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.
Welcome back to 57th and Harper Ave. Harper Ave was named for William Rainey Harper, the first president of the University of Chicago, after his death at age 50 in 1906. Between 57th and 59th, it was originally Rosalie Court built in 1883 by a 23-year-old real estate developer named Rose Buckingham. The Buckingham family made its money in grain handling and lived on Prairie Avenue. The namesake of Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park, Clarence Buckingham, was a cousin. In 1890, at age 30, Rose Buckingham married Harry Selfridge. Selfridge was a veteran of the department store firm of Marshall Field & Co. He later founded the Selfridge Department Store in London, one of the city’s finest. Buckingham hired Solon S. Beman, recently the architect of Pullman, to design the development and many of the houses.
At the head of the street is Sylvia Court, a vest pocket park ringed by five homes. The homes on the east side of the street, backed up against the railroad, are smaller and often simply cottages. The grander homes and larger homes are on the west side of the street. They are mostly in the Queen Anne and Carpenter Gothic and Arts and Crafts and Shingle styles that are often called Victorian. If you’re not familiar with Harper Ave, you ought to explore it.
At 5752 S Harper, on the west side of the street, is a house by William W. Boyington, the architect of the Water Tower and the first University of Chicago at 33rd and Cottage Grove. It’s one of the rare examples of his domestic architecture. The clapboard home was built for a brick manufacturer. I’m very fond of a handsome stone cottage at 5763 and a thin apartment building pressed up against the railroad at 5817. Be sure to return to Harper Ave on the late afternoon on Halloween and see hundreds of trick or treaters and the homes decked out in ghoulish finery.
This marks the end of our tour of South Park. I hope you have enjoyed it. If you have, there is much, much more about South Park and the rest of Hyde Park and Kenwood in my book, "The City in a Garden: A Historical Guide to Hyde Park and Kenwood". It is available at the Seminary Coop Bookstore, 57th Street Books, the University of Chicago Bookstore, and on their websites. Thank you for your interest in the history of our community!