Community Profile: Chicago
Dunning: Where the living is cool and calm
This neighborhood on Chicago's northwest edge is anything but edgy
English Tudors line Oak Park Avenue in Dunning's Schorsch Village, one of the jewels of the area. (Anthony Robert La Penna/Photo for the Chicago Tribune)
Located only 10 miles from the Loop at the edge of the city on the Northwest Side, Dunning is anything but edgy. This community is so calm, cool and collected, not even Starbucks knows it's there.
How do the 40,000-plus residents handle living in a "No Starbucks Zone"?
Tivadar "Ted" Szabo Jr., president of Portage Park Chamber of Commerce, put an espresso machine in his real estate office. The chamber includes Dunning in its service area.
The 12,000 students at Wright College stay on campus when the need strikes for caffeine.
For residents who commute on Interstate Highways 90/94 or 294, coffee has to wait until they park. Those riding the Blue line or one of the eight CTA buses that serve the area hold out until they get to their stop.
The rest pull up a chair, open their laptops and order a slice of chocolate chip with their coffee at Eli's Cheesecake World Cafe.
Marc Schulman settles in at a table in the cafe and watches the goings on. Schulman is a regular; he is also president of Eli's Cheesecake Co. It's Friday morning and he isn't alone. This place is so popular it was featured on the Food Network.
Bakers, chefs, school children, tourists and neighbors wander in and out of the large, airy space that includes outdoor seating in warmer weather. This foot traffic happens all day long, seven days a week. Some stop to shop, others for lunch or to check their e-mail; the cafe provides free Wi-Fi.
When Eli's original factory needed to expand, Schulman said they were very happy to find property on Forest Preserve Drive at the north end of Dunning. Dunning, one of the city's 77 official community areas, stretches between Montrose Avenue, Forest Preserve Avenue and Irving Park Road on the north and Belmont Avenue on the south; Cumberland Avenue to the west and Austin Avenue on the east.
The desire to stay in the city is not lost on Mary Gale.
Thirty-four years ago Gale and her husband decided to buy their English Tudor home in Dunning. They raised both of their children there.
"I'm a city girl, " Gale said. She liked the idea of living in Chicago and in an area that was filled with other young families. "We bought because of the neighborhood."
Gale likes the access she has to the expressways, which she uses to go somewhere special to shop or to have dinner. In the neighborhood, she and her husband prefer Caponies Trattoria for pizza. Caponies was featured on "Check, Please!" and lauded by food critics for its wood-burning pizza oven. If they just want a burger, Gale says they'll drive to the Longhorn Steakhouse in nearby Norridge.
The community has special memories for Szabo too. A Realtor for 21 years, he grew up in Dunning.
"My parents still live here," Szabo says. "I have nothing but fond memories of grammar school and high school. And my first job was here." He says today there is great opportunity to buy a quality home in Dunning.
For buyers wanting to stay in the city or return from the suburbs, Szabo says Dunning offers an array of conveniences and bargains in solid housing. "There are plenty of housing options and lots of homes on the market. Some have struck deals with receiverships as this neighborhood is not immune to the mix of foreclosures and short sales [that plague] other areas," he said.
Szabo added that Dunning is primed for a new cycle, meaning the couples that moved in years ago are now empty-nesters. Some stay in their home, downsize to a condo or sell to the new families who are moving in for the very reasons that they did -- a desire for a home in an area that provides city life with a suburban feel.
City life also means city concerns. Dunning is located within Chicago Police Precinct 16. Between October 14 and 27, only five incidents of crime were reported for beat 1631 (the heart of Dunning): four thefts and one assault.
According to Szabo, the condominium market is attracting singles and young couples as well as retirees. He has a listing in the Glenlake condominium development for a two-bedroom unit with garage space for $224,900.
Yet it is single-family homes that dominate Dunning. Frame houses, Chicago bungalows and English Tudors line the side streets. In the early 20th century a developer named Schorsch built the graceful English Tudor styles with their stylized roofs along Oak Park Avenue and called the area Schorsch Village. It remains one of the jewels of the community.
Wilbur Wright College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago, is another.
The sprawling, modern campus is the cultural anchor of Dunning. Wright draws 12,000 students to the area, which brings a huge economic impact to the community. Wright is a major employer, a learning center for class credit, adult education and programs for the entire family.
Residents follow the Wright Rams, attend fine arts exhibits and productions at the Stage Wright Theater. Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs through Nov. 22 and general admission is only 10 bucks.
Schulman says his company partners with Wright College and other local businesses in community service programs and events that pay tribute to Dunning residents. These activities include hosting one of the city's farmers markets in the parking lot, which is where the Father's Day bike ride kicks off each June; 200 rode in 2009. Each October, the Fall Cheesecake Festival draws crowds from all over the city; this year 15,000 showed up for the fun that included two entertainment stages and a classic car show.
Dunning is a community of sidewalks for baby strollers and power walkers. Many head over to Merrimac Park and nearby Portage Park for events at the field houses and to enjoy the greenspace and Chicago Park District programs. Everyone, it seems, makes time to walk, ride or bike in Dunning and to its events. Including those held in the parking lot at Eli's.