By ANNIE GENG
Members of the Hyde Park community convened the evening of Sept. 25 at Marvillas Mexican Restaurant, 5506 S. Lake Park Ave., to campaign for votes for the historic Cable Car Building in Partners in Preservation: Main Streets. This initiative, sponsored by American Express, awards preservation grant funding to historic sites that accumulate enough votes.
Wallace Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce (HPCC), began the event with a speech. After thanking Michal Safar, president of the Hyde Park Historical Society (HPHS), Goode explained that he had learned of Partners in Preservation through his prior involvement with the initiative’s founding organization, Main Street America.
He also knew immediately that he wanted to partner with Safar and the HPHS to preserve the historic Cable Car Building, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave., in this campaign.
“I asked [HPHS] if they would consider being a partner on this, and they were calm as they jumped up and down saying, ‘Yeah, you’re going to help pay for the historic preservation of our building? We’re very excited,’” Goode bemused.
With the help of HPHS board member Jack Spicer, Goode surveyed sites in Hyde Park before deciding to focus their Partners in Preservation campaign efforts on the Cable Car Building, calling it the “ideal place.”
Grant writer and HPCC Project Manager JoAnn Fastoff Blackman and Operations Manager Adam Marks were pivotal in both writing the grant and getting it accepted.
Eventually, Goode learned that the Cable Car Building was named as one of the 25 national semifinalists for funding. Even more, the 124-year old building was the only semifinalist from Illinois, a point of pride for him.
Now, Goode emphasized, the onus to save the Cable Car Building is on the residents of Hyde Park.
“Of the 25, [Partners in Preservation] will choose the 10 who get the most votes to fund. So think about it: the chances are 10 in 25 that we get funding,” Goode said.
Goode even mentioned that their campaign has already drawn support from other organizations, including a group in San Francisco and a women’s basketball team based in the South Side of Chicago.
“Many of you are influencers,” Goode said. “You talk to other people all the time. This is Chicago, so vote early and vote often.”
Preserving the history of Hyde Park
In the ever-evolving landscape of Hyde Park, the Cable Car Building, humbly sat along South Lake Park Ave., has always been a nostalgic relic of the past, having survived both Chicago’s cable car era and the World’s Columbian Exposition in the late 19th century.
This is exactly why members of the HPCC and HPHS believe it is so imperative that the Cable Car Building be saved.
“The Cable Car Building represents history,” HPCC board member Bennie Currie, a resident of Hyde Park for over 30 years, said. “I’m a real lover of history, and historic preservation is part of that.”
Joseph Marlin, HPHS board member, who has been in Hyde Park since 1953 also believes in this campaign. “Just doing the brick facade is a lot of money,” he said.
Fastoff Blackman, who grew up in Hyde Park with her sister and has raised her family here, believes this building is intrinsic to the very spirit of Hyde Park.
“Except for the Statue of the Republic in Jackson Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Clarence Darrow Bridge in Jackson Park, this is the only other structure that’s tied to that fair,” she said.
Fastoff Blackman explained that the Cable Car Building was rescued by the HPHS in 1977, but they underestimated the amount of funds they would need to preserve it.
Ultimately, Fastoff Blackman underscored that even though Hyde Park is an “eclectic” neighborhood that is quickly growing, it deserves to keep the Cable Car Building intact.
“If you recognize in an old building new ideas, there are some great ideas that can come from that,” Fastoff Blackman said. “We have so many ideas for that building. It’s a museum, it’s an artifact.”
An open house for the Cable Car Building will be held Oct. 8. Voting ends Oct. 31, and grant recipients will be announced Nov. 2. Visit http://voteyourmainstreet.org/Hyde-Park to vote.