By SUSAN O’CONNOR DAVIS
In its earliest days, 47th Street bore no likeness to the busy commercial thoroughfare it is today. Nor was it a dividing line between communities; rather it was social center of a quiet, well-to-do residential community. The evolution was a gradual one. The street, lined with elegant single-family homes, was widened, telegraph poles were installed and the electrified streetcar began to run — making these 47th Street addresses far less exclusive and subject to change.
The Kenwood community gradually accepted progress and convenience — a block of stores that opened at 47th Street and Lake Avenue, now Lake Park Avenue, stoked indignation for only a brief time. Residents did wage a lively battle over a small fruit stand near the 47th Street I.C. station, successfully negotiating with the landowner and removing the “banana stand.” However, property owners opposed a westward expansion of stores along 47th Street, fearing a decrease in their property values. Local residents fought in the late 1890s by purchasing all available property and were for a time successful.
After the Chicago Fire, when the city’s business leaders flocked to the community to live, the intersection of Lake Avenue and 47th Street was the gateway to Kenwood. The esteemed Norman Judd, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, once owned the property on the southwest corner. After his death, his Italianate house was purchased to accommodate the Kenwood Club. Distinguished by its towering cupola, the house was renovated and enlarged to accommodate the growing membership of this private neighborhood club. For many years, the venerable establishment was the second home of nearby residents; on the grass tennis courts national tournaments were held, and members enjoyed dining facilities and card rooms in the clubhouse. Although it continued to be the oldest and one of the most exclusive social clubs of the city, the membership declined as the original clubhouse, once described as the most stately home in the neighborhood, deteriorated.
Not long after the Columbian Exposition, a new clubhouse was commissioned and constructed just to the east of Judd’s former residence (seen on the previous page in the image). Planned by Charles Frost with Patton & Fisher, the architects used brick in a dark red color and designed huge fluted pillars that dominated the east façade. A solid mahogany door opened to four bowling alleys, a shuffleboard court, a large dining room, a library, a ladies’ parlor and men’s dressing rooms, a billiards room, three card rooms, a gymnasium, and of great importance to the times, the servants’ quarters. The telephone room was equipped with the latest invention of the time, “a long-distance instrument,” and electric bells and speaking tubes connected the office with every room. But it was the ballroom, with its dance floor made of the finest maple, which gave the club its greatest pride, as no expense was spared to make it the best of its kind in the city.
The family-oriented club continued to operate here until 1922, when only 110 active members remained. By then, the elegant single-family houses that lined 47th Street became boarding houses, or were replaced by flats and stores. A glance at the 1925 map demonstrates that although the original clubhouse and the grass tennis courts were long gone, Patton & Fisher’s structure remained as the commercial area grew around it.
During urban renewal, the renamed Lake Park Avenue was relocated to the east adjacent to the Illinois Central Railroad embankment. At the 47th Street intersection, this and adjacent parcels were determined to contain structures not worthy of rehabilitation and the property was cleared; however, its role in the redevelopment process was never exactly outlined. This parcel in once-aristocratic Kenwood lay vacant and strewn with rubble for many years, and 47th Street was becoming a tenuous boundary between the deteriorating area on the north and the university further south.
Various ideas were proposed for the land, but none could garner community or financial support. It was not until 1970 that approval was given for a project on this site: the construction of a single high-rise on the corner and two- and three-story housing units on 47th Street. Architect Ben Weese developed a plan for the property, and proposed a twenty-five-floor high-rise in the form of a slim polygon with thirty-eight sides. On the interior, the plan eliminated long corridors, while providing interesting apartment layouts. In addition to the tower, a controversial series of townhomes located west along the south side of 47th Street were included in the planning, however only a portion were constructed. Once again, the site was transformed.