Sunday, October 5, 2008

Finkl Steel

Finkl Steel

As recently as two decades ago, Chicago was famously a steel mill town. Vast south side factories belched smoke and fire by day and night. Those days are gone now, for better or worse; the last of the city's great mills is in the final stages of demolition down on S. Torrence Avenue, leaving only the Gary mills further south to carry on.

But on the near north side, one last vestige of the steel industry remains within the city limits. A. Finkl & Sons Co. continues pouring steel, only a mile or two north of downtown, as they have for over a hundred years.

Finkl Steel

But what makes this comparatively small-scale operation so remarkable is not just its location amid the heavily gentrified near north side, but the proportion of its operation that remains visible from the street. Wander past on any weekday evening, and you're liable to see all sorts of heavy industrial equipment at work, up to and including molten steel being poured from vats the size of an automobile.

Finkl Steel

You're also likely to see folks with cameras, as this amazing sight naturally attracts attention. W. Cortland Avenue is a smallish but busy route to the west side of the Chicago River, so plenty of people pass by. The steel workers are grudgingly tolerant of the attention; if you're a sociable type, you might even be able to chat some of them up. If not, well, the factory alone is an incredible show.

Finkl Steel

The nonchalance of the workers is also amusing. Sparks are flying, huge pieces of metal are swinging on chains and rolling along on overhead gantry cranes, molten metal is being poured, blue-flame blowtorches are cutting at steel, and it's all just another day of work for these guys. Such dangerous, difficult, and intensive work is a rare thing in our post-industrial society.

Finkl Steel

In 2006, there was talk of the Clybourn corridor plant closing down to relocate to more spacious facilities elsewhere, on the city's south side perhaps. A quick Google search turns up no forward movement on this, but Finkl & Son's present operation is such a rarity in this day and age, it seems proper to treat it as an endangered species regardless.

4 comments:

Didi said...

Funny thing is, i was reading an article last week on this place. It was about the most polluted pockets of the city.

TS said...

Great post. I linked to you in my weekly "Sweet Spots" feature about locations in Chicago.

MF said...

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich's father worked here. I believe Blagojevich's election night rally was held at Finkl.

Anonymous said...

Both of Blagojevich's gubernatorial election night rallies were held at Finkl, and I believe his U.S. Congressional election rallies were as well. Finkl management was quite close to Blagojevich. Don't know if they still are -- perhaps they fled when the latest federal investigations came to light, along with the recent impeachment, conviction, and ousting from office. I believe the former VP of Operations was chairman of Blago's campaign fund from July 2007 to August 2008. Wife Patti Blagojevich was real estate agent for Finkl's purchase of South Side Verson plant sight. Many contributions to Blago campaign fund over the years, easy CEO access to governor's office. The company does some good things around the neighborhood and city, but they're very into the "you pat my back, I'll pat yours" mentality, and are not necessarily aware of, or willing to cooperate with, laws they are subject to in employee relations.