By ALLISON MATYUS
The Hyde Park neighborhood is over 160 years old, so it’s no surprise that some of its buildings are a century old or more as well. With older buildings, however, come much needed restorations and renovations, and that’s where Tom Fortune comes in.
Fortune, one of the co-founders of Fortune Restoration, has been working on restoring Hyde Park’s buildings to as close to their origins as possible. His most recent project was a three-story six-unit condo building on the 5400 block of South Hyde Park Boulevard, built in 1907.
“The building hadn’t been touched in 108 years and the porches were really starting to fall down,” Fortune said.
The project to revamp the porches began last fall and was finished this May. Fortune and his team replaced the brick and the steel beams, refinished the cement floors, did the carpentry and installed a new drainage system for the residents that reside in the building.
According to the Hyde Park Historical Society, there are over 200 cottages and other buildings that were constructed before 1900, just in the corridor between 53rd and 55th streets alone. Not to mention staple buildings in Hyde Park like the Harper Theatre, 5238 S. Harper Ave.; Blackstone Public Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave., and Hyde Park Academy High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., all of which are 100 years old or older.
Fortune said his company’s specialty is in restoring these old, significant historical structures and has worked on many residences throughout Hyde Park as well as Kenwood. He said that restorations need to be done due to the wear and tear of Chicago’s humid summers and bitter cold winters, as well as old age.
“The construction in these buildings are beautiful…they were not built badly at all, but they just need routine maintenance,” he said. “The buildings in Hyde Park, you don’t see this quality workmanship anymore in buildings that have been built in the last 20 or 30 years.”
Because of the historically significant structure of these buildings, there are strict building codes in Hyde Park that must be adhered to.
“Building codes have obviously been changed over the years, so we had to make some modifications including moving the height of each balcony wall up,” Fortune said.
Fortune said that the new porches for the building are guaranteed to last another century or more.
“These porches were reassembled so well that I believe the building will fall down before those porches,” he said.
For Fortune and his team, working on these Hyde Park buildings can turn into a history lesson.
“The workman who built these structures took a lot of pride and integrity in constructing them and the materials that were used. It’s a privilege to get to work on them,” he said.