On Thursday, April 11th, Eric & I got to experience something pretty spectacular: We headed into Chicago, arriving at the home of Jesus People USA (JPUSA) in Uptown: The Chelsea Hotel or, The Friendly Towers. This place is crazy. We’d heard that the commune was in a hotel, but we had no idea how beautiful the architecture of this place would be! Built in the 1930s and fixed up when JPUSA moved in in 1990, it is an amazing spectacle, complete with the community’s own personal touch in artwork and family on every floor. I’m just sad that I spent so much time looking at every detail that I completely neglected to take any photos.
We got this show because of the connections we made this past summer when we were helping out at the last Cornerstone festival. More specifically, with Debbie, who ran the children’s tent at Cornerstone, Creation Station. She was amazingly helpful getting us this show, and greeted us with a huge smile when we arrived, slightly bewildered and in awe of her home. After loading in to the Garden Room Debbie handed us a key to our own guest room on the 6th floor, and then took us on a mini tour of the hotel.
Besides the Garden Room, where they hold their community-wide church services, there’s a large kitchen/cafeteria (it was homemade pizza night with a long lineup all the way out into the lobby), a cafe/skate shop that’s open to the public from the street (and they treated band members to delicious smoothies). Debbie showed us an area that housed framed prints of the hotel’s original blueprints (those were really fascinating!) and took us in the elevators to see some of the other floors. Debbie has lived here for 20 years and she showed us her room that she shares with her husband, and her two children’s room right next door. The entire setup is exactly like any typical hotel, with individual rooms (including bathrooms) leading out into a large shared hallway. Each floor also gets a shared kitchen, in case you miss out on the community meals or feel peckish at non-meal hours. Each floor also opens freely to a fire escape, and Debbie told us how her husband loves taking it from their floor up to the 9th floor where he works for their retirement home. Apparently, JPUSA bought the hotel in a foreclosure agreement. The hotel had been used as a retirement home by a fairly shady landlord, who’d allowed the living conditions to become unbearable. When the hotel came into possession of JPUSA they made extensive renovations to get the hotel back up to code, but also allowed the retirees to continue living in their home. Now the 9th floor is kind of a part of their mission to inner-city Chicago, including a very extensive homeless outreach (which includes handing out leftover hot dogs from Cubs games!). Besides the retirees, Debbie told us that they’ve got around 350 people living in their commune, working together, helping out, serving, and trying to live Christ-like lives in the middle of Chicago. They even have their own school for all the kids who live in the hotel to attend. Debbie teaches math.
Despite what you might think about JPUSA, community living, and pooling resources, from our perspective and the one night we spent with them, Eric and I really felt like these people were doing the best that they know how to do, working hard to make the world better and more loving, and it felt like the kind of community where you could really bring whatever kind of issues and baggage with you and they would accept you with open arms. It was wonderful.
Oh right, and as for the show…
A full-time touring family, the Hollands! opened the show. This husband & wife along with their two kids have been living solely out of their bus for the past year & a half, touring the country and oversees, playing music but mostly focusing on diving into whatever community they happen to find themselves in, spending a week or two in each place before moving on. They’re really seriously fascinating. At first we felt a bit guilty for having been so exhausted after only 3 1/2 months of touring, but they assured us that they often only play about a show a week, so as not to get completely burned out (which I believe we are dangerously close to…) Before the show, Jana Holland told us that they use to live in Green Bay, and that when she’d seen we were scheduled to play at JD’s Bar she almost wrote to warn us that it’s a sketchy biker bar and we might want to cancel the gig. Haha. So glad she didn’t!
Pocket Vinyl played a (very open & honest) set after the Hollands!, and as you can see, Debbie and her family won the bid on the painting.
After the show and packing up everyone slowly drifted up to their rooms and to bed. Eric & I settled into Our comfy guest room. It was wonderful to have a room of our own for the night. What an awesome place. Seriously.