Living in Chicago’s North Kenwood Neighborhood: An Architectural Slice of History
It’s one thing to live in a historically significant building. It’s quite another to live in an entire district that looks like it’s from the past, but North Kenwood is just such a neighborhood. Designated by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in June 1993 as a Chicago Landmark District, the community is noteworthy for its masonry row houses dating back to the late 19th century as well as nearly 100 buildings in the surrounding area that date back before the community of Kenwood was annexed to the City of Chicago in 1893. If living in or amongst exemplary architecture and buildings designed by some of Chicago’s great architects of the late 19th and early 20th century excites you, then you need look no further than North Kenwood.
Located a mere three miles directly south of downtown Chicago, North Kenwood is a neighborhood within the Kenwood community, in the 60653 ZIP code. It’s bounded by the Lake Michigan shoreline to the east, South Drexel Boulevard to the west, East 47th Street to the south and 43rd Street (also known as Muddy Waters Drive) on the north.
Most of the historic masonry row houses are concentrated at the north end around Berkeley and around 45th street, though there are architectural gems all throughout the neighborhood.
The community of Kenwood owes its name to one of its first settlers, Dr. John Kennicott, who named his estate Kenwood in remembrance of his mother’s birthplace in Scotland. Today a park in the area is named after Kennicott. The area was settled quite early in Chicago’s history in the 1850s, primarily by those who sought a more relaxing respite from the frenzy of the city. The Illinois Central Railroad, one of the first railroads chartered in the United States, back in 1851, had tracks running through the community and in deference to the good doctor named their station at 47th Street the Kenwood depot. By the way, the lawyer for that early railroad was none other than Abraham Lincoln!
Because the area was attractive to many wealthy individuals who worked and owned businesses in the city, numerous stately homes of the Prairie and Queen Anne styles were built along what is today Drexel Boulevard between 45th and 50th streets. Though within only a few miles of the central business district, the community was left untouched by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, which was concentrated much further north of Kenwood. In 1907, the city’s elevated train line was extended into North Kenwood and a terminus was built at 42nd Street in 1910. This furthered development, particularly in the building of apartments, to attract those who worked in the offices downtown. The community began to deteriorate around the 1930s during the Great Depression and the height of the migration from the South. This continued through the 1960s, along with a large increase in population. However, by the 1970s several homes were placed on the National Historic Register and residents of substantial means began to move into the neighborhood. Today, North Kenwood is a successful model of urban integration and quality residences.
North Kenwood is only three miles from downtown, making the commute to Chicago’s central business district quick and easy. Public transportation is extensive and shared with its neighbor to the south, Hyde Park. There is convenient access to both a number of bus lines (2 Hyde Park Express, 6 Jackson Park Express, and 4 Cottage Grove are just a few) and 47th Street Metra, all of which connect to downtown. Lake Shore Drive is a mere few minutes away to the east and there’s the Dan Ryan Expressway to the west for those opting for travel by car. Outdoors enthusiasts will love the biking and walking opportunities provided by The Lakefront Trail which runs along the park at the lakefront. Also to be considered is the South Shore Line, running on the same Metra tracks, which provides access to numerous locations through Indiana and to the east as far as the Michigan border.
Ariel Elementary Community Academy is the primary public elementary school in North Kenwood. Founded in 1996, the Academy has small class sizes and offers individualized instruction and opportunities for acceleration and enrichment. It has programs that include a finance and investment curriculum, high school credit for algebra, economics, biology, and Spanish. In addition, there are a handful of private schools in the area, giving parents yet another alternative, including the notable University of Chicago Charter School, The Cambridge School, and The Ancona School. There is also the nationally renowned Kenwood Academy High School as well as the Martin Luther King College Prep High School serving the community.
Public Safety in North Kenwood
The community of Kenwood, in which North Kenwood is a neighborhood, ranks as average when it comes to violent crime and property crime (35th and 34th respectively out of 77 communities) and above average in safety when it comes to quality of life crime (62nd out of 77 communities). As reported in the Chicago Tribune, from 2014 to 2015 crime dropped 30% in Kenwood, which demonstrates that civic engagement of citizens through their CAP’s (Chicago Alternative Policing) beat meetings and numerous block club initiatives is working successfully to mitigate recurrence of crimes in the neighborhood.
Cost of Living
The community of Kenwood is one of the most reasonably priced neighborhoods in Chicago, though much less so along the lakefront. Average rents in the area ($1,417) remain below the city’s average ($1,648) and considering its proximity to the lake, North Kenwood offers a much cheaper alternative to the higher-priced communities such as Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and is just as convenient for the city’s central business district.
Like its neighbor to the south, Hyde Park, North Kenwood retains a bucolic and serene profile due to its tree-lined boulevards and grand old houses. Also like its neighbor, North Kenwood is one of the smaller communities, with approximately 30,000 residents in a 1 square mile area, which means it too is one of the least dense communities along Chicago’s lakefront. Of course, given its history you will find a considerable number of older, well-built single-family homes and historic walk-up apartment buildings.
There are numerous apartment buildings in North Kenwood, distinctively characteristic of the early to mid-20th century, when many of them were built. Whereas the average rent in the Kenwood area is $1,417, according to Yardi Matrix, it’s not unusual to find 3-bedroom apartments or condos that are in the $1,000 price range.
Located at 1120-1126 East 47th Street, this ornate courtyard building boasts floral terra cotta designs in the entryways reminiscent of the style of renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan. Just steps away from the trendy East 47th Street shopping and entertainment district, this 3-story walk up is just up the street from the Metra stop at 47th Street. Adorned with patio balconies and featuring hardwood floors throughout, you’ll also have 24-hour emergency maintenance at your disposal.
Located only steps away from the Lakefront Trail and the Metra stop at 47th Street, this charming 3-story brick courtyard building offers both 1- and 3-bedroom apartments at incredibly affordable prices. Three-bedroom units at this community start at $875. Each building features buzzer systems and upgraded security as well as new carpets throughout and ceramic tiles in the kitchen. Heat and appliances are included.
Featuring a combination of the Arts & Crafts and Mission styles, this beautiful early 20th century building combines old world charm with modern conveniences. The restored interiors showcase the original appeal of the mosaic tile floors and the hand-crafted wood banisters. The community offers a mix of studio, one-, and two-bedroom apartment homes with hardwood floors, carpeting, and dishwashers. There’s a laundry center on-site and street parking is available.
Single-Family Row House – 4458 S. Berkeley Avenue
Listing price: $224,000
Located in the historic Berkeley Avenue block, this vintage 1890 single-family row house features six bedrooms and three full baths, boasting almost 3,000 square feet of living space. Though the property needs to be completely rehabbed, at this price and location, it’s a steal! Only steps from the Metra stop at 47th Street, it’s also only a few blocks from the 41st Street Beach and the Lakefront Bike Trail. Lake Shore Drive is at your doorstep, as are a number of CTA bus lines. You would be hard pressed to find this kind of value anywhere along Chicago’s lakefront.
If you’re looking for a ready-to-move-in house, the options are endless in North Kenwood. Whether you prefer a completely revamped condo within walking distance of the lake or a beautiful rehab of a turn-of-the-century greystone, get ready to be amazed by the architectural gems that the area holds.
Single-Family Kenwood Greystone – 4544 S Lake Park Avenue
Listing price: $599,000
Ideally located, this stunning property at 4544 S Lake Park Ave is four minutes from the lakefront and only a twenty minute walk to the University of Chicago. Distinctive features? There are plenty! You’ll love the exposed brick throughout, the Brazilian cherry hardwood flooring, and the original ceramic fireplace. Oh, and did we mention that it features more than 4,000 sq ft of living space and a relaxing deck for entertaining? This is Chicago living at its best!
Not convinced yet? In addition to the incredible historic architecture, it’s also a neighbor to the Hyde Park community on the south and the Bronzeville neighborhood directly to the west and all the cultural amenities in those communities. Yet North Kenwood has its own special attractions such as the Black Pearl Cultural Center, which “provides opportunities in art, culture and entrepreneurship to youth, adults and families across Chicago”. Then there’s the unique Faie Afrikan Art Gallery, which “showcases outstanding pieces from the Western, Eastern, Central and Southern Regions of Africa”.
As for great food there’s an array of places just a couple blocks to the west along what is becoming a very trendy East 47th Street strip – Café Trinidad, C’est Si Bon, and Simply Soups and Sandwiches, and Italian Fiesta Pizzeria just to name a few. And in the summer just walk on over to the the annual 57th Street Art Fair – the Midwest’s oldest juried art fair – as well as the annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival.
So What Are You Waiting For?
Ensconced in one of Chicago’s most architecturally significant neighborhoods, adjacent to its beautiful lakefront, one can hardly ask for more. Yet there is more, with the convenience of great public transportation, plenty of culture, shopping, and entertainment. There’s little not to like in the North Kenwood Landmark District. So find your ideal place at www.rentcafe.com and you too can have it all!
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Contributor: Don Gordon is an accomplished author and copywriter, having written two books, university course content, political speeches, and press releases.
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