Who says you can't go home again?
In town for fundraisers, Obama spends the night in his old neighborhood
Joseph Beard stops on his way home from the store Friday to talk with a Chicago police officer in the Kenwood neighborhood. Beard lives near the home of President Barack Obama, who was in town Friday for fundraisers. (Chris Walker, Tribune photo / June 1, 2012)
Obama arrived in Chicago about 4:30 p.m. for three campaign fundraisers, traveling without the first lady and their daughters. He planned to stay overnight at his house for the first time in more than a year.
"He told me he … might even make himself breakfast in the morning," said White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest, adding that the president likely would visit with old friends before heading back to Washington on Saturday.
Before the president's arrival, residents of the South Side streets around his house watched security descend. Authorities blocked off streets and sidewalks with metal and concrete barriers, diverted cars and buses, and snooped around buildings and alleys with bomb-sniffing dogs.
By 3:30 p.m., no one could enter Woodlawn Avenue between Hyde Park Boulevard and Ellis Avenue without a picture ID proving they belonged in the area. Longtime residents were familiar with the routine, as well as the first rule of survival: Get home early and don't come out until he's gone.
"It's a big inconvenience," said Dominic Lendabarker, 29, who parked his car 10 blocks away and walked to his apartment a few yards from the president's house. "I had to cancel the delivery of my washer and dryer today. I tried to plan ahead and get all my shopping done early."
Though the president has made 14 trips to Chicago since his 2009 inauguration, he often skips a visit to his old neighborhood. The previous time he had spent the night there was in April 2011. He made a short stop at the house during a visit in January but returned to Washington that night.
During the recent NATO summit here, the president lamented the fact that he was only a 15-minute drive from his house but was advised not to go home because it would make traffic worse.
"I am sleeping in my own bed tonight!" Obama told a crowd of about 350 on Friday evening at a fundraiser at the Chicago Cultural Center.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened his introduction of Obama by saying: "The president arrives, the rain stops, the sun comes out. Coincidence? I think not."
The president went on to visit fundraisers at two private homes. At the South Loop home of Chaka and Tracey Patterson, the attendees included Gov. Pat Quinn and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. At the Gold Coast home of Paula and Jim Crown, guests included former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley.
In the Hyde Park/Kenwood area, Obama's neighbors were planning their own events.
Jace Herrmann, a 21-year-old college student, was caught off guard by the president's visit. He had purchased tickets to a concert at a church and expected a crowd of people at his apartment Friday night for a party, he said.
"I'm not sure how that's going to go with all this security," said Herrmann, walking along Hyde Park Boulevard with his mother.
In addition to the tight security, residents also had to deal with gawkers from out of town who wandered into the neighborhood to see the activity.
Jane Wadell, 69, of Los Angeles, and her daughter, Katie, 35, of Rogers Park, were visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Robie House in Hyde Park when they noticed the police activity.
"Since we were this close, we decided we might as well come over," Jane Wadell said. "I'm glad to see all of this security for the president's sake."
Some residents said the extra security is a minor inconvenience for the honor of living so close to the president.
"I get very excited," said Darlene Dennard, who lives a block and a half from Obama's house. "He doesn't come that often, so when he does, it's like having a big celebrity in the neighborhood and everyone wants to get a peek."