Zell

The Grave Dancer bought the Tribune. Appropriate, I suppose, that the billionaire collector of distressed properties, having divested himself of real estate at the tip of a century bubble, should dive into the distressed world of old media. It is even oddly encouraging for those of us who like to sit on the couch or at the kitchen table with morning coffee and read the paper. I read lots of internet news, but never on the couch or kitchen table (or toilet). Technology is additive.

My brother emailed to ask what I thought of Sam Zell and of course the first thing I always say about him – as I said to my college colleague Jason (who works for Zell) on Saturday is – where is the damn Norton mural? John Warner Norton, one of the great Illinois artists of the first half of the century, painted a stunning Deco mural on canvas on the ceiling of the 1928 Daily News Building at Madison and the River.

The mural is about making (reporting) and delivering the news, and its graphic constructivism and bright color palette make it a major masterpiece as it narrates in dynamic angles the process of news production from reportage to typesetting to delivery in a whirl of 1928 high tech abstraction – planes and trains and automobiles. Zell bought the building and the mural has been mysteriously in storage for over 12 years. Every couple of years the Reader wonders about its whereabouts. So do we at Landmarks Illinois.

Now that he is a newspaperman, it would be appropriate for Sam Zell to reveal the restored mural. But he is famously allergic to culture, at least according to the 1994 Tribune article about Zell’s Angels, his millionaire motorcycle buddies. Whenever they tried to stop at a landmark or cultural site, Zell cringed and moaned.

Maybe we could convince him that the restored Norton mural, like his S corporation ESOP restructuring of Tribune debt, is an elaborate tax dodge. I could do that easy.

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