hardware was all modern, clean, and in good working order.

A dark gray marbled counter with a white rectangular sink in a restroom. A mirror hangs on a black wall behind the sink, and the adjacent wall is yellow. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A white toilet in a stall with a yellow and black walls and a black toilet paper dispenser on the wall. The floor is black and white speckled. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.
A white urinal surrounded by black walls. A black rubber mat sits underneath. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

There’s a baby changing station which is always great to see. Also, a little carpet under the urinal to uh, soak up wayward pee I guess?

I think this is a big air freshener? Don't worry, they have home units available.

A white plastic case hanging on a yellow wall. It says FIKES fresh brands in blue lettering. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

I was hoping for more ornamentation. There is this very cool collection of framed tiles, but that’s about it.

A rectangular purple frame with multicolored and patterned tiles. It hangs on a yellow wall. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

Oh, and the purple door also has the faux weathered look of the colorful partitions out in the restaurant seating area. However, on the door the “weathering” looks even more like random brown splotches.

A purple door with brown brush strokes scattered throughout. It has a gold handle. Photo by Tom Ackerman.Photo by Tom Ackerman.

For some reason I noticed the power outlets in this bathroom. One by the sink, and one just outside the toilet stall. I’m sure I’ve reviewed plenty of restrooms with power outlets… but why are they there? So the janitor can run the power mop? So I can charge my phone while washing my hands? I quickly set to thinking about the most humorous use for a restaurant restroom power outlet.

*Man frantically knocking on the bathroom door.*
“Just hold on! They’re nearly done!” I call cryptically from inside the bathroom.
After a few minutes I open the door to reveal my full-sized toaster oven full of piping hot Totino’s® Pizza Rolls.

VERDICT: Let me know what weird appliance you plan to bring with you on your next trip to a public restroom.

Top photo by Tom Ackerman.