Chicago’s Hyde Park: A Storied Past

Located on the shore of Lake Michigan seven miles south of the Chicago Loop, Hyde Park is deeply rooted in tradition, boasting a diverse cultural landscape. Bordered by a trio of Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parks to the west, south, and southeast – Washington Park, the Midway Plaisance, and Jackson Park, respectively – the 1.65-square-mile neighborhood has a pleasant, almost suburban feel. In fact, when Hyde Park was first settled in the 1850s, it was Chicago’s first suburb. The area was annexed to the city of Chicago in 1889.

Home to the University of Chicago, Hyde Park is known as the birthplace of atomic fission and has claimed dozens of Nobel Prize laureates as denizens over the years. In more recent history, the Obamas were longtime residents until their White House move, and it’s a continued source of pride to locals and Chicago real estate agents that the President and First Lady still own a home here today.

Along with distinguished residents, Hyde Park has its fair share of landmark residences. Most notable may be the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Frederick C. Robie House, a U.S. National Historic Landmark built between 1908 and 1910 and one of just four historic sites in Chicago included in the original 1966 National Register of Historic Places. The Robie House is widely considered to be the preeminent example of Wright’s “Prairie School” style of architecture, a uniquely American aesthetic inspired by the wide, flat, treeless landscapes of the Midwest that sought to depart from classical European styles. Prairie houses are built around a horizontal orientation, a distinctly American design motif, and are generally sprawling structures. That feature of its aesthetic makes sense, as early cities in the United States simply had more wide-open tracts of land in comparison to the older, more established urban centers of Europe.

And yet, as much as they sought to diverge from Old World influences, Wright and his peers in the Prairie style of architecture shared much in common with the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century in England and Scotland. Both movements prized craftsmanship and attention to every last interior detail, down to the furniture, fixtures, and even textiles. In this, too, the Robie House is considered a masterwork. As described by the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust: “The house is conceived as an integral whole—site and structure, interior and exterior, furniture, ornament and architecture, each element is connected.”

A few blocks away is another Wright masterpiece, the Isidore H. Heller House—the architect’s first Hyde Park project. Designed in 1896 and also designated as a National Historic Landmark, the Heller House is considered a turning point in Wright’s career and an early departure from styles that were popular at the time to a new era of geometric and highly modern designs. The Heller House also provides an interesting counterpoint to the fully realized Prairie style of the Robie House, which was designed more than 10 years later.

Both the Robie House and the Heller House are located within the Hyde Park-Kenwood Historic District, which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Other notable homes in the district include the Frank R. Lillie House, Arthur H. Compton House, and Robert A. Millikan House, none of which was designed by Wright, but all of which are historically significant for their famous former residents.

Tallying the sum of all of its many intriguing parts, Hyde Park is a special place, indeed—something to keep in mind when searching for Chicago homes for sale.