Fifteen years ago we purchased the last vacant parcel in Kenwood owned by the University of Chicago. At that time, the overgrown lot was frequented by dog lovers in the warm months, and city plows depositing mounds of snow in the winter.
Urban legend had it that the house that once graced Greenwood Avenue had been torn down in error. A professor renting the house came home one afternoon to find a wrecking crew on site, a neighbor told us. While that may seem improbable, every spring pieces of the house work their way through the warming soil. Bathroom tiles, cabinet hinges, shards of dinner plates - each find reminding us we are not the first to make a life here.
And so began a personal journey to understand the house we all build. Saul Bellow once remarked he could not walk a block here without remembering who had lived here and who had died here. “You have to live with all these extinguished lives,” he said, “and because you’ve encouraged your own sentimentality and nostalgia about a place, perhaps you feel it all the more.”
Susan's Neighborhood Blog
One of the benefits of writing the series of articles for the Herald is the outreach of the paper. We received a call from the great-grandson of Paul Cornell, John Cornell, who currently resides in Florida. Mr. Cornell saw one of the articles and called to find where he could purchase the book, Chicago’s Historic Hyde Park. In our conversation Cornell questioned whether his grandfather was included in the document, and mentioned this three-story yellow brick structure at 5114-5116 South Blackstone, built for a W. Fish in 1893.
Now converted into three apartments, the once attractive structure was for a time the home of John Evans Cornell and his wife Katherine Spear. Cornell was the son of Hyde Park’s founding father, Paul Cornell. Until recently, the former single-family house had a striking front porch with fluted white columns, and a cornice that is still visible in the rear. This image was taken while the structure was undergoing renovation, in hopes of pointing out the importance of landmarking and respectful restoration.
What I did not understand at the time I snapped the shot was the historical significance of the folks who once lived there.
On the south side of the property is Hyde Park’s own version of the Petit Trianon. In 1935 the building at the rear was constructed for John and Katherine’s daughter, Grace Cornell Graff, and her partner and husband Kurt Graff. They were internationally acclaimed modern dancers, and gave lessons and performances in the classically embellished structure that was then known as Graff Studios.