Hyde Park, located on the South Side in Cook County is approximately seven miles south of the Chicago Loop and one of Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods and community areas.
As a neighborhood, Hyde Park's definition has shrunk to a core area around 53rd Street and the lakefront. Today, the name Hyde Park is officially applied to the neighborhood from 51st Street to the neighborhood around the Midway Plaisance or simply The Midway (between 59th and 60th streets). The neighborhood's eastern boundary is Lake Michigan and its western boundary is Washington Park.
Like in many areas though, its boundary lines vary. Some actually consider Hyde Park to include the area between 47th and 51st Streets (East Hyde Park Boulevard) although this area is actually the south half of the Kenwood community area. Often, the area encompassing Hyde Park and South Kenwood is spoken of as Hyde Park-Kenwood.
In 2000 and 2003, Money Magazine ranked Hyde Park among the best places to live in the United States.
Among its many attractions are the University of Chicago, the Hyde Park Art Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Oriental Institute and the Renaissance Society. The name originated with a township that included numerous other neighborhoods that have all been annexed by the city of Chicago. But the neighborhood’s greatest claim to fame perhaps is that it was the home of President Barack Obama for many years. The Obamas now own a home in nearby Kenwood.
Hyde Park was founded by Paul Cornell in the 1850s near the Illinois Central Railroad yards south of the city. In 1861, the Hyde Park Township was incorporated, extending from 39th to 63rd Streets. The southern border was later extended as far as South 138th Street and as far west as State Street. The township was independent of Chicago until 1889 when at that time it was annexed to the city.
Cornell, a real estate speculator (who was also an abolitionist), purchased 300 acres of land between 51st and 55th Streets along the shore of Lake Michigan and the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1850s,with the hope of developing the area and attracting other Chicago businessmen and their families there. Some of Cornell's associates, including the sheriff, used their houses in Hyde Park as stops on the Underground Railroad.
Because the area featured the temperate climates of Lake Michigan, it was a popular area in which to settle. Cornell parceled out the land and negotiated for a rail depot at 53rd Street to lure guests to The Hyde Park House, a hotel he built to serve as the neighborhood's social epicenter. The hotel served as the popular focal point of most community activity from the 1850s until it burned down in 1879. It was visited by popular and well-to-do guests, including the newly-widowed Mary Todd Lincoln. In 1917, a new structure was erected on the hotel site—it is now a condominium building called the Hampton House.
Academia and Industry
Shortly before the turn of the century, the University of Chicago was founded by John D. Rockefeller and the American Baptist Education Society, in Hyde Park and in 1893, the neighborhood played host to the World's Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair). While the fair covered hundreds of acres, the only structure left standing today is Charles Atwood's Palace of Fine Arts, since converted into Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.
The U of C, backed by large contributions from its billionaire founder, became one of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions. Eighty-five Nobel prize winners hailed from the university.
With a total of six theological seminaries located in Hyde Park, the area is home to nearly half of the Chicago region's accredited theological schools. In the 1930s, Hyde Park prospered as a resort area with over 100 hotels and lodges along the lakefront. During the 1940s, some of these properties fell into decline and were eventually converted to apartment and condominium buildings.
During the 1950s, Hyde Park faced the economic decline that affected much of the city’s South Side—a decline that began during and after World War I with migration away from the major cities. Large numbers of these migrants came to Chicago and settled in Hyde Park, which then offered inexpensive but substandard housing.
During the 1950s and 1960s, educators and community leaders joined together to sponsor one of the largest urban-renewal plans in the country. This plan resulted in the demolition and redevelopment of entire city blocks of decayed housing. And as a result, Hyde Park's average income soared by 70%, but its black population fell by 40% since the substandard housing, primarily occupied by poorer blacks and other minorities had been purchased, torn down, and replaced. Current residents were displaced as they could no longer afford to remain in the newly-rehabilitated areas.
A more middle class population was able to move in seeking new opportunities for employment and home-ownership. This brought Hyde Park some much needed stability and ensured that it remained a very racially-diverse neighborhood.
More than 20 historic structures, including homes and apartment buildings are located in Hyde Park. Some of the noted National Register of Historic Places’ sites include the Chicago Pile-1 (site of the first sustainable nuclear reaction) and the Frederick C. Robie House, which was built by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Robie House is registered as a U.S. National Historic Landmark as well. Located at 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue on the South Side, the house was designed and built between 1908 and 1910 by Wright and is renowned as the greatest example of his Prairie style, the first architectural style considered to be uniquely American. It was designated a National Historic Landmark on November 27, 1963 and was on the very first National Register of Historic Places list of October 15, 1966. Chicago Pile-1 or CP-1 was the nation’s first artificial nuclear reactor. CP-1 was built on a rackets court at the University of Chicago, under the abandoned stands of the original Amos Alonzo Stagg Field stadium. The first artificial, self-sustaining, nuclear chain reaction was initiated within CP-1, on December 2, 1942, under the supervision of Italian physicist Enrico Fermi and his associates.
Other National Register of Historic Places’ properties include: the Chicago Beach Hotel, Arthur H. Compton House, East Park Towers, the Flamingo-on-the-Lake Apartments, Isidore H. Heller House, Charles Hitchcock Hall, Hotel Del Prado, Hotel Windermere East, also known as Windemere House, the Frank R. Lillie House, Robert A. Millikan House, the Poinsettia Apartments, the Promontory Apartments, the George Herbert Jones Laboratory, St. Thomas Church and Convent, the Shoreland Hotel, the German submarine U-505, and the University Apartments.
In addition to the president and two U.S. senators, among those who lived in Hyde Park were Scopes lawyer Clarence Darrow, lost flier Amelia Earhart, political activist Jesse Jackson, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, noted magazine publisher Hugh Hefner, comedians Dick Gregory and the late George Kirby, among others.
Culture and Nightlife
Hyde Park's oldest shopping district—centered around 53rd Street—features many inexpensive restaurants, frequently offering take-out, and small businesses between Ellis to the west and Lake Park to the east. A small-business-oriented shopping center, Harper Court, extends north of 53rd Street along Harper Avenue that includes many small retailers and boutique shops.
Promontory Point extends out into Lake Michigan at 55th Street. “The Point” as it is affectionately known by natives extends far enough east into the lake to provide spectacular views of both the downtown skyline to the north and the South Chicago and Northwest Indiana skyline to the south. It is a popular place to watch summertime fireworks displays from Navy Pier, especially on Independence Day. The Point is a popular place for hikers, bikers, joggers, runners, sunbathers, picnickers, cross-country skiers, and adventurous swimmers. Many residents of Hyde Park and fans of The Point show their pride by putting bumper stickers on their cars, bikes, skateboards that simply read "Save the Point." These indicate opposition to the concrete seawall proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers for The Point and the neighboring 57th Street Beach. Members of the "Save the Point" campaign prefer to retain the existing limestone seawall.
The southeast corner of Hyde Park contains the northern end of Jackson Park, in which sits the Museum of Science and Industry, an original architectural remainder of the Columbian Exposition. Adjacent to the museum is a large park containing a small Japanese garden. The Midway, running from Stony Island Avenue to Cottage Grove Avenue, connects Jackson Park to Washington Park.
Restaurant fare consists of a series of fine dining establishments. Ethnic choices abound—Italian, Thai, Mediterranean, Chinese, Cajun, and Caribbean are just a few of the options. The new Pan Asian sensation Chant, for example, recently landed on Chicago Magazine’s list of hot restaurants. Other great choices include Piccolo Mondo, La Petite Folie, Cedars Mediterranean Kitchen, Calypso Cafe, and Bonjour Bakery Café. For pizza and more, there are Giordano’s, Edwardo’s Natural Pizza, Pizza Capri, and the perennial student favorite, Medici on 57th.
As you might expect of a university neighborhood, there are plenty of coffee shops, many of them with free Wi-Fi access (try Istria Café just outside the 57th Street Metra Station and Third World at 53rd and Kimbark). The area around 57th Street is known primarily for its independent bookstores, including the South Side branch of Powell's, an antiquarian bookshop, O'Gara and Wilson's and the general-readership branch of the Seminary Co-op bookstore, known as "57th Street Books." On the first weekend in June, the venerable 57th Street Art Fair takes up 57th Street between Kimbark and Kenwood Avenues.
Very few retailers operate west of Woodlawn and north of 53rd Street the neighborhood is mostly residential.