This home at 1234 East 56th Street features a soaring beamed ceiling and distinctive brickwork.
Hyde Park and South Kenwood, home to the Obamas and ostensibly at least some of those 89 Nobel Laureates associated with its largest landowner, the University of Chicago, has long been branded highbrow but less-than-thrilling—blame it on the legendarily scholarly university and the überintellectual population it attracts.
But these descriptors may now be moot. In the past six months, three indie boutiques (Gold Coast’s Independence, Ukrainian Village’s Sir & Madame, and Lincoln Park’s Comfort Me) and two trendy eateries from acclaimed Logan Square chef-restaurateur Matthias Merges (A10 and Yusho) have opened on 53rd Street, the closest thing Hyde Park has to a main drag. And soon to come are The Promontory, a restaurant-cum-music venue from the savvy restaurant group that owns North Side hot spots Longman & Eagle and the Empty Bottle, as well as a Whole Foods Market on 51st Street. Both are much touted in the media and eagerly awaited by residents.
Thanks to the neighborhood’s newfound buzz, its homes—which are almost all part of the Hyde Park–Kenwood Historic District, deemed a national landmark in a 1979 conservation effort that encompasses almost all of Hyde Park and the toniest portion of Kenwood—are pulling down prices that have been unheard of in the area.
Architect Howard Van Doren Shaw designed this 1910 Tudor revival home at 4815 South Woodlawn.
“What’s extraordinary is that 13 properties have sold here for $1 million or more since May,” says broker Margie Smigel, who heads a namesake brokerage and has specialized in the area since 1989. “And some have gone really quickly, like 5728 South Dorchester Avenue, which sold in a day for its asking price in June [$1.075 million].” The same thing happened to the grandest of the area’s many homes designed by legendary architect Howard Van Doren Shaw—a handsome, 8,600-square-foot, 1910 Tudor revival at 4815 South Woodlawn Avenue built for Thomas Wilson of meatpacking and sporting goods fame—when it went on the market in November for $2.65 million. “There was a bidding war, and it went under contract in 10 days,” explains its broker, Coldwell Banker’s Rita McCarthy.
Given the neighborhood’s housing stock, these stories are understandable. Options range from gracious flats in elegant vintage walk-ups to gigantic, architecturally significant homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and George Maher. “They would all be far more expensive if they were on the North Side,” notes Smigel. And in the depths of a particularly cold December, at a time when the real estate market is typically dead, “There are 14 million-dollar-plus homes on the market, and they’re getting showings,” notes Smigel. “Purchasers are serious. They want to buy before interest rates rise,” says Prudential Rubloff broker and 38-year Hyde Park resident Robert Sullivan, who also notes, “I’ve sold more than $20 million in Hyde Park–Kenwood this year, which is my record for the area.”
A bedroom in 4518 South Drexel Boulevard.
Why now? Blame it on the university. Reviving central business districts has long been a key to reviving a community, and that’s precisely what happened here as the University and City of Chicago have joined forces to redevelop 53rd Street and its anchor, the decaying Harper Court shopping center, explains Vermilion Development CEO Dave Cocagne, who heads the university and community partnership. “Hyde Park is a very dense neighborhood that was under-retailed. So there was a lot of pent-up demand for quality shops and restaurants, and a lot of support at all levels for the project,” he says. In fact, the university wooed many of the retailers and restaurateurs to sweeten the deal for residents. “This project is meant to be an anchor and a catalyst,” points out Cocagne.
So far, the strategy seems to be hitting the mark. “Million dollar-plus places sold in six months rather than eight in 2013, and cost, on average, 15 percent more this year; five-bedroom- plus homes cost about 20 percent more,” says Smigel. “Those are huge numbers.” Clearly the university’s legendary expertise in economics is paying off close to home.