Chicago’s Greenest Alley?
A while ago we posted a photo from suburban Lake Forest of an alley between buildings that is converted into a farmer’s market each Summer. It seems like a great civic and commercial use of an urban space, and an environmentally friendly one, too.
Here in the city, the block of Couch Place between North State and North Dearborn Streets may be Chicago’s greenest alley.
It was renovated in 2007, shortly after the neighboring building at 190 North State Street (formerly the State-Lake Theater) got a brand new streetfront studio for WLS-TV.
Today, the alley is well-lit, paved with tasteful cobbles, and the walls are clean and lined with framed posters for various performances in the Chicago Theater District. There’s even a great photo opportunity to get the back stage door of the Oriental Theater/Ford Center for the Performing Arts (24 West Randolph Street).
In turning one of The Loop’s scary alleys into a perfectly reasonable thoroughfare for pedestrians, the city made a deliberate effort to make it “green.”
The brackets that hold the light fixtures are made from recycled aluminum. And the cobbles are permeable, so when it rains the water runs between them and into the ground, rather than into the city’s storm sewer system. Even the sign on the wall explaining the greenness of the alley is made from recycled materials.
Technically, Couch Place isn’t an alley, it’s a street. But considering its width and lack of use, it’s become an alley over the years. But it wasn’t always so.
Couch Place was named for Ira and James Couch, the brothers who owned the original Tremont Hotel, Chicago’s first brick building (not to be confused with the current Tremont Hotel at 100 East Chestnut Street). It was located at the corner of what is now West Lake Street and North Dearborn Street, now the location of the Government Center Parking Garage. Even though it was brick, it was not permanent and was only around from 1850 to 1871. But during those years, it was well known for being the place where Abraham Lincoln would stay when he was in town.