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.
Harper Avenue was originally Rosalie Court, a planned community developed in 1883 by 23-year-old Rose Buckingham, a member of a prominent Chicago family. At the west side of the entry to Rosalie Court was the Rosalie Music Hall, designed by Solon S. Beman, the overall architect of the community and the architect of the town of Pullman a few years earlier. Rosalie Music Hall was a center of the life of the community. It had shops, a restaurant, and meeting rooms. Mary Garden, later a famous opera performer, had her debut at Rosalie Music Hall in an 1891 staging of Gilbert and Sullivan’s "Trial by Jury." Across the street on the east side of the entry to Rosalie Court, now the site of Powell’s, was the South Park Club House, built in 1889. Never as robust as the Kenwood Club, the South Park Club did not last long. The building was used by the Hyde Park YMCA for ten years early in its history, then converted to an inn called the Rosalie Inn. The corner also had a Masonic Hall for South Park Lodge 662 at 274 57th in the zigzag between Jefferson and Rosalie Court, both now Harper Ave. Hyde Park Council 582 of a fraternal benefit society called the Royal Arcanum also met in the Masonic Hall. In its early years, so did the South Park Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal congregation. We are now moving to 56th and Harper. The commentary continues along the way.
The neighborhood of Hyde Park was remade by urban renewal in the fifties and sixties. Its effects were not as far reaching in South Park as they were in Hyde Park Center and in southwest Hyde Park. The exception was the blocks along Lake Park and Harper. Lake Park south of 55th in the 40s was car dealerships, garages, taverns, and tenements. Harper Ave was the cable car route, crowded close by walk up buildings of three and four stories. The area was called Hyde Park A in the 1954 urban renewal plan. Demolition began in 1957. For the 5600 block of Harper, Harry Weese arranged E townhouses around a private park. Weese was a Chicago architect and an MIT classmate of I. M. Pei, who was in charge of the overall design. Weese was also associated with the Cranbrook architects around Eero Saarinen. In Chicago, he is known for the Metropolitan Correctional Center and the 17th Church of Christ Scientist at Wacker and Wabash. In Hyde Park he is also remembered for the unloved Pierce Tower. At the north end of Harper on the alley is a Commonwealth Edison substation. You will notice the ornamentation and the distinctive brickwork at the entry to the electric yard. The substation was the work of the architect Hermann Von Holst, the son of the first head of the University of Chicago history department and the man who cleaned up the mess when Frank Lloyd Wright ran off to Europe with the wife of a client.