Overview of neighborhood
Hyde Park is, hands down, Chicago’s most presidential neighborhood, considering it’s where President Barack Obama and his family lived—and still maintain a home—before upsizing to the White House. Aside from its most famous resident, the neighborhood, located on the South Side of Chicago, abutting Lake Michigan, is best known as the home to the prestigious University of Chicago. It’s also where the first sustained nuclear chain occurred, and is associated with 89-and-counting Nobel Prizes. The area, which is home to many students, professors and intellectuals, is rich with museums, as well as bookstores, cafes, parks and art galleries. Hyde Park is also known for the strides its made in racial integration—a true accomplishment in Chicago, which remains an incredibly segregated city.
Hyde Park is bounded by Washington Park and Cottage Grove Ave. on the west and Lake Michigan on the east, while 51st Street/Hyde Park Boulevard is the northern edge and Midway Plaisance is the southern boundary. The neighborhood is located about seven miles from the Loop, which is the name for Chicago’s main business district. Public transportation will get here in about 15 to 45 minutes, depending on which route you choose. The Metra Electric commuter train is the quickest, followed by the Jackson Park No. 6 Express Bus and the No. 2 Hyde Park Express Bus. The Red and Green lines are also options.
Hyde Park is a beautiful slice of Chicago’s South Side, known for its intellectual prowess, architecture (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Frederick C. Robie house is located here, along with a number of stunning Victorian mansions and Prairie-style homes), museums and green spaces, where families and students mix. It stands as its own urban oasis, but is surrounded by neighborhoods that aren’t quite as utopian, and their names are associated with high crime rates. Residents are well aware of the neighboring risks, and travel outside of Hyde Park with caution. The area is home to a number of parks, including the namesake Hyde Park, and is within walking distance of Lake Michigan, where the Lakefront Trail, a walking/jogging/biking path, gives way to 18 miles of waterfront exploration. Hyde Park has long been home to student-friendly bars and restaurants, art galleries, shops, funky coffee houses, and, in recent years, is seeing more fine-dining establishments open. Surrounding neighborhoods include Kenmore, Woodlawn and Bronzeville.
The University of Chicago is the vibrant center of Hyde Park, with its gothic spires, art dedicated to nuclear energy, modern architecture and, of course, the many brainy students and professors (and their families) who call the area home. To the east, a number of high rises jut into the sky, lapping up the gorgeous views of Lake Michigan and Chicago’s skyline. Promontory Point, a large park along the lake, is a popular spot for picnics and sunbathing, and the 57th Street Beach is a great spot for playing in the lake’s chilly waves. In addition to the Museum of Science and Industry, the many museums, which include the DuSable Museum of African American History, The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the Smart Museum of Art, draw visitors and residents, alike, while the area’s parks and gardens, such as the Japanese Osaka Garden and Jackson Park, offer quiet respite from the urban buzz.
In the 1850s, Hyde Park became the first real suburb of Chicago. About 40 years later, in 1892 and 1893, the area drew attention from around the world, with the opening of the University of Chicago, followed by the World’s Columbian Exposition, aka the World’s Fair, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to America. To the tune of $30 million, 650 acres were transformed into an extravagant city within a city (which introduced electricity and the world’s first Ferris wheel), drawing 27 millions visitors in just five months. Today, one of the few opulent buildings that remain from the fair is the Palace of Fine Arts, also known as the Museum of Science and Industry.
In the 1950s, Hyde Park went through a period of racial transition, as African Americans moved in and the predominantly white residents began leaving. In response, the University of Chicago created an urban renewal plan—one of the largest in the country—that worked towards addressing racial issues and focused on integration and redevelopment. Today, other neighborhoods in Chicago could learn a lot from the area’s successful integration.
5132 S. Woodlawn Ave., The Heller House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
1332 E. 49th St., The Blossom House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
4852 S. Kenwood Ave., The McArthur House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
5046 S. Greenwood Ave., President Barack Obama’s house