Urban Renewal in Hyde Park: Chicago 1955

By: William Ogden Haynes

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In all, after the plans were pushed through the City Council, 193 acres were demolished, 30,000 people were displaced, bars, jazz clubs, and other businesses

were pushed out, and 41 acres were claimed as additions to the U Chicago campus.”

The Chicago Maroon, October 2014.

For fifty years, the woman kept her first floor apartment immaculate,

maintained as a shrine in memory of her husband. She has lived in this place,

with this furniture, from her wedding day through her husband’s death and into old

age. Her white hair like sculpted meringue is slightly yellowed, reminiscent of

old piano keys. The hands holding her dust rag are slender and wrinkled,

as if she never had to lift anything heavier than a pearl-handled butter knife.

Her dusting is interrupted when the landlord knocks on the door. He has

worked his way down from the top of the building, one apartment at a time.

Her handshake is limp as a tassel as she invites him inside.

The building is a poorly painted old whore on Lake Shore Drive with color

peeling like a bad sunburn. Eight stories up, the roof is an underdone cake

sagging in the center, and will soon need to be replaced, but now everyone

knows that won’t happen. The landlord has decided to let the structure

deteriorate so the building can be condemned. The residents must vacate

within six months so he can build new apartments they could never afford.

After hearing the news, some of the old people sit in shock on their small

balconies projecting from the building like pulled-out dresser drawers, ready

to be emptied and packed into suitcases. Others gather in stairwells and hallways

talking quietly with their neighbors about eviction and an uncertain future.

After the landlord leaves, the old woman dusts a copper figurine of a

ballerina, a Tiffany lampshade and a corner cupboard displaying flowered

plates of Limoges. She moves on to the Chippendale dining set, bookshelves

and buffet. Then to the dressers and sleigh bed in the next room. After she

straightens doilies and carefully dusts the hand-painted lamps she rests on

the divan, nervously fluffing pillows. She wonders if it’s too late to start

again in a new apartment at the age of eighty. She worries that her treasures

might be damaged in the move. And if she goes to live with her son,

there will be no place for all these things she has come to love so well.

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