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Kenwood: Where past meets present

Chicago Tribune reporter

Tropical birds chirping. Children playing baseball and soccer in Kenwood Community Park. Students rushing off to Kenwood Academy High School. Such are the sights and sounds on a recent stroll through the Kenwood neighborhood on Chicago's South Side.

Not only have wild parrots given residents a strange story to tell friends, but they have invaded the trees with their cocoon-like nests throughout Kenwood and neighboring Hyde Park.

The oddity adds to the character of the surprisingly quiet community, which was named after the estate of an early settler, Dr. John A. Kennicott. Since its annexation to Chicago in 1889, Kenwood has remained an oasis for those who wish to escape the hustle and bustle of inner-city living.

Nestled between 43rd and 51st Streets from Lake Shore Drive to Cottage Grove Avenue, Kenwood is known for its collection of mansions from the 19th and 20th Century and boasts some of the most architecturally significant and historical homes in Chicago, such as Blossom House and others designed by the likes of George Maher, Howard Van Doren Shaw and Frank Lloyd Wright. By the turn of the 20th Century, Kenwood's residents included lumber merchant Martin Ryerson, meatpacker Gustavus Swift, and Sears, Roebuck and Co. executive Julius Rosenwald.

Today, the cozy community is home to many young professionals. Once the home of Muhammad Ali, Kenwood has drawn other notable residents, including Louis Farrakhan and Barack Obama.

The historical value of the community reaches to North Kenwood, where massive graystones still line the streets, though the area has experienced a drastic change in recent years as spikes in housing costs have forced many low-income residents to relocate.

In North Kenwood, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) has collaborated with the Chicago Housing Authority to create mixed-income housing at Lake Park Crescent and Jazz on the Boulevard to replace public housing, a part of the CHA's Plan for Transformation, said Jhatayn Travis, a longtime resident of Kenwood and executive director of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization.

"Over the years, I would describe the displacement of some of our residents as troublesome," Travis said.

There is a need for more affordable housing and retail and commercial businesses for working-class and low-income families, Travis added. Various community organizations and Preckwinkle are working to attract more businesses to the area.

Grocery stores are scarce in the area. "Unfortunately, I have to drive to Hyde Park or the South Loop to go grocery shopping," said Travis.

A Treasure Island in Hyde Park offers Kenwood residents a new grocery option, and the One Stop grocery store, on 43rd Street and Lake Park Avenue, has been in the neighborhood for years. But parking is tight, and One Stop is extremely crowded in the afternoon.

While Kenwood may not have the largest selection of dining, shopping and entertainment options, nearby Hyde Park has an array of restaurants, boutiques and night-life venues, such as The Checker Board Lounge, which are easily accessible by walking or driving south.

Kenwood's quiet surroundings and close proximity to the University of Chicago campus make it an attractive option for home buyers, who can expect to spend from $179,000 for a one-bedroom, one-bath condo to $1.5 million for a vintage mansion.

Over the last five years, Kenwood's real estate has appreciated by 387 percent, said Cathy LaShea, a Baird & Warner real estate agent. "This is really a first in [Kenwood's] real estate history," LaShea said.

Many properties are available in the neighborhood, and some of the most attractive investments are vintage graystones, she said. Currently, a buyer can snatch up an "as-is" graystone for less than $250,000, she said. A complete gut-rehab graystone could cost up to $800,000.

LaShea said young, single professionals from Hyde Park and the South Loop have relocated to Kenwood "because they're looking to capitalize on income investments."

Kenwood is easily accessible from downtown and close to public transportation and major highways, with many express buses riding down Lake Park Avenue to the downtown area.

There is no need to send children to outside schools or fret about extracurricular activities for them.

"The schools are great, the nearby art galleries are fabulous and you don't have to pay taxes on your parking space," LaShea said. Most residents can park in front of their homes.

She noted that a great deal of suburban residents have moved to Kenwood to retire.

There are plentiful parks and playgrounds for children, and the community is within walking distance to Lake Michigan and the Museum of Science and Industry. Kenwood Community Park, off 49th Street and Kenwood, has a ball park, tennis courts and soccer field, and is down the street from Kenwood Academy High School and Canter Middle School.

The Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center, 1060 E. 47th St., has an artsy coffee-shop setting. Not only can you enjoy one of "the best cups of coffee in the neighborhood," you can view and buy artwork of local high school students at the art gallery, said program director Chineyra Moody.

The 40,000-square-foot center, which is available to residents for special events, also offers summer camps, an after-school art program, and a variety of classes for adults and youths, such as ceramics and woodworking. Every summer, the center hosts the Pearl Fest. Last year, R&B sensation Chante Moore was one of the featured singers.

"It's our way of giving back to the community for supporting us throughout the year," said Moody.

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