The Hyde Park Historical Society cable car building, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave. – Photo courtesy of the Hyde Park Historical Society

By Joseph Phillips
Staff Writer


The Hyde Park Historical Society, 5529 S. Lake Park Ave., launched a crowdfunding campaign to help preserve the old Cable Car Building in Hyde Park in the month of December.

The HPHS, went live in the month of December to launch its crowdfunding campaign page from its Generosity website with the link, to help raise funds for phase II of their historical restoration project.

“The society has successfully raised funds from board members, the general membership, and the Hyde Park community,” said Michal Safar, president and archivist of the Hyde Park Historical Society. “Fundraising efforts have resulted in significant progress, but the society is still short of the funds needed.”

The Chicago City Street Railway constructed the Cable Car Building in 1893 or 1894, and is believed to be the only building surviving in Chicago that was a part of the cable car system.

The Hyde Park cable line ran along 55th Street, and served for a short time as a terminal rest stop for the trolley system. From 1898 to 1952 Turney Keller and members of his family operated the building as a restaurant. Later, it was known as Steve’s Lunch under the management of Steve Megales, who was a Greek immigrant.

Currently, the Cable Car Building is used by the Hyde Park Historical Society for meetings, programs, and exhibits.

According to Safar, the organization’s goal is to raise nearly $20,000 dollars for the project.

Hyde Park Historical Society host Annual History Fair in June

The Hyde Park Historical Society hosted its annual History Fair Program on Saturday, June 17, in the sanctuary of Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The event featured winners of the Historical Society’s award for best student projects on the history of Hyde Park Township from the 2017 Chicago Metro History Fair. Featured projects included “William H. McNeill: Taking a Stand for Global History,” a paper by University of Chicago Laboratory High School student Nikki Han; “Jane: The Fight for Equality,” a website by Maine West High School students Allison Elby and Madeleine Mirza; and “Building a Home of Their Own: Rosalie Villas, which features the 5700-5800 blocks of Harper Ave., Hyde Park, an exhibit by South Loop Elementary School student Meghan Hammond.

Students gave project presentations in front of a panel of experts that included Oral Historian Timuel D. Black, Jr., HPHS President Emeritus Jay Mulberry, and Assistant Principal of Mt. Carmel High School and a long-time board member of the Chicago Metro History Center Maryhelen Matijevic.


Changes made in leadership for SECC in November

In the month of November, the South East Chicago Commission (SECC) would name Diane Burnham the new Executive Director of their organization and Wendy Walker-Williams, who was the organization’s past Executive Director would earn a new position as executive director of community partnerships with the University of Chicago.

“After an extensive interview process with several highly qualified candidates, the board stood unanimously behind Diane,” said Shirley J. Newsome, SECC Board President in a written statement. “Her nonprofit experience, knowledge of the organization, and vision for the future made her the ideal choice to take SECC to the next level. Having such a deep pool of capable applicants reflects the interest that people have in SECC’s excellent work.”

Burnham, who officially took over day-to-day operations on Dec.1, is currently operating as the organization’s new leader and will focus the organization’s goals specifically on economic and community development in the surrounding neighborhoods of the University of Chicago. The areas will include the Hyde Park, Kenwood, Washington Park, Woodlawn and Oakland communities, according to the commission’s website.

“I have complete faith in Diane’s talent, having worked closely with her for the past four years,” Walker-Williams said in a written statement. “She brings over 20 years of nonprofit perspective to the position which is vital as SECC continues to serve as a leader in community and economic development initiatives in the region.”

Prior to her position as executive director of the SECC, Walker-Williams served as Assistant Commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Community Development Neighborhoods South Division, where she was responsible for redevelopment initiatives and overseeing the implementation of redevelopment projects. Walker-Williams also was Deputy Director of Finance and Administration for Gallery 37, an arts youth employment and training organization and held various positions at the Chicago Housing Authority.


Chamber demands transparency in how SSA is run

Back in August, Special Service Area #61 (SSA #61) chose to keep the South East Chicago Commission as its service provider. The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, who was a candidate for the position, demanded that going forward the SSA be more transparent with how its funds are allocated.

The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the South East Chicago Commission held a meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16, to determine who would be the next service provider for Hyde Park’s Special Service Area #61.

During the meeting, which took place at the Hyde Park Bank Building, 1525 E. 53rd St., both organizations were reviewed by a panel of judges made up of eight SSA committee members that represented their professions in the areas of retail, education, real estate, development and other businesses in the Hyde Park neighborhood.

Each service provider candidate was required to answer 12 questions given to them by SSA committee members and deliver an oral presentation to both the panel and community.

After the presentations the SSA chose to remain with the SECC.

“I’m ecstatic about it,” said Eric Reeves, executive director of Hyde Park’s SSA #61, about the SECC being selected as service provider for the group. “I’m looking forward to continuing to work with community partners such as the Chambers of Commerce.”

Entering its third year as service providers for SSA #61, the SECC will manage, staff and govern all SSA activities. These activities, known as Business Improvement Districts (BID’s) or footprints, will consist of local tax districts that fund expanded services and programs through a localized property tax levy within a contiguous area. The enhanced services and programs are in addition to those currently provided through the city of Chicago.

SSA-funded projects typically include but are not limited to: public way maintenance and beautification; district marketing and advertising; business retention/attraction, special events, and promotional activities; auto and bike transit; security; facade improvements; and other commercial and economic development initiatives.

The SSA will give the SECC an annual operating budget of approximately $300,000, collected from property taxes on real estate within the SSA footprint area, which includes 53rd Street, Lake Park Avenue, and 55th Street between Harper and Hyde Park avenues.

The SECC will also use its funds to help programs such as sidewalk cleanings, tree replacements and all of the bike racks that have been added to Hyde Park in the last few years.

Although the SECC will remain service providers for SSA #61, some raised questions about the process.

“The chamber’s failing to be selected the 2018 service providers wasn’t the issue,” said Wallace Goode, executive director of the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce. “Our desire to be service providers [came about] because of the lingering questions that continue to plague the SECC and their management of the SSA funds, allocation of funds, and staff.”

In January, the U. of C. and the SECC announced that the SECC would transition over the next year to become a self-governing entity outside of the U. of C. with help from U. of C. board members.

Goode said despite the public announcement of a split, the conflict of interest remains because most of the SSA funds are being allocated back to University of Chicago Projects.

According to Goode, in the winter of 2017, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce approached SSA #61 Commissioners about opening up the selection process.

“The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce submitted its name for consideration as the logical candidate, honest broker and experienced voice for Hyde Park’s business community,” Goode said.

Goode said that now that the U. of C. and SECC are no longer partners it is also the ideal time to examine the need for change with the local SSA.

Goode said in a letter to the Herald:

“Hyde Park’s SSA has been managed by the SECC since its inception in 2014. While the Chamber believes that the SECC is a committed community organization, our members have consistently raised concerns about the transparency of the process and protocols articulated and followed by the SSA #61’s current Service Provider.”