By Jason A. Heidemann Michigan Avenue Magazine
Leslie Hindman curates antiques from all over the world for her auction house, located on Lake Street in the West Loop.
Leslie Hindman has made a career out of spotting diamonds in the rough. Since opening Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in 1982 – currently the largest auction house in the Midwest and the fifth largest in the country – she’s pointed her clientele in the direction of countless good sales and made a few of her own along the way: Ten years ago, she relocated her auction house to a still-gritty West Loop, which today is surrounded by buzzing restaurants, eclectic art galleries, and chic residences. In February, Hindman’s Palm Beach outpost will be grabbing headlines for handling the estate auction of late fashion icon Lilly Pulitzer while the auctioneer’s crew here in Chicago prepares for sales of English furniture and Asian art. From her headquarters at 1338 West Lake Street, Hindman, 59, shares her passion for the neighborhood she discovered long before it became the place to be.
“I love the West Loop so much. When I reopened my auction business 10 years ago, I thought, ‘What neighborhood is going to be burgeoning?’ I could tell the West Loop would be the next big thing. I drove around for a year looking for a building to buy because our business had grown quite a bit. I thought Lake Street was good because people recognized it because of the El, but it was a pretty terrible building. A lot of people would drive by and say, ‘You’ve got to be kidding—why would you buy a building like that? It’s awful.’ But we put up skein on it and made a big LH logo and fitted it out perfectly for our firm. It’s not too far from downtown, and we’ve got great access to I-90/94. Google is moving in; Whole Foods is opening soon. It’s a practical neighborhood now.
Leslie’s auction house is adjacent to the CTA Green line tracks.
I have so many favorite places in the neighborhood. Next door to our building, there’s a wonderful florist named Virginia Wolff, who’s a good friend; we love her. She’s done floral arrangements for me at home. I just renovated a house, and when I had a demolition party, she did all of these incredible decorations. She did tablecloths with paint splattered all over them, the waiters served hors d’oeuvres in paint trays, and she made floral arrangements in pipes. She’s so brilliant.
Photographer Victor Skrebneski wrote a book about Richard’s Bar and took me there. I’m a huge fan. It’s a fantastic, classic dive bar and the kind of place that’s dying. When they implemented the smoking ban back in 2008, the people who frequent the bar decided to smoke anyway. So they put a kitty—a coffee can or something—on the bar, and if you go in there and decide you want to smoke, you just put money in the kitty. Occasionally the police come in and fine the bar and they just pay them and say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and people continue smoking and contributing to the kitty, which is great. I like dive bars. They remind me of my younger days.
Skrebneski also introduced me to La Scarola. I love it because they serve classic Italian food. I go there whenever my brother is in town from Denver. Owner Joey Mondelli goes from table to table and gives you tequila shots, and he has this great laugh. If he likes you, he’ll find a table for you immediately, and if he doesn’t like you, you’ll end up waiting awhile.
I also love the McCormick Gallery. Owner Thomas McCormick is a great art dealer with fantastic taste. He has a great eye and is a wonderful, jovial person. He represents the estates of a lot of Abstract Expressionist artists from the ’50s and also sells reasonably priced work by terrific artists like Richard Hunt, the sculptor, whom I really love. The art business gets a reputation for being stuffy, but he’s willing to educate people. He’s an old-fashioned, brilliant dealer who will take time to talk to people.
Leslie Hindman’s eponymous auction house.
I was also a big fan of Ina’s. I ate lunch there every day. I know Ina Pinkney really well; she’s a good friend, and I’m so sad it closed. Every year I dress as the Easter Bunny—everyone in the world knows I do it—and a few months ago I got an e-mail blast from Ina’s, and it had a picture of the Easter Bunny. It’s obviously me, but she didn’t say so. She’s a darling woman. The neighborhood is really sad that she has closed the restaurant, and so is the city.
When I was in my 20s, I had no money at all and used to get in my green Camaro and drive to a produce store on Randolph Street every Saturday called N & G [which just closed in December]. I’d get a cardboard box and fill it up with apples and oranges and onions and lettuce, and it would cost $3. I was young and poor and working at Sotheby’s, and that’s where I would go to buy my groceries. Then, I would drive to Bert’s Car Wash, which seemed like it was in this little remote area, but it’s only about four blocks from where I now work. In those days, nobody ever went to the West Loop. People thought I was crazy. Now the neighborhood is booming.”
Photography by Getty Images (road); The Chicago Scout Guide (Hindman)