Welcome to The Hyde Park Historical Society

This little building was constructed in 1893 or 1894 by the Chicago City Street Railway. It is believed to be the only building surviving in Chicago that was part of the cable car system.

At one time the railway was one of the most extensive cable car systems in the country. The line had moving underground cables, like the San Francisco system, and connected Hyde Park with the downtown area at Roosevelt Road. It, together with the Illinois Central Railroad, the Jackson Park Elevated line and lake steamers, was one of the major modes of transportation between downtown Chicago and the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park.

The Hyde Park cable car line ran along 55th Street. The cars turned south at what is now Harper Avenue to a half block past 56th street, then east to Lake Park Avenue and then north to 55th Street. The cars then turned west on 55th Street to Cottage Grove Avenue. The main powerhouse was located on the north east corner of Cottage Grove Avenue and 55th Street. The Hyde Park turnaround, which ran on a separate cable was called Cable Court. The loop was in existence for several years before the building was built.

While the exact date of the station’s construction is not known, strong evidence indicates it was erected in 1893 or 1894. It is known that the right-of-way was elevated from ground level in 1893, to eliminate grade crossings and facilitate traffic flow for the fair. Construction of the building, which is rubble stone and not brick in the sections that abut the bank of the Illinois Central tracks, indicates it was built at the time of the embankment’s construction or after it, but not before. The building was in place by 1895 because it appears on a map of the area carrying that date.

It is not entirely clear whether the building was originally used as a waiting room for passengers or as a rest area for employees. Whatever its intended use, within a few years the cable car system was abandoned. For a time the building served as a terminal and rest stop for the trolley system which replaced the cable cars. However, even that use was short lived and the surface rail lines and trolleys had been completely abandoned by 1906.

Beginning about 1898, through 1952, the building was operated as a short order restaurant by members of the Keller family, particularly Turney Keller. Later, it was the home of “Steve’s Lunch.” operated by a Steve Megales, a Greek Immigrant. According to Clyde Watkins, a founder of the Hyde Park Historical Society, the breakfast special featured two eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast and coffee and cost $.42. By 1974 the lunch room had closed and the building was being used as a storage shed for the two-wheeled carts used for delivering newspapers. The building was clearly headed for ruin.

At this point, the history of the building and the formation of The Hyde Park Historical Society converge. The idea of a historical society was initially explored by Clyde Watkins and Tom Jensen who called a public forum in the spring of 1975. Dev Bowley, Jean Block and Vicky Ranney were also among the first organizers. The society was officially chartered in January 28, 1977. At first, the Society did not have a home, but Clyde Watkins already had his eye on the building he had been fond of for many years. The Society soon purchased the building for approximately $4,000 and leased the land from the Illinois Central Railroad. Dev Bowley became the chairman of the restoration committee and brought in John Vinci to be the architect for the restoration.

A portion of John Vinci’s proposal:

No early photographs or plans of the cable car station proposed as the headquarters for the Hyde Park Historical Society have survived, and its interior has been extensively altered through the years. Therefore a comprehensive on-site investigation was necessary; this exploration has assured that the renovation will be in character with known nineteenth-century railroad stations, while providing a facility which functions well as a historical society for Hyde Park. Certain conclusions concerning the original design of the cable car station were drawn during the on-site investigation. By uncovering later remodeling work on the interior, original carpentry detailing such as moldings, sills and paneling, were revealed. Finishes and size variations of the beaded boards seem to confirm that partitions have been changed and relocated over the years. Alterations to the window north of the main entrance had been made at a later date. In order to adapt the interior for its proposed use and yet retain an authentic railroad station appearance of that period, interiors which closely resembled the Hyde Park station were examined. A station in Wilmette, similar in size and plan, was studied since it also is proposed for restoration and adaptive use. The book Waiting for the 5:05: Terminal, Station and Depot in America (New York, 1977) was a good pictorial source for interior characteristics, and furnishings for the renovated station.

The structure was stabilized and the roof replaced. The exterior was completely restored. As one can tell from the proposal, every surface of the interior had to be replaced. The beaded board paneling was newly manufactured with the same design as a small piece found on the wall. The ticket window is from the period even though there is no proof that such a window was in the original building.

The Society raised money for the restoration (approximately $45,000) through the sale of memberships and contributions and grants, including those from the Joyce Foundation, the Hyde Park Bank and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The Grand Opening was held on October 26, 1980. The opening celebration was complete with a parade from 53rd street led by police on horseback.

The building continues to be used for meetings, programs and exhibits. It is open every Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 4 pm. The Society’s archives are housed in the Special Collections Research Center of the University of Chicago Regenstein Library.

Acknowledgements to Dev Bowley, Clyde Watkins, Steven Treffman, John Vinci, and the Hyde Park Herald. Compiled by Carol Vieth

Contact Info:
Hyde Park Historical Society Headquarters
5529 S. Lake Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Phone: 773-493-1893
Email: info@hydeparkhistory.org

2014 – 2016 OFFICERS / BOARD MEMBERS

Michal Safar
Michal SafarPresident, Archivist
Michal joined the Hyde Park Historical Society in 2004 and became Archivist in 2007. She has been working since that time to acquire additional materials for the collection, and to make the collection more accessible to the local community, students, researchers and HPHS members. Additionally she has chaired the Strategic Planning Committee and is Chairman of the Jean F. Block Award Committee.
President@hydeparkhistory.org
Archives@hydeparkhistory.org
Janice A. Knox
Janice A. KnoxVice-President, Communications
Since joining the HPHS Board in 2001, Janice became the Vice President in 2002. She is Chair of Communications, Content Editor of the HPHS Website, Finance / Ticket Chair of the Annual Dinner, Chair of Board Nominations, and a docent. She is an avid collector of Chicago Ephemera and a published author of a regional history book on the Chicago “Loop.” She was an IT Executive in banking and education and is an active officer on a number of other community organization boards. She has continued to promote new technology to support HPHS operations and in increasing board membership.
VicePresident@hydeparkhistory.org
Communications@hydeparkhistory.org
Jay Wilcoxen
Jay WilcoxenTreasurer
Jay and Patricia Wilcoxen came to Hyde Park with two children in 1955, to stay “at least three years.” Sixty years and one more child later, they had lived in seven different locations in the community, only one of which still exists – Hampton House at 5300 S Shore Dr. (We moved in two months after the death of Mayor Harold Washington.) The other six locations went the way of Hyde Park urban renewal and University modernization. Pat and Jay were student, faculty, and employees of the University for forty plus years, and Jay later became involved in financial management at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and Protestants for the Common Good. He has served as Treasurer of the HPHS since 2011.Treasurer@hydeparkhistory.org
Gary Ossewaarde
Gary OssewaardeSecretary
Gary Ossewaarde came to Chicago for graduate education in history at the University of Chicago and has been fascinated by the rich history and built environment of Hyde Park and Chicago ever since. Starting with the King Tut exhibit, he developed and presented historical programs for Field Museum, researched history for the HPKCC website, and is an officer in several community organizations including Jackson Park Advisory Council . He joined the the board of the Historical Society about ten years ago and has served as its secretary since about 2010. Secretary@hydeparkhistory.org

Board Members:

Estrella R. Alamar

Andrew Call

Robert Despres

Cleveland Holden

Kathy Huff

Ruth Knack

Mark Mandle

Brigid Maniates

Joseph Marlin

Rita McCarthy

Jack Spicer

Frances Vandervoort

Carol Vieth

Claude Weil

Emeritus Members

Doug Anderson, Emeritus

Timuel Black, Emeritus

Carol Bradford, Emerita

Theresa McDermott, Emerita

Jay F. Mulberry, Emeritus

Richardson Spofford, Emeritus

Stephen A. Treffman, Emeritus

COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN

Michal Safar, Archives Chair, Strategic Chair

Cleveland Holden, Building Committee Chair

Rita McCarthy, Development Chair

Claude Weil, Membership Secretary

Frances Vandervoort, Newsletter Editor, Cornell Awards Chair

Kathy Huff  – Oral History Co-Chair

Lala Rodgers, Oral History Co-Chair

Jack Spicer, Preservation Chair, Finance Committee Chair, Despres Preservation Awards Chair

Ruth Knack, Program Chair

Carol Vieth, Volunteer Chair

Janice A. Knox, Website/Communications Chair, Emeriti & Board Nominations Chair

HPHSDinner1

HISTORY SO SOON?

Pioneer Days of the Hyde Park Historical Society

Hyde Park History, Vol. 21, NOs. 1 & 2 (Spring/Summer 1999)

A talk given by Clyde Watkins, a founder of the Society, at the annual meeting, February 20, 1999

The title of “founder” is probably undeserved, because it implies an image of some lone and far-sighted character doing things by himself.  That was never the case with us – we were a typical Hyde Park committee from the start.  If the organization we celebrate was indeed my idea, I must assume that others had at least considered it long before I ever did.  What spurred me to action, however, was the confluence of two forces in my life.

First, in the late 1960s after I was out of college – and therefore it was too late to change my major one last time – I began to develop an interest in U. S. history, especially Chicago history, between about 1870 and 1910.  Plenty of others were ahead of me in that, fortunately, and there is a lot of wonderful literature, plus many enthralling photographs, available for study.

Second, I always had a thing about that great little building.  Throughout my undergraduate years at the University, whenever I would pull an “all-nighter” in yet another vain attempt to salvage some term paper – or worse yet, an entire course – I would inevitably end up around 6:00am savoring the 42 cent special at Steve’s Lunch.  (For that price you got two eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast and coffee!)  I loved the building, and continued to fantasize about what I later learned to call “adaptive reuse.”  No doubt my first notions were along the lines of a swingin’ bachelor pad or the nightclub I yearned to run at that age.  But as I matured, I continued to watch the building through its subsequent incarnations and its decline.  I knew it was somehow associated with the great Illinois Central Station from the World’s Colombian Exposition, but at that point I wasn’t exactly sure how, and there was no one to tell me – or so I thought.

By 1974 the building had sunk to the level of a storage shed for the two-wheeled carts they used for delivering newspapers, and it was clearly headed for ruin.  Coincidentally, Albert Tannler, assistant curator of special collections at Regenstein Library at that time, had just completed the first edition of One in Spirit, the pictorial history of the University, and it captivated me, primarily because of its many references to the concurrent development (or disintegration and redevelopment) of the neighborhood.  And that was the moment of my epiphany.  A local historical society could undertake the research and preservation of its past in context of the city of Chicago and the nation.  And such an organization could house itself in my favorite structure (the true identity of which I now appreciated).  Let the psycho-historians ponder which was the means and which the end, in my mind the two were linked from the start.

Hyde Park Historical Society Building, Formerly Steve’s Lunch

Hyde Park Historical Society Building, Formerly Steve’s Lunch

Here are a few dates and events that led to our eventual founding:

April/May, 1975

Tom Jensen, a U-High classmate, and I organized the first public forum to discuss the establishment of a proposed “Hyde Park-Kenwood Historical League.”  We met at St. Thomas Church and Len Despres was our speaker.  (I cannot find the exact date, but I believe a copy of the flyer from the meeting is already in our Ferriswheel.)

June 24, 1975

Several of us met at Jean Block’s apartment for lunch to discuss how to get organized and moving.  It took a while, as it turned out.

January 13, 1976

A larger formation was hosted by Victoria Ranney in her home.

March 22, 1976

Another planning meeting was hosted by Thelma Dahlberg at her home, followed by yet another in April. These meetings continued throughout the following eight months.

June 15, 1976

My calendar indicates that this was my first meeting with Win Kennedy to discuss acquiring the building.

November 8, 1976

Jean and I called on Muriel Beadle to ask her to become our first president.  She agreed on the spot and decreed that the name of the organization would be the Hyde Park Historical Society.  She hosted our first official board meeting at her home two weeks later on November 22.

January 28, 1978

The Hyde Park Historical Society received its official charter as an Illinois not-for-profit corporation.

March 27, 1978

Robert and Lucille Rouse, owners of 5529 South Lake Park, finally signed the bill of sale for the property, for $4,000, after continued and heroic efforts by Len Despres to close the deal.  Kennedy, Ryan, Monigal Associates was our agent.

February 2, 1979

Our first lease for the land under our building was signed with the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad – five years at $20 per year.

July 20, 1980

The “Completion Fund,” our $45,000 capital campaign to purchase and renovate the headquarters, kicked off on July 4, 1978, initiated by a “Charter Membership” drive for 100 members at $100 each.  Encouraged by a $10,000 challenge grant from the Field Foundation of Illinois, the drive was successfully concluded.  Jean Block was instrumental in this effort.

October 26, 1980

The Grand Opening of our magnificently renovated and restored new headquarters took place, thanks to Dev Bowly’s endless talent, work and sacrifice.  We began with a parade down Lake Park Avenue and concluded with speeches that will live forever, assuming anyone remembered to keep notes, which I doubt.

Some of the earliest board members are still serving: Dev Bowly, Carol Bradford, Alta Blakely and Richardson Spofford.  Other early members were Ted Anderson, Margaret Fallers, Gary Husted, Muriel Beadle, Jean Block, Berenece Boehm, Randy Holgate, Anita Anderson, Michael Conzen, Rory Shanley-Brown, Thelma Dahlberg, Phillis Kelly, Betty Borst, Eleanor Swift, Leon Despres, Charles Beckett, Maggie Bevacqua, Malcolm Collier, Emma Kemp, Gerhardt Laves, John McDermott, and Clyde Watkins.

HPHS Board of Directors, 1999:

Alice Schlessinger, President

Winston Kennedy, Vice President

Roland Bailey, Treasurer

Margaret Matchett, Secretary

Stephen Treffman, Archivist

Douglas Anderson, Robert Bator, Bert Benade, Alta Blakely, Devereaux Bowly, Carol Bradford, James Comiskey, Leon Despres, Iris Frank, , Theresa McDermott, Soubretta Skyles, Richardson Spofford.