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Before urban renewal, the north side as well as the south side of this block was lined with shops and eateries. Directly across the street, at 1328 E 57th, was the Little Gallery, an art gallery owned by Mary Louise Womer. She had regular shows outdoors behind the shop during the summers. Their popularity inspired Womer and other local artists to found the Hyde Park Art Fair in 1948. It is the oldest juried art fair in the Midwest. Now move a little west to 1311 E 57 (Hyde Park Bank). In the middle of the 20th century, the building housed Woodworth’s Bookstore. The Hyde Park Cooperative Society had its first store in an apartment upstairs in 1932. The building later housed another bookstore, O’Gara’s.
Now have a look at the granite basin on the brick sidewalk a few steps west. It was a drinking basin for horses, placed near here in 1905 by South Park Improvement Association. The group had its initials carved in the side, “S.P.I.A.” The South Park Improvement Assn was founded in 1901 for purposes like this, the provision of local services and amenities; snow, garbage, ash removal; and beautification, sidewalk, and street improvements. Its first president was Francis Parker, the superintendent of Chicago Normal School and then the Chicago Institute, who lived at Del Prado (59 & Dorchester). The basin was found abandoned in an alley in 1979 and reinstalled by the Hyde Park Historical Society. Now continue north on Kimbark, while I continue commentary.
The William H. Ray School on the east side of the street was originally the Hyde Park High School. It was the neighborhood’s third high school, replacing the second one, at the corner of 57th and Kenwood, now Bixler Playlot, in 1894. William Ray was the principal of HP High School in the 1880s. The high school needed more space because of the influx of new residents attracted to the neighborhood by the world’s fair or drawn to the neighborhood by the University. By 1897, it was again out of room and had to open an annex in an elementary school at 54th and Kenwood. The school board built an even larger building for HP High School at 6220 Stony Island in 1912.
The Assembly Hall on the north side of the building has a painted tribute to the late Willie Pickens, the jazz pianist, who lived across the street (5626). The house next door to the south, 5630, is another early Hyde Park house, which became the home of Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, Baptist minister, graduate of first University of Chicago, and prime mover in creating the second University of Chicago. He persuaded John D. Rockefeller to pony up $600k to found the University and local philanthropists to match it with $500k more; he also got Marshall Field to donate the land for the original campus, from 56th to 59th and Ellis to Lexington (University). Now proceed to 56th and Kimbark.