Blackstone Avenue

E 58th St & S Blackstone Ave Chicago

South Park Walking Tour/Blackstone Avenue
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:

Blackstone Avenue

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."
Blackstone Avenue (Audio for Web)

5805 Blackstone was the home of John Hope Franklin. He was the historian who established African American history as an important and legitimate area of study. His 1947 book, "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans", was an important landmark. Franklin was also well known as a collector of orchids, which he tended in a greenhouse he built on the top floor of the house. In the 1980s, the University of Chicago presented him with an orchid that was named in his honor. Later, an orchid was also named for his late wife Aurelia. Across the street, 5806 Blackstone was the work of architect Bertrand Goldberg, a native of Hyde Park. Recent owners have changed it by enclosing the bottom level and painting the concrete. The original owner was Ralph Helstein. A native of Minnesota, he became a lawyer because he did not see his name on a list of students who passed an exam for medical school. His name was omitted in error but by that time the die was cast. In the thirties, he became a lawyer for the Packinghouse Workers union in Minnesota. The national union brought him to Chicago as its legal counsel in 1942. He was elected president of the Packinghouse Workers of America in 1946. Even within the CIO, the more militant of the two national labor federations, Helstein was regarded as a progressive. In the fifties, he became a confidante of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement leadership.

A few doors north and back across the street, at 5757 Blackstone, was the home of William E. Dodd. He was also a historian, a historian of the American South. In 1933, he was looking for a quiet posting abroad so that he could finish a book. Instead, on the strength of his facility in the German language, for he had received his Ph.D in Germany, he became the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, just as Hitler took power. Erik Larson told the story of his time in Berlin, and the more interesting story of his high spirited but amoral daughter Martha, in his 2011 book, "In the Garden of Beasts". Continuing north, 5747 Blackstone was the home of Harold Ickes. Ickes was the secretary of the Interior and the director of the Public Works Administration in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration. He was a graduate of the college in 1897. Afterwards he worked as a journalist and studied at the University of Chicago Law School. Anna Wilmarth Thompson and her husband, Professor James Westfall Thompson, another historian, invited him to live in their home. Anna Thompson was a classmate in college and James Thompson was an acquaintance from his college days. We don’t know exactly what happened, but the Thompsons divorced, he and James Thompson moved out of the house the same day, and Harold Ickes married Anna Thompson a few months later. On the site of the townhouses from 5716 Blackstone to 5720 Blackstone on the west side of the street was the Harvard Hotel. It was built in the 1890s as a world’s fair hotel and torn down in the 1960s.

At the corner, at 5702 Blackstone, was the residence of Kenesaw Mountain Landis. His father fought in the Civil War in an Ohio regiment and named him for a battle in Georgia in which he was wounded. Landis was a lawyer and a judge, appointed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt. He lived at 5702 Blackstone for most of his time on the federal bench. In 1907, he presided over a trial involving the Standard Oil Company of Indiana. He called John D. Rockefeller as a witness and levied a $29 million fine for violating the federal antitrust statutes. During World War I, he presided over the trials of radicals and draft resisters. One was Big Bill Hayward, a leader of the Wobblies, who fled to Moscow rather than serve the harsh sentence that Landis imposed. After the Black Sox baseball scandal broke in 1920, the baseball owners asked Landis to become the first commissioner of baseball. Landis banned 8 White Sox players for life. He served as baseball commissioner until his death in 1944. During his early years as commissioner, he lived in the Chicago Beach Hotel at 51st on the Lake. I now ask that you return to the corner of 57th and Harper, our last stop on the tour.

Our tour concludes with "57th and Harper, Part 2."

South Park Walking Tour

Blackstone Avenue

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