57th and Stony Island

Stony Island & 57th Drive Chicago

South Park Walking Tour/57th and Stony Island
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 Stony Island

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 Stony Island (Audio for Web)

Stony Island Avenue was called Hyde Park Ave, then Jackson Park Ave, and finally Stony Island Ave. In the 1870s, it was extended south of 67th to the namesake Stony Island. Stony Island was a 25 ft limestone outcropping that rose above the prairie and marshes, and was described by the early settlers as an “island.” Stony Island extended from 91st to 94th and from Kingston to Stony Island Ave, in an area now called “Calumet Heights.” Blue Island was another similar feature. Stony Island Ave became the major thoroughfare to the Calumet marshes and South Chicago. Jackson Park was part of South Park, one of several suburban park systems created by state legislation in 1869. Lincoln Park was another. Paul Cornell played a central role in its genesis, perhaps inspired by the popularity of East End Park, a public green space he established on the lakefront between 51st and 53rd. For many years, Cornell was the only Hyde Park member of the South Park System board. In 1871, the board commissioned a plan for South Park from Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (vox). They had already created their masterpieces in New York, Central Park in Manhattan in 1857 and Prospect Park in Brooklyn in 1867. They named the lakefront portion the Lower Division and the inland portion the Upper Division, joined by the Midway Plaisance. The Lower Division was later Lake Park and then, after a public referendum in 1881, Jackson Park after President Andrew Jackson. Most of Jackson Park remained wild and undeveloped until the 1890s. The exception was the northern portion bordering Hyde Park. In the park at the foot of 57th, across the street from where you are standing, was a small lake called Twin Lakes. It had two lobes, crossed in the center by a cast iron bridge. At the foot of 56th St, Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root designed a beach house called the Jackson Park Refectory. They also built a women’s comfort station, or restroom, further east in line with 58th St. It is the oldest structure in the park, located beside the staff parking lot east of the Museum of Science and Industry.

In 1890, Chicago won a competition with New York for congressional approval to host a World’s Fair to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage. At the time, Jackson Park was one of several possible sites in the city under consideration. It had the advantage of being large, open, and largely undeveloped; it had the disadvantage of distance from the city center and its train stations and hotels. The development of the fair grounds was a monumental undertaking. Forty thousand workers helped build it and operate it. The South Side elevated extended its tracks to 63rd St and across 63rd to Jackson Park. The Illinois Central elevated its tracks and other railroads built spurs into the southwest corner of Jackson Park. The neighborhoods around the fair grounds, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, and South Shore had a building boom, with dozens of new hotels and hundreds of new residences going up, some temporary, some permanent. The planning for the fair took so long that the city missed the actual anniversary of Columbus’s landfall in October 1892. Instead it held a dedication in Oct 1892 and opened the fair in May 1893. It closed six months later in Oct 1893. Altogether, 27 million people attended. By comparison, the population of the United States in 1890 was 93 million. The biggest day was Chicago Day, on the 22nd anniversary of the Chicago Fire, 9 Oct, when 716,000 attended.

The main structure at this end of fairgrounds was the Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Charles Atwood, an associate of Daniel Burnham. It faced south toward the North Pond, now the Columbian Basin. After the fair, it became the Columbian Museum in 1894 and then the Field Museum, after its benefactor, from 1905 to 1921. In 1929, with the help of a gift from Julius Rosenwald, it became the Museum of Science and Industry, rebuilt in durable limestone. The Palace of Fine Arts was surrounded by state pavilions. Facing the 57th St entrance was the Northwest Pond, the former “Twin Lakes.” On its east side, on the north side of a lane, was the Nebraska pavilion and on the south side the South Dakota Pavilion. Continuing east, behind the Palace of Fine Arts were MN, LA, MO, and PA in a west cluster and NY, MA, VT, and ME in an east cluster. On the lake, east of the east “annex” or wing of the Palace of Fine Arts was the French Pavilion (The Illinois Building, the largest of all, was tucked between the North Pond and the Lagoon). The Jackson Park Refectory, the beachhouse at 56th, was converted into a pavilion for the state of Iowa. It was demolished to make way for the extension of Lake Shore Drive to 57th St in the late twenties. Today’s Iowa Building on 56th at Everett is a later addition, unrelated except by proximity.

The world’s fairgrounds was surrounded by hotels and other, private attractions. At the north end of the park was the Hotel Windermere on the NW corner of 56th and Cornell, opposite the other Hyde Park entrance. Behind the Refectory/Iowa Building on 56th St was the shell of the Spectatorium, an extravaganza depicting Columbus’s voyage on full scale replicas of his caravels. It folded even before the fair opened. Down Stony at 58th, opposite the California Building, was the Model Sunday School, which registered 1.9 million visitors. On both sides of 57th St from Stony to the Illinois Central tracks were concession stands. They became the home of the Jackson Park Art Colony. In the aughts and teens, the Art Colony’s writers included Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Ben Hecht, Edgar Lee Masters, Carl Sandberg, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Floyd Dell. Bodenheim and Hecht founded a little theater in one of the shops, performing one act plays written by Hecht and Kenneth Sawyer Goodman, namesake of the Goodman Theater. In the 20s, Albert Dunham, a University of Chicago graduate, founded the Cube, which became a gathering place for African American artists. They included Dunham’s sister Katherine, also a University of Chicago student, who established the Ballet Nègre there. The Art Colony was demolished during urban renewal in the sixties.

Later, in 1916, the Illinois Central opened a hospital at 5744 Stony Island, first as a service for its employees, then serving the community more broadly. It had 125 beds and was in the Georgian Revival style. The east campus of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in now on the site. On this corner is the national headquarters of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a national sorority and service organizations for African American women. It was founded at Howard Univ in 1908; its second chapter, Beta, was established at the University of Chicago in 1913. AKA’s members have included many of the most accomplished African American women in the country, including Georgiana Simpson, the recipient of the first Ph.D awarded to an African American woman here at the University of Chicago, and Maudelle Brown Bousfield, the first African American principal in the Chicago Public Schools, at Wendell Phillips High School. AKA moved its national headquarters to Chicago in 1949. This building dates to 1985.

Our tour continues with "57th and Lake Park, Part 2."

South Park Walking Tour

57th and Stony Island

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