I first set foot in Hyde Park when I was 14. Mrs. Kitchel had taken Vicksburg High’s Biology Club on a field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. After horsing around the many exhibits, boarding the U-505 submarine, and descending into the coal mine, it was time to clown for the cameras. Some of my friends crawled into that old car for a tintype.
In front: Tim, Rupe, Sam. Back: Al, Shorty, Rod. Eric (Rupe) was and is my best friend. Sam came close in his later years up to his unfortunate premature death (1).
The Museum is a massive piece of neo-classical limestone standing on the north edge of Jackson Park, not far from Lake Michigan..
It is the sole remaining on-site structure from the World’s Fair convened to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s 1492 discovery of America, the Columbia Exposition of 1893, which introduced the Ferris wheel and widespread electrical lighting. The building served as the Palace of Fine Art then and stood empty until 1933 when, after having its plaster facade rebuilt in limestone 1928-32 it opened as the Museum of Science and Industry, during the City’s Century of Progress Exhibition (2). The next largest surviving building from that fair was one of the few built downtown in Grant Park, not in Jackson/Hyde Park, and now houses the Art Institute of Chicago. The Dutch Cocoa House – modeled after the Franeker, Netherlands, City Hall – serves as a multi-residential building in Brookline, Massachusetts. The Pabst pavilion was built in Milwaukee and returned to Captain Pabst’s estate after the fair. That estate is now a museum, and the old Pavilion serves as a its gift shop. A little ticket booth from the Fair survived and now resides next to the de Caro House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park. The Norway Pavilion, which had been built in Tronheim and travelled to Chicago by boat, ended up in Wisconsin, first on the Lake Geneva estate of C.K. Billings, owned briefly by William K. Wrigley, and ending up in Blue Mounds, west of Madison’s Little Norway Museum.
The Museum was the brainchild of Julius Rosenweld, philanthropist and CEO of Sears, Roebuck, and company (3). He was inspired by the Deutches Museum in Munich to build a similar interactive in the United States. The museum still features that coal mine and U-boat, as well as a 3,000 square foot model railroad. The museum has major exhibits on mining, automobiles, telecommunications, aviation and aeronautics, space travel, agriculture, time, and medicine, many of which are interactive. Little did I know then that in 8 years I’d be back, executing an assignment for my Anatomy class by returning to one if those interactive exhibits, walking through the giant, and accurate, model of the human heart. Cardiology became one of my loves through med school. Did that start here?
I made it back to the Museum once more in those 4 years in Hyde Park, taking my girlfriend Laurie there when she came from Ann Arbor to visit for the bicentennial. Of course, we had to take one of those tintypes.
A school bus took me into Hyde Park first time. In med school, either Dad’s Cadillac or my old Volvo hauled me and my belongings back to school from Kalamazoo. Nowadays, Kathy and I enter from the north, taking the Metra electric from Millennium Station or the little platform on Van Buren. Back in med school, this was the slick, fast, and clean way to get into town.
It was the Illinois Central then, or “IC”. I got a warm feeling riding the IC, as it recalled the Doobies (“Illinois Central, Southern Central Freight. Ya gotta keep on pushin’ momma, ya know they’re running late” (4)). But that feeling came with a price. It was far cheaper to take one of CTA’s options for that 7 ½ mile trip, either the #6 bus or the Cottage Grove-Harlem El. A buck would get you a ticket plus change and a transfer, good for a free ride back if you use it within an hour of issue. The IT was over twice that. But the CTA did take you through some pretty dicey South Side neighborhoods.
Hyde Park – named after Hyde Park in London – began as a real estate development when young lawyer Paul Cornell, cousin of the founder of Cornell University, purchased from the federal government 300 acres of land between 51st and 55th from which the feds had recently removed the Potawatomi (5). Cornell envisioned a lakeside resort, erected a hotel, and deeded some of his land to Illinois Central Railroad for a station to take residents into the city. Growth was swift and it accelerated after the 1871 Chicago Fire when many Chicago “captains of industry” built mansions in the untouched Kenwood area around 51st. The Hyde Park neighborhood was annexed by the city in 1889, saw the new University of Chicago dedicated the next year and shortly after was chosen as the site of the 1893 Columbia Exposition.
Our goal in visiting Hyde Park these days is mainly to go to church. More about that church later. It’s a ways from the train stop, with Hyde Park and campus in between. Metra’s southbound electrics leave about every half hour, so getting to Hyde Park with enough cushion to eat breakfast and walk to church leaves plenty of time for both if you time it right. Right on the way, an easy half mile 8-minute stroll from the 55th-56th-57th street station, is Medici’s on 57th (6). Medici’s was the name of the small coffee house and gallery original owner Hans Morbach bought to turn into this restaurant in 1962. He said he couldn’t afford to change the sign. The place acquired its own gargoyles early on, crafted by a customer who had worked on the National Cathedral.
The warm, wooden interior, upon which every square inch bears carvings and graffiti, is overseen from a platform above the second level by a 6’ tall mostly naked wooden Indian temple guard Hans had purchased in Vienna.
She happens to rotate once an hour to get a good look at all the customers (and they at her). When you think of all the eccentric and eventually important sometimes famous people who have passed through UofC, you can begin to get a feel for the flavor of this place. And the food and drink are excellent. The bloody Marys come in a pint beer glass with lots of vegetables. Good prep for church.
Church is still a ways from Medici’s, about as far as Medici’s was from the train station. After about 4 blocks through commercial and residential Hyde Park on 57th you cross Woodlawn and campus become evident.
There’s an imposing gothic beauty to the UofC campus, complete with many gargoyles. I think it was wasted on me back in med school. I longed then for the warm red brick of Ann Arbor and saw all that gray granite as stark and cold. You had to study so much you rarely got to go or and see any of it anyway. The social center was Regenstein library, with plenty of imposing cold gray granite it its modern design.
The climate didn’t help, as cold and gray seemed to be the order of the day. Cold, gray, hard, you can see maybe why I didn’t mind leaving Hyde Park when my time was up in June ’79. Yes, there were some spots of fun and I keep in touch with several classmates.
Only when Kathy and I got going with our Chicago jaunts did I consider revisiting Hyde Park. The initial attraction was to attend Sunday services at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. This glorious neo-gothic cathedral stuck in my Hyde Park memory much more than any other of those old gray buildings. It was the last UofC building I occupied officially, as it housed my graduation ceremonies June 15, 1979. I’d gone to church there a few times and found some solace. It’s also site of one of the best UofC stories I’d heard. When the chapel was originally erected, there were no locks on the door, as it was not customary in those times for churches to have them. However, it was not long till President Robert Maynard Hutchins ordered locks. His explanation “When I looked in there, there were more souls being conceived than saved.”
The cathedral was dedicated 10/28/28, nearly 30 years after the University was founded. John D. Rockefeller, oil baron considered the richest man in the world at the time, was a devout tea-totaling Northern Baptist and teamed with the American Baptist. Discussions beginning in 1886 came to fruition in 1890. This would not be the first University of Chicago, as one was established about 3 miles north by Stephan A. Douglass (remember the Lincoln-Douglass debates?) in 1857 (8). It also had a strong Baptist connection, as the Baptist Union Theological Seminary had its first classes there before departing for suburban Morgan Park in 1877. UofC the first collapsed under debt in 1886. Rockefeller began donations to Baptist causes in Chicago in 1873, working with the Midwest Goodspeed and their associate William T. Gates (9). He entered into discussions about a new U of C in 1886 and in 1889, pledged $600,000 to help launch the new university, provided that its Chicago supporters raise an additional $400,000 within a year’s time. The University was dedicated in 1890 and saw its first students 2 years later. I heard several times while a student there that UofC’s initial charter was as a Baptist college. I’ve been unable to corroborate that but given the many Baptist associations in these early days, I can see how it might have happened.
The cathedral (modestly called “The University Chapel” in its early days), came from Rockefeller’s “final gift” to the University. He’d already given $24.7 million, but on December 13, 1910, added $10.0 million (total $1 billion with $29,890.00 in change in today’s dollars) (10). With the gift was the express directive it go to the chapel. It was nearly 8 years before architect Bertram Grosvener Goodhue of New York was commissioned to design the chapel (11). Mr. Goodhue was a well-regarded architect of his time, a proponent of Spanish Colonial Revival and Gothic Revival. The latter was a perfect fit for the gargoyle granite UofC campus. Ground was not broken till a year after he died in 1924. But the product was magnificent, dedicated 10/28/28, a little after the 8/28/25 groundbreaking. Total cost of the project was about $1.9 million ($32 million and $596,202 in 2023 dollars). The massive stone structure was not copied from any European church but is a true American original. Unlike other tall buildings going up in Chicago at the time, there was no structural steel support. The building is 120 feet 1 ½ inches wide and 265 feet 2 inches long.
Foundations were sunk to bedrock 80 feet below and the spire is 207 feet above the sidewalk. Pews seat 1,500. The organ and bells are world class, of course. And the carillon. After Rockefeller died in 1937 at age 98, the Board of Trustees voted to rename University Chapel as Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
Church services are protestant but ecumenical. Clergy and choir wear vestments. I doubt most of the messages delivered these days would have passed muster with old Baptist JD. The organ and voices resonate magnificently in those high ceilings. It’s sad that so few worshipers take part. Caretakers of this place see to it that the space is kept busy, with many offerings beside Sunday worship service (12).
As you exit the chapel with bells peeling, it’s time to face the rest of campus.
The 59th street Metra station is a half mile beeline back East along the Midway Plaisance. Nice enough scenery along the way. The Plaisance is a green sunken space between 59th and 60th, running from Jackson Park on the East to Washington Park on the West, a mile long and 220 feet wide. It used to be all open space. We played a lot of Chicago-style softball (16” ball) there. It was from the Midway Plaisance that the Bears’ nickname – “Monsters of the Midway” – came. They’ve plunked a skating ring in the middle.
If you know a little French, you’ll recognize “plaisance” as “a place for boating”. So, where’s the water? When the city fathers conceived of a park here in the late 1860s, they hired Olmsted and Vaux, designers of NYC’s Central Park (13). They saw the proximity to Lake Michigan to be connected with lagoons up and down. A canal would need to be constructed but the Great Fire of 1871 intervened, halting all progress. The land lay dormant until planning started for the 1893 Columbia Exposition and planners agreed this would be a great spot to put everything. So, as you walk along the Midway these days, imagine it teeming with fairgoers, amusements, restaurants, foreign villages, ethnological exhibits, and the world’s first Ferris wheel.
As you look across the Midway to those decidedly non-gothic buildings on 60th, those are things like the Social Work School, Law Quad, several arts and assembly buildings, and Burton-Judson Court, the dorm where I ate my freshman year. But this strip of buildings is a thin veneer of civilization abutting the Woodlawn neighborhood, a rough ghetto. If you want to take the EL (Cottage Grove-Harlem, now “green”, line) into the loop, you need to walk 3 blocks south to the 63rd street Cottage Grove station. It was on such a walk I got mugged by a pack of young adolescents in broad daylight. Most of my classmates can tell similar stories. During our orientation week, they sat us down to talk frankly about safety and crime. Many of us were new to an urban neighborhood. We were told how all the harsh halogen lighting seemingly everywhere helped deter crime. That must be a core UofC belief because as recently as 2019 they were producing reports how street lighting cut crime (14). We were advised to stay cautious, never go south of 60th or north of 47th, and rest assured that the U of C Police Force was the second largest unit in the State of Illinois, right after the Chicago Police Department. We all felt so much better.
If you turn north out of church and go back up Woodlawn, some prize campus sites present themselves. First, I still have to hit 59th, not just for a glimpse of the Midway but to take a block or 2 east to see how ol’ Albert Merritt Billings Hospital is doing.
This is where I first bumped into patients and began to get some guidance about what to do with them. AMB held the beds, but also the clinics. “UChicago Medicine” is a huge enterprise these days (15), with Hyde Park patients housed mainly in the glass and steel towers of Mitchell Hospital and the “Center for Care and Discovery”, but with other affiliates around the Chicagoland area. Billings Hospital goes back to before World War I, when the Albert Merritt Billings family began to amass the $1 million they’d put up. There was even a doctor in the family, cousin Frank – Dean of rival Rush Medical College – who contributed. The war and higher post-war construction costs delayed opening of the hospital till 1927. Further donors led to further named hospitals, yet all were housed under the roof of Billings. We strive to teach doctors to learn lessons from the past. How effective can that be when they’re surrounded by glass and steel? Nothing like a little granite to make those lessons sink in.
So, after that, it’s up Ellis. The days of popping inside side doors to the hospital are long gone, so there’s no sneaking in to see my class composite picture, wherever it may hang. Leaving the medical complex behind, there’s the campus bookstore.
Great selection of books and UofC gear, and you might want to take home a stuffed gryphon of your own (I know someone who did!).
Had you turned up Woodlawn outside church, you would have come across Robie House on your right.
Built in 1909 after a design by Frank Lloyd Wright, his last before splitting for Europe for a while. Frederic Robie was a supply manager in his dad’s company with a wife, Laura Hieronymous, a 1900 UofC grad who liked the townie life. Financial and marital problems forced Robie out after 14 months and the next owner, David Taylor, died a year after moving in. The next occupants, the Marshall Wilbers, were the last family to use the place as a home, selling to the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1926, who twice made plans to demolish the building, which finally was purchased by a benefactor in 1958 and donated to the University. The structure is still in use for university functions and tours can be arranged through the Frank Lloyd Wright Society (16). 58th will take you across a quad back to Ellis.
Past 57th, you enter hallowed ground. This now has been consumed by libraries, both Regenstein and the modernistic Mansuetto, looking like something they might construct on the surface of Mars for long term survival of the astronaut crew.
But on this land once stood Stagg Field, where at the turn of last century, Amos Alonzo Stagg led his Chicago Maroons – the original “Monsters of the Midway” – against whatever opposition might face them, usually crushing them decisively. Only that team from the East, Fielding H. Yost’s Meechegan Wolverines, posed a challenge. So titanic were their clashes, they moved them to Soldier Field. Stagg was also athletic director, who knew you had to make the most of your facilities, so he had squash courts installed under the stands of his namesake field. And you remember what happened at those squash courts, don’t you? Italian expatriate physicist Enrico Fermi had conducted experiments with several other colleagues at Columbia suggesting fission in nuclear “piles” was feasible (17). Seeking space to attempt a self-sustaining nuclear reaction, he approached UofC, assuring that chances of an accident were minimal. Construction was finished on December 1, 1942. 771,000 pounds of graphite were used to build 57 layers. The pile also used 80,590 pounds of uranium oxide and 12,400 pounds of uranium metal, approximately $1 million worth of materials ($18.52 million in 2023 dollars). It worked the next day, with 49 in attendance. The reactor was dissembled and rebuilt at the Argonne national labs, where it also generated plutonium. The Stagg stands were torn down in ’57. For the 25th anniversary in 1967, British sculptor Henry Moore erected a bronze sculpture on the site of Stagg Field titled “Nuclear Energy.”
Whew! What can be left to do after that? Maybe time for a drink? For a neighborhood heavy with college students, Hyde Park has surprisingly few places to go get a drink. Yelp finds only 5 “bars” in Hyde Park that aren’t also restaurants, and one is a private club run by the University in the basement of a dorm (Ida Noyes Hall). A lively place to be sure (18). It was there in ’76 I saw one of my best concerts ever: Asleep at the Wheel, Bonnie Raitt, and George Benson. Very up close. My girlfriend at the time bore a striking resemblance to Bonnie, so it was fun to check back and forth. Later that year, we saw R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders (19). The iconic cartoonist Robert Crumb, slumming in his little old time jazz combo, tossed popcorn at my date as he relaxed at table between sets. But in my day, we really only went to two places: Jimmy’s and the Cove. Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap was a place of legend. Up on 53rd, it is said to have escaped the wave of urban renewal that swept that area in the late 50s through the graces of late Father Jack Farry of St. Thomas the Apostle Church, whose photo still graces the wall. Jimmy is the name of original barkeep and owner Jimmy Wilson. UofC students Mike Nichols and Elaine May were said to have met there, started up their improv routine (20) as well as the Compass Players, forerunner of Second City. Jimmy’s was the place for UofC’s eggheads to tipple, and I’m proud to have been one of them. A more recent wave of development leveled the original Jimmy’s, which lives now in a soulless strip mall down and over on 55th. Some of the artifacts from the old Jimmy’s made the move, but the soul is gone. Surely a new generation of students will make the place their own, with their own memories, but it’s not worth any more visits from me.
So it’s a long walk from new Jimmy’s to the bar that was even more my own, the Cove, almost a mile straight east on 55th. The Cove Lounge was right behind my freshman “dorm”, the Shoreland Hotel. More about that in a bit. The Cove had a funky nautical feel. Woulda fit right in in New England. Beer was cheap and they’d sell ya a six pack to go. But on my latest visit looking for that familiar nautical front, I was sad to see all fronts along the street had been turned to uniform glass. At least they kept the sign.
Which brings us to the Shoreland, where UofC started for me and where we’ll finish.
In ’75, the incoming class of ’79 was bigger than UofC had dorm beds to accommodate. As a solution, they had the Shoreland Hotel, a once grand lakeside place built in the 20s that had fallen into slight disrepair. It housed UofC retirees and some other old folks but was far from full. Room for freshmen, dontcha think? It was a fur piece from campus and had no facilities to feed students. Nothing that some shuttle busses couldn’t handle. So, we moved in, tried not to step on the old folks, and built our own community. It was fun in its own way, but I never could get that line from the Dylan tune out of my head about “the old folks’ home in the college” (21). These days, Shoreland’s been restored to its old splendor, the students are long gone, with luxury apartments renting for $2000 and up (22). Nice place, huh? Lakefront living and good bar right around the corner. Train stop 12 minute walk away. Maybe this is what Paul Cornell had in mind all along.
1. Ike B. Goodbye Sam. WordPress 1/12/20. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/01/12/goodbye-sam/
2. Living History of Illinois and Chicago Community. The 7 Surviving Structure of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/The_7_Surviving_Structures_of_the_1893_Worlds_Columbian_Exposition.pd
3. museum of science + industry chicago. Press. Our History. https://www.msichicago.org/press/about-the-museum/history/
4. The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running (official video). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4tJSn0QtME
5. Hyde Park Historical Society. Hyde Park History: 1833-1889. https://www.hydeparkhistory.org/history-from-1833-1889
6. Medici 57th. https://www.medici57.com/
7. Goodspeed EJ. The University Chapel. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1933
8. Old University of Chicago. Encyclopedia of Chicago. https://www.johnsonfs.com/obituaries/Dr-James-A-Slater?obId=7213566
9. Guide to the University of Chicago Founders’ Correspondence 1886-1892. University of Chicago Library. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.ROCKEFELLER#:~:text=Within%20the%20first%20ten%20years,were%20not%20financially%20self%20sustaining.
10. Building for a Long Future. The University of Chicago and its Donors 1889-1930. John D. Rockefeller. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/collex/exhibits/building-long-future/john-d-rockefeller/
11. Bertram Goodhue. Wikepedia 3/8/23. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bertram_Goodhue
12. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. https://rockefeller.uchicago.edu/events
13. The Official Site of the Chicago Park District. Parks and Facilities. Midway Plaisance Park. https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/Midway-Plaisance-Park/
14. UChicago URBAN LABS. Projects.Ca Street Lighting Reduce Crime? https://urbanlabs.uchicago.edu/projects/crime-lights-study
15. AT THE FOREFRONT. UChicagoMedicine. https://www.uchicagomedicine.org/
16. Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. Frederick C. Robie House. https://www.flwright.org/visit/robiehouse
17. Atomic Heritage Foundation. Chicago Pile-1. https://ahf.nuclearmuseum.org/ahf/history/chicago-pile-1/
18. The Pub. http://uofcpub.com/
19. R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenaders. https://www.timshome.com/css/
20. Nichols _ May classic _Mother and Son_ skit. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKL1tNv__kU
21. Bob Dylan – Tombstone Blues (Official Audio). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ag-Esuy44ks
22. Mac properties. https://www.macapartments.com/property/Shoreland?utm_source=Google.com&utm_medium=Other&utm_campaign=GoogleMyBusiness&utm_content=Website&utm_term=Button&rdnaLabel=GoogleMyBusiness
2 thoughts on “Hyde ‘n’ seek”
What a nice walk down memory lane. The last time I was on campus was for Jim’s MBA graduation in Rockafeller Chapel. A very stunning structure indeed.
Thanks, Rhonda. I didn’t know Jim had Maroon taints. Does he know the UofC cheer?:
The Peloponnesian War,
X squared, Y squared,
Who for? What for?
Who we gonna yell for?