Vintage Digs

Anna Fixsen

9105 South Perry Avenue, the former residence of Charles and Sydonia Brooks, is a squat little home near the Dan Ryan Expressway. The plain façade is covered with flat buff stones and scant decoration, but last weekend, the trim green square of lawn outside sported a white sign proclaiming, “Estate Sale.”

When I first heard about this sale, my salivary glands went into overdrive. The event was billed as an “Urban Dig,” and its webpage warned against overflowing queues: “We ask that you be respectful of the line. Don’t jump it or play games. Ladies, you know who you are!” I obediently took note.

An Orange Moon, a mid-century modern furniture store in Gage Park, partnered with the Brooks family to run the estate sale after they heard about it from a friend. Lynne McDaniel, co-owner of An Orange Moon, greeted all guests with hugs, smiles, and Coronas.

For the duration of the event, the Brooks family basement had been converted into a full-blown vintage boutique, emulating An Orange Moon’s hip aesthetic. Tables pushed together displayed Mrs. Brooks’ extensive shoe collection, each pair still in its original shoebox, sporting heavyweight labels like Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, and Salvatore Ferragamo. Around the tables stood rack upon rack of colorful clothing.

“Go grab a Corona–they’re in the fridge,” Lynne said, gesturing to the next room. I went to the kitchen, where Chicago Cubs coffee mugs and bone-white casserole dishes were neatly arranged on the Formica countertop with orange price tags. As I pulled on the handle of the fridge, I noticed a yellow Post-it note: “Call this number if the power goes out…” It’s a strange feeling, being in someone else’s house, pouring through their things and taking beer from their fridge.

Charles and Sydonia Brooks were no ordinary couple. Mr. Brooks was a seasoned World War II veteran, and his father served in the infamous Buffalo regiment during the Spanish-American war. Mrs. Brooks received her PhD in music and was the principal at a local elementary school for decades. In 1991, Mayor Richard M. Daley even designated April 29 “Dr. Sydonia Brooks Day.” And now, their home was open to the public–a treasure trove of South Side history.

Entering their home was like stepping back several decades into a Mad Men-era Chicago, a modern design fanatic’s paradise. A gleaming orange vinyl sofa sat atop sea-foam green shag carpeting. Shelves were covered with hefty musical scores and books about Harold Washington and golfing. Although the place was tidy for the sale, when the McDaniels got to the place, it was a mess to be reckoned with. “Apparently looters got here before we did. They stole cash and ransacked the place,” assistant Roger Fierro said, shrugging. The team at An Orange Moon spent weeks getting everything back in order.

Glimpses into the couple’s lives surfaced everywhere around the house. Their living room sofa was covered with an assemblage of sepia-toned photos. A gold frame held a candid shot of a young Mrs. Brooks sporting a radiant smile and bobby socks. Another showed a wedding replete with bridesmaids posing uncomfortably in puffy 1950s tulle dresses. Faded photographs from Mr. Brooks’s military days were also incorporated into the mix. Articles from the couple’s personal lives appeared to be part of the draw. “I am here to see what Mr. Brooks was like,” one visitor confessed. “I was their neighbor for forty years.”