56th and Kimbark

Alumni House 5555 S Woodlawn Ave

South Park Walking Tour/56th and Kimbark
Chicago Studies at the University of Chicago
Written By Chicago Studies at the University of Chicago

Chicago Studies, a program of the undergraduate College at the University of Chicago, offers curricular and co-curricular opportunities to discover, study, and engage with the diverse communities of our world-class city.

Audio Commentary:

56th and Kimbark

Content by John Mark Hansen, Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago and author of "The City in a Garden: A Guide to the History of Hyde Park and Kenwood."
56th and Kimbark (Audio for Web)

The Faculty Row on the north side of 56th west of Kimbark was developed in 1903 by a New York architect, Horace Mann, the brother of a University physics professor. He had previously built homes for his brother and others in the 5300 block of Greenwood. The house at 1220 E 56th is of special historical note. It is the home Paul Nitze grew up in. He was the son of a linguistics professor. After World War II, he became a prominent nuclear strategist and arms control expert, serving every president from Truman to Reagan except Eisenhower. Later, 1220 E 56th was the home of Leon Despres and Marian Alschuler Despres. Leon Despres was the progressive Fifth Ward alderman from 1955 to 1975 and the nemesis—such as he was—of Mayor Richard J Daley. He was sometimes called “The only Negro on the Chicago City Council.” The actual African Americans on the Council, all allies of Mayor Daley, were known as the “Silent Six.” Despres was a labor lawyer and an activist in leftist causes. Marian was the daughter of the architect of the KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue at 51st & Greenwood. In the thirties, they transported supplies to Leon Trotsky, in his exile in Mexico. While there, Diego Rivera painted Marian’s portrait while Len took Frida Kahlo to the movies. Continue now to 56 & Woodlawn.

On the southeast corner is another Faculty Row development in Tudor Revival style, build five years later in 1908. 5605 Woodlawn was the home of Robert Millikan, physics professor, Nobel Laureate (1923), and the the first president of Caltech (1920-46). If you want to make a detour north on Woodlawn, 5537 was one of homes of Enrico Fermi, leader of the team of physicists and engineers who produced the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction on 2 Dec. 1942 under the Stagg Field grandstand. The house at the northeast corner of 56th and Woodlawn was built in 1922 for Phi Kappa Psi (Howard Van Doren Shaw). In the teens and twenties, Woodlawn from 55th to 58th was Fraternity Row. The Phi Kappa Psi house had a goat room, perhaps for an actual goat or perhaps for fraternity pledges, known as goats. Catercorner to the fraternity house and opposite in sensibility was the Hyde Park Baptist Church. The church was founded in 1885 as the First Baptist Church at 54 & Madison (Dorchester). The University of Chicago, of course, was a Baptist university, and when the University was founded the church moved closer by. This church was built in 1904 to 1906. William Rainey Harper and other early faculty in the University worshiped in this church. Now, I invite you to walk to 56 & University, and turn left to 5615.

Our tour continues with "University Avenue."

South Park Walking Tour

56th and Kimbark

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