The City Gray that ne'er shall die

A photographic overview of Hyde Park history.

By Camille van Horne

/ The Chicago Maroon

GREY CITY

  /  

March 8, 2011

"The City White hath fled the Earth,

But where the azure waters lie

A nobler city hath its birth,

The City Gray that ne’er shall die.”

This verse of the University’s alma mater carried great significance when it was written in 1894. The South Side was bursting with grand, new buildings, from Cobb Hall, built in 1892, to the many great, temporary structures of the 1893 Columbian Exposition. But by 1899, the area around Cobb, Gates-Blake, and Goodspeed was once again a flower-strewn field. Now, cobblestones, hospital buildings, and bookstores surround it.

The University went through another transitional period in the 1950s and 1960s, when it brought a modernist bent the its neo-gothic campus architecture and sponsored a sweeping urban renewal program.

East 55th Street used to be lined with retail and entertainment storefronts: bakeries, a high-end grocery, a half-dozen restaurants, a toy store, a butcher. But when restrictive covenants that once kept blacks from moving into Hyde Park came to an end, the University feared white flight, prompting the urban renewal projects. Older buildings were razed to make way for newer, ostensibly more attractive structures (like the Toaster Buildings seen under construction in 1961).

The University quickly looked for a new location for the artists and retailers from East 55th Street displaced by urban renewal. That project became Harper Court, a shopping center on East 53rd Street and South Harper Avenue, which opened packed with shops and galleries. But over time, business has slowed, with several of the storefronts now left empty. The University recently bought the land and is in the process of razing buildings to prepare the plot for incoming restaurants, retailers, and a hotel.

Dorms designs can be hit or miss, and Woodward Court, on the corner of East 58th Street and South Woodlawn Avenue, was definitively in the latter category. It never had the charm of Snell-Hitchcock or the spacious luxury of the Shoreland. Built in 1958 by famed modernist architect Eero Saarinen—also responsible for the Gateway Arch in St. Louis—Woodward is best remembered for its dank basement corridors, bleak cinderblock walls, and rooms that were tiny even by Pierce standards. Think South Campus Residence Hall is a bland name? Woodward was originally called “New Dorms.” Few mourned its demolition in 2001 to make room for the now-Booth School of Business.