57th and Lake Park, Pt. 2

1515 E 57th St Chicago

South Park Walking Tour/57th and Lake Park, Pt. 2
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:

57th and Lake Park, Part 2

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."
57th and Lake Park, Pt.2 (Audio for Web)

The building at the foot of Lake Park was originally the Rosalie Flats, named for the street behind it (if you go around back, you will also find an entrance on Sylvia Court). Rosalie Flats was built in late 1880s, before the Exposition and before elevation and expansion of tracks. On the lintels above the doorways you can just make out the original street numbers, 242, 244-46, 248 (1517, 1515-13, 1511-09). Hyde Park reformed its north-south street numbers in the late 1870s, matching them to the Chicago street grid. The city followed suit in the 1880s, south of 12th St or Roosevelt Rd. The numbers of east-west streets changed in 1909 with the adoption of the Brennan Plan by the Chicago City Council. As the two sets of street numbers demonstrate, Hyde Park began numbering at the Lake, the Brennan Plan at State St. Hyde Park also put its even numbers on the south side of the street, the Brennan Plan on the north.

In 1888, the Chicago Cycling Club opened a clubhouse in the Rosalie Flats at 242 57th St, or 1517 E 57th St. The “safety” bicycle was invented in the 1880s and a wave of popular enthusiasm for the sport spread over the city, as well as other parts of the country. The Chicago Cycling Club was one of the largest clubs in the city and a leading one. Many of the top racers in the city were members, including “Van” Van Sicklen and “the Thornes,” five brothers who were the sons of a founder of Montgomery Ward. The club even had a Latin motto, "Pedibus, curramus alatis." In the Rosalie, it had a library, a reading room, a billiards room, a card room, and a lunch room, as well as a wheel room and tool room. Upstairs, it had apartments for single members. The Chicago Cycling Club moved again to a new clubhouse at 40th and Michigan in 1895. By then, there were two other clubs in the neighborhood: the Sylph Cycling club, whose clubhouse was on Harper near 53rd, and the Woodlawn Cycling Club, which built and then expanded a beautiful clubhouse on 60th near Dorchester.

In the late 19th century, coal replaced wood as fuel in steam locomotives and the traffic on the Illinois Central increased. By 1890, there were 114 weekday trains each week. For the residents and shopkeepers on the streets along the tracks, the coal and the traffic produced smoke, cinders, and dirt in torrents. South Park was among the most affected, especially the homes on Rosalie Court (now Harper Ave). The city passed an anti-smoke ordinance in 1881 but the problem received new attention in the early 1900s, when an accident in New York caused by obstructed signals caused the NY State legislature to mandate the electrification of trains in Manhattan. In Chicago, the Chicago Anti-Smoke League led a lobbying campaign for electrification on the Illinois Central, assisted by neighborhood associations like the South Park Improvement Association. The railroad committed to electrification in 1910 but did not actually carry through until 1926. The Metra Electric trains are now powered by 1500 volts of direct current supplied by overhead lines called catenary wires and conducted to the motors by a structure on the top of the car called a pantograph. The Illinois Central is now the only fully electric line in the commuter railroad system; all of the others use a combination of diesel and electric power.

In 1909, the South Park Station became the home of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. Allen Hoben, a professor in the divinity school, began it a year before, opening his back yard to local boys who had no place else to play. The name became the Neighborhood Club in 1923. It moved to the Hyde Park Congregational Church at 56th and Dorchester in 1931, and to its current location in Nichols Park in 1951. Hyde Park into the teens was known as a “dry” neighborhood. The exception was the saloon district on Lake Ave from 54 Pl to 56th St. The 5500 block was chock full of them. In 1881, a local blacksmith named Morgan Burns tried to expand the saloons by opening a tavern at 5644 Lake Park, just south of Cable Court. The neighbors created an uproar. In 1884, after repeated attempts to shut Burns’s saloon down, they formed the South Park Protective Association, led by a local resident, Frank Aldrich (5647 Washington/Blackstone), then the manager of the gas company but later a county commissioner and US congressman. Prohibition sentiment was very powerful in Hyde Park, which was predominantly middle class and Protestant. It was an important issue in Village politics and in the annexation politics of the late 1880s. Another organization, the Hyde Park Protective Association, formed in 1892 to combat the illicit trade in alcoholic beverages during the world’s fair. It became the foremost prohibitionist lobby in the city, as well as the leading upholder of public “morality.”

Our tour continues with "57th and Harper, Part 1."

South Park Walking Tour

57th and Lake Park, Pt. 2

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