The good old days

This wasn’t the kind of history you’d find in a textbook. Last Sunday, the Hyde Park Historical Society invited some of the area’s most senior denizens to share accounts of their neighborhood as it once was.

Filling the pews of the Augustana Church at 55th and Woodlawn Avenue, the event, titled “Hyde Park-Kenwood Stories: Remember the Good Old Days In and Around Hyde Park,” was organized and moderated by Lala Rodgers and Kathy Huff, co-chairs of the group’s oral history committee. The stories were recorded and will be added to the society’s archive of recordings from the 1980s and ’90s as part of its oral history project.

For most of the afternoon, residents presented their quirky and personal perspectives on mid-20th century Hyde Park life. Mike McGuire described his first teenage job at Supreme Jewelers on 53rd Street and how he came to own the business. Multiple speakers reminisced about Bob Katzman, known to many as the industrious young man who brought newsstands to Lake Park Avenue in the mid ’60s. The audience learned the backstory behind the recent restoration of a neon sign that belonged to a now closed children’s shoe store. At times, it seemed that in hearing these stories, the audience was being given a seat at the Sunday dinner table of a large, tight-knit family.

Presenters were proud to announce the addresses of childhood homes, to share what their parents had done in the community, and to remember friendships with various legendary characters in the history of the neighborhood. At one point a gentleman described his childhood interaction with a man who lived to see the failure of many early attempts to pave Hyde Park’s streets. Stories like this one painted a picture of a neighborhood strikingly different from the one we know now.

The afternoon was framed by nostalgia for the era just before the “urban renewal” projects of the late ’50s and ’60s. Residents yearned for the time of diverse, locally-run institutions that served as anchors for the community’s industry and pride. One speaker criticized the University for painting its current development initiatives as major enhancements. “I often get upset when the university claims that a project of theirs has upgraded the neighborhood. What do they think all of us were doing around here beforehand?”

But the forum was not just a space to reminisce on “better times.” The reflections gave old friends a chance to catch up on how they’ve been affected by development in the present. Chatting about the glory days brought old Hyde Parkers back together to take stock of what’s to come.