After the Chicago fire of 1871 Hyde Park Center grew quickly. Close to the Illinois Central commuter station at 53rd and Lake Park and to the 55th Street cable car line, it offered convenient and inexpensive transport for middle and lower class workers to the new jobs in the Loop to the north, the steel mills to the south and the Stock Yards to the west. Eager real estate developers built small cottages and narrow row houses on tiny lots. No valuable land was wasted on large yards or parkways to the front or on alleys at the rear. Many of these buildings were made of inexpensive wood , a practice prohibited north of 39th Street by the new Chicago fire regulations, but allowed in the independent Village of Hyde Park until it was annexed by Chicago in 1889. The style of the houses was simple and utilitarian in contrast to the Italian villas, French chateaux and English castles of the more wealthy surrounding parts of the neighborhood. Hyde Park Center offered modest houses in a dense urban setting to average working families.
Because both the houses and the residents were more modest, this section of the neighborhood was especially vulnerable to post-World War II land clearance projects. More than half of the structures in Hyde Park Center were demolished, including three churches and scores of convenient mixed-use retail/commercial/residential buildings. Most of what is now Nichols Park and the Murray School campus was once packed with small wooden and brick houses.
Much of the original Hyde Park Center remains and, although often over looked, it is a joy to explore. Notice the brickwork and stone carving, the carpentry, the arrangement of the windows, the roof gables and the porches, and notice how many different kinds of houses there are. But also listen to how these houses talk to one another, like neighbors. What can still be seen and heard on the streets of Hyde Park Center are the beautiful modest houses that nurtured the beginnings of city life for average people like ourselves.
The photography and Graphic Design for the “The Evolution of Hyde Park” was created by David Schalliol for a program offered by the Hyde Park Historical Society on March 1st of 2008. This included a presentation by Jack Spicer and the opening of a photo exhibit by David Schalliol. The photographs on this site of the Hyde Park houses were all taken by David Schalliol.
All materials collected for this project (maps, photos, documents, interviews. etc.) are housed at:
Special Collections Research Center University of Chicago Library
under the title: Hyde Park Center Project and are available for viewing and research.
1100 East 57th Street
Hyde Park Center is a project of:
The Hyde Park Historical Society
5529 S Lake Park Avenue Chicago, IL 60637