Hyde Park

Temple Shipley

Walking south along Kenwood Avenue at 54th street with his mother, a young Stephen Treffman noticed that the sky was falling.  What began as just another steamy day in June of 1944 had suddenly become a snow globe as peach colored pamphlets fluttered down from the Hyde Park heavens.  That day, a single air transport plane was dropping one million pamphlets as part of FDR’s “Citizen’s D-Day” initiative, a political campaign designed to compel citizens to buy more war bonds. And boy, did Hyde Park buy war bonds. United under one sky, Hyde Park residents of all affiliations mobilized to invest over 4.5 million dollars in support of the war effort. Even for the Windy City, this was remarkable weather. But even more remarkable was the community’s united response, which marked a stark contrast to Hyde Park’s otherwise fractioned history.

Since its founding in 1853, Hyde Park has been overcast with a divided sky. The demographic make-up of this community has continued to evolve over the years under multiple urban planning initiatives, but fault lines have continued to divide the community–UofC affiliates versus community members, internationals versus natives, neoliberal thinkers versus community activists, and many more. As was the case with the infamous racially-motivated killing of Eugene Williams in 1919 in Lake Michigan, tensions between these different groups have on numerous occasions reached their boiling points. Today, such frictions continue to manifest themselves, as has been illustrated by the campaign to introduce a Level 1 Trauma center to the University of Chicago Hospital, and the University’s failed bid to buy the home of the Southside Hub of Production (affectionately known as SHoP), a place considered by many to be the lifeblood of communitarianism in Hyde Park.  As the much-exhausted axiom goes: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it tends to rhyme.

Whilst it’s undeniable that our social fabric today is still largely divided, certain pioneers have started stitching back together the Hyde Park sky. Notable examples of this include the Blackstone Bicycle Works (located 6100 S. Blackstone) which, in the context of a full-service bike shop, teaches mechanical skills, job skills, and business literacy to underserved boys and girls of the Hyde Park community.   Blackstone Bikes is a staple to University affiliates and locals alike, and thus intertwines multiple Hyde Park demographics by promoting positive interdependence and symbiotic relationships.  Similarly, SHoP acts as an organic meeting ground for Hyde Parkers of all backgrounds, without the pretense of advocacy or presumptuous philanthropy.  Our 21st century version of “Citizen’s D-Day” too is dawning as the presidential election creeps ever-closer, given that locals are largely rallying behind Obama, a long-time Hyde Park resident.  With such unifying phenomena in the works this year, it might be worth keeping an eye on the sky.

Best Frill-Free Fusion
Rajun Cajun
Rajun Cajun isn’t East meets West; it’s East meets West’s mom, who makes the best soul food on the block. Tucked away on 53rd street between Blackstone and Harper, the small Indian/American restaurant doesn’t look like much, but those who venture in are destined to become regulars. The wall by their cash register hosts a collage of postcards from loyal clientele. “Hi from Iraq,” one reads, and “I miss my curry dinner” on another. The single counter of metal trays offers a mix of Indian and Soul cuisine that’s all about comfort. Indian offerings include lamb curry and creamy butter chicken, and though the fare doesn’t stray too far past mild, thick mango lassis will take the sting off if you still can’t handle the heat. At a dollar a piece, hearty samosas feed a crowd and come with sweet and spicy sauce. The American basics are just that–mac and cheese that’s one part mac and two parts smooth and gooey cheese sauce. Crispy fried chicken and collard greens add to a lip-smacking take-out bag. Why stick with one genre when you can have two? A mismatched meal of spiced main dishes and soulful sides is perfect for the end of a long day, or the beginning of a long night. 1459 East 53rd St #5  Chicago, IL 60615. (773)955-1145. Mon-Sat. 11am-9:30pm; Sun 12-8pm. (Hannah Nyhart)

Best Taste of Fried History
Harold’s Chicken Shack No. 14
In the unassuming strip mall-like landscape of Kimbark Plaza, the fast food establishment Harold’s Chicken Shack offers HP pilgrims a chance to get in touch with the earth beneath their feet: Harold’s is Hyde Park’s anchor to the South Side. Their slogan “one bite, and we gotcha” is more than just a testament of customer loyalty to its fantastically succulent fried chicken. One bite into the hot, tender meat triggers your lens to zoom out, obliging you to digest the reality of your context: this is the South Side of Chicago, and its history doesn’t come as a side-order. The restaurant’s modest interior–the bullet-proof partition separating patrons and the cashier, the cramped booths, and red plastic benches–embodies the franchise’s 50 year history of serving traditionally “rough” communities. The Chicken Shack was founded on the South Side in 1950, and originally served patrons that white businesses refused to host.  A poster child of Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of how economic power can sow the seeds of social progress, America’s race problem soon became founder Harold Pierce’s gain. But Harold’s success story transcends mere dollars, cents, and a killer secret recipe. “The Chicken King” is a cultural behemoth on the South Side, having been endorsed by Obama and featured in a Kanye West music video. Considering that this cultural and historical feast (cleverly disguised as a half-size Chicken meal doused in mild sauce) rings up for a mere 5 dollars, Harold’s sure delivers a lot of bang for your buck. 1208 East 53rd Street. Mon-Sun: 11am-11pm. (773)752-9260. (Joy Crane)

Best Used Book Smell
O’Gara & Wilson
The Shakespeare and Company of Hyde Park, O’Gara & Wilson, Ltd. Used and Antiquarian Bookstore, rewards bibliophiles with all their favorite clichés; from an owner donned in tweed to used Agatha Christie paperbacks. But also in store are a few surprises–a chess library, rare books from the now defunct Meadville-Lombard Theological School, and a life-sized stuffed scribal monk transcribing early manuscripts “acquired” from the Museum of Science and Industry. Whilst not the place to purchase an Oprah’s Book Club reading list, the bookstore offers an astonishingly wide range in both genre and age of texts, a selection literally bursting out of the store’s modest holdings. O’Gara & Wilson is Chicago’s oldest used book store, and despite having relocated numerous times, it still has the ambiance to prove it–towering musty bookshelves, a stuffed moose head, and that old-book smell. Whether you’re seeking a haven of slow culture or a first-edition 1939 translation of Mein Kampf (as the inside flap mentions, no royalties were paid to Hitler), it’s no surprise that Saul Bellow once deemed this establishment “the best bookstore in America.” 1448 E. 57th St. Monday-Friday, 11am-7pm; Saturday, 11am-8pm; Sunday, 12pm-6pm. (773)363-0993. ogaraandwilson.com (Joy Crane)

Best Morning After Meal
Valois
Since 1921, “Vuh-loyz” has been dishing up comfort food in more-than-fair portions for more-than-fair prices to the residents of Hyde Park. Valois pays homage to the old-school dining experience; this made-to-order, cash-only, cafeteria-style eatery, with its murals, Formica tables, and amusingly brash (but reliably efficient) staff has offered an invigorating dose of true Chicago culture to countless hung-over Hyde Parkers. For around $5, the Valois omelette religious experience will inspire a thinly-veiled derision toward any other breakfast establishment. The  $3.10 pancakes (3) with fruit and $1.25 hash browns have subtly evolved into a dietary staple of many residents. More recently, Valois has unwittingly become a tourist attraction due to a handful of well-documented visits by Obama. In 2008, Valois even received a shout-out in the New York Times.  But in spite of the fanfare, Valois has remained relatively unchanged (apart from a lackluster re-branding effort which led to the re-naming of certain menu items as  “President Obama’s Favorites”). Valois is also a crossroads of different Hyde Park demographics: UofC affiliates, high school students, local families, and old timers. 1518 E. 53rd St. Monday-Sunday, 5:30am-10:00pm. (773)667-0647. valoisrestaurant.com (Lina Li and Joy Crane)

 

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1 comment for “Hyde Park

  1. Darious Williams
    November 24, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I would very much like addresses to restaurant sites on the Southside. I concur that we do need to be more health concious & it starts with what goes in our mouth. Next it’s what goes in our minds that nourish the soul. Although this order may not be accurate. It all works out for the good. Contact me at your earliest convenience… Shalom

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