First Annual Preservation Award to Marian and Leon Despres in February, 2005

Formal award description, Despres Preservation Award

It is a great honor for the Hyde Park Historical Society to give its first annual Preservation Award to Marian and Leon Despres. For more than fifty years they have nurtured the movement to save our city's architectural heritage. In a real sense they are the parents of preservation in Chicago.

In 1957 Len, newly elected alderman from the 5th Ward, adopted Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House sa it sat unwanted and threatened by its legal guardian. This successful effort to save "America's first modern house" gave birth to the City Landmarks Commission which then chose 39 buildings as "honorary" landmarks. That body grew up to become the present Commission on Chicago Landmarks which was empowered by Desres's 1968 city ordinance to select and protect 12 important buildings as our first official Chicago Landmarks. Three of those original designations were in Hyde Park. In 1960 Mr. Despres and friends formed the Chicago Heritage Committee and walked the picket lines to defend Louis Sullivan's Garrick Theater, threatened to be demolished for a parking garage. This vigil, and a similar one to save Sullivan's Chicago Stock Exchange in 1972, could not prevent the loss of these two important members of our architectural community. But even those failed efforts strengthened the growing preservation movement by leading to the birth of organizations like the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois and by raising a new public consciousness of the value and worldwide fame of Chicago's "outdoor museum" of historic buildings.

In 1965 Marian Despres and a small group of friends bought and began to nurse back to health the long-neglected Glesner House. Under Marian's caret he house as become a remarkable museum, the only H.H. Richardson house in the country open to the public, and the anchor of the Prairie Avenue Historic District. From her efforts at the Glessner House grew the Chicago Architecture Foundation with its world famous docent progrm. She served on the CAF Board from 1970 to 1975 and as its President in 1976 and 1977. Marian also served on the Landmarks Commission form 1983 until 2003, where she inspired the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, the comprehensive inventory of Chicago's historical and architecturally significant resources--the most complete listing ever compiled by a major city in this country. Both of the Despres were active in the formation of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference where Marian created the "Segments of the Past" project documenting 866 buildings that were demolished during Urban Renewal.

Beyond saving buildings, passing laws and forming organizations, Marian and Len Despres have fostered a strong, vigorous preservation movement in Chicago. They've helped raise an extended family of preservationists that will survive and grow for many generations to come.

 Cornell Award Winner for 2004
Ken Dunn
For a life devoted to the service and enlightenment of our community

2004 Jean Block Award
Timuel D. Black, Jr.

For the publication of "Bridges of Memory: Chicago's First Wave of Black Migration", a work culminating a lifetime of work for justice and truth.


Cornell Award Winners for 2003
Deborah Gillaspie
For creating the Chicago Jazz Archive at the Regenstein Library

The Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company
For Performing beautifully as amateurs since 1960

Andrzej Dajnowski, The Ferguson Fund of the Art Institute and the Chicago Park Dlistrict
For their conmbined efforts in rescuing Lorado Taft's masterpiece "The Fountain of Tlime".

Presentation of the Paul Cornell Award to Gwendolyn Brooks in 2000

Remembering Gwendolyn Brooks
by Stephen A. Treffman, HPHS Archivist

"May the New Century SING to you."

At our last annual meeting, HPHS had to be satisfied with giving Gwendolyn Brooks an award in absentia. In lieu of placing the Paul Cornell Award into her hands, we sent it to her accompanied by a copy of Bert Benade's remarks along with a report on how receptive our board and membership had been to the idea of granting her our award. In an enthusiastic response, Ms. Brooks sent the Society two books, warmly inscribed, along with a note gently reminding us that she was a working writer, one who wrote to be read, not celebrated. All the punctuation is hers.

March 9, 2000 Hi! I thank you for your beautiful Tribute! "Read" these books (!-as if you have TIME Galore!)before delivering to the Library Gratefully Gwen Brooks (I thank you ALL for honoring me!)\ She gave us the second volume of her "autobiography," Report from Part Two. (Chicago, Third World Press, 1996) The inscription reads: For the Library of the Hyde Park Historical Society. (May the New Century SING to you!) Three large pink post-it-notes were inserted indicating stories she especially wanted us to notice: "My Mother," "In Ghana," and "Black Woman in Russia." The other book is a self-published work, Children Coming Home (Chicago, 1991). It consists of short poems expressing the reflections of children under stress as they arrive home from school.

Remarks by Bert Benade

Our final awardee is the Poet Laureate of Illinois, Gwendolyn Brooks. We are sorry that she cannot be with us tonight. But, in a way, I am fortunate that she isn,'t here because she might protest the bits and pieces of her life that I want to share with you.

In 1972 she published her autobiography. It is not about chronology but process, and, though the book stops in the year 1972, her process of enrichment has continued.

She was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1917, and was three years old when her family moved to Chicago. Here she had many homes: 46th and Lake Park, 56th and Lake Park, 43rd and Champlain, among others. And now she lives south of 55th Street on South Shore Drive.

At age seven, she started rhyming words and by eleven was putting poems in notebooks-still in her possession. Her mother told her she would be "a lady Paul Lawrence Dunbar someday." Her family was warm and supportive, but she chose to be a loner who wrote poetry. She attended high school at Hyde Park Branch, Englewood and Wendell Phillips and then went on to Wilson Junior college. As a young teen-ager she sent her work to well-known poets, among them Langston Hughes who responded enthusiastically and with whom she remained friends for life.

Later on, when Oscar Brown Jr. helped the Blackstone Rangers create "Opportunity Please Knock," he asked her to review it. She was so taken by the project that she stayed with the Rangers to help them write and develop it. (Incidentally, "Opportunity Please Knock" was an exhilarating piece of theater.)

She went on Freedom Rides and slowly realized how deep and unconscious discrimination can be. She notes that even in Merriam Webster's Dictionary it shows up. When you look up the word "black," one of the meanings is given as "opposite of white." However, when you look up "white", there is no mention of "black."

For her, integration then began to mean when Negroes (the educated, professional elite) embraced equally all Blacks (the masses). Not having an "earned" degree, she now has a whole string of Honorary Doctorates and many other accolades, but the ones she loves come from elsewhere. She speaks about a note from a 16 year old boy who was going to quit school until he heard her recite her poem "We Real Cool." "Now I know there is no place like school, I would want to tell her how I feel inside my heart."

Gwendolyn Brooks never stops growing. In 1971, she flew for the first time and loved it "because it opened up new horizons-being airborne." She speaks with an open heart and doesn't have rules that constrain her. One of her contemporaries says of her, "She is the continuing storm that walks the English language as lions walk in Africa." Her convictions, her strengths and her commitment come out of an exciting and inspiring life. Ours is an Historical Society and the Cornell Award is intended to confer recognition upon persons who have preserved or extended our understanding and appreciation of Hyde Park's history. Gwendolyn Brooks' contribution has been to give voice and perspective to the story of the African American community which has developed within and become so important to the history of Chicago's south side and to Hyde Park. In the process she has enriched the lives of all of us.

Paul Cornell Awards Committee, 2000
Bert Benade, Chair
Devereaux Bowley
Stephen A. Treffman


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