Chicago is known as a city of neighborhoods, of which Beverly, on the city’s far southwest side, is one. It is special to me because it is where I lived full-time from the age of five with my family until I left for boarding school at fourteen and thereafter where I lived part-time during school holidays until I left more-or-less permanently to take my first full-time job in Michigan. My family remained in Beverly, and my sister Janis married and raised her children there. She still lives only a few short blocks from where she and I were raised. For these familial reasons, Beverly has always been part of my life. Over the decades, I’ve returned countless times for visits.
I’ve often wondered why “Beverly” and “Beverly Hills” are used interchangeably, and why “Beverly Hills” exists at all since other than the single ridge along its eastern edge, the neighborhood’s topography is pretty much flat?
Whatever, Beverly has been a life-long destination; I want to include it among my other travel adventures, but where to start?
Amazingly, unlike many of Chicago’s other residential neighborhoods and those of other big U.S. cities and around the world, Beverly has changed little in appearance during the last seventy years.
Its demographic is different, though: what was once a bastion of white, Anglo-Saxons now has many Irish Catholic residents and even a few African American families.
Nevertheless, when I walk the familiar streets of my childhood, Beverly’s homes look pretty much unchanged and as good as they ever did.
It was later in life that I learned the history of Beverly and Morgan Park, its adjacent neighbor. Once, about the turn of the last century, these two communities were not even part of Chicago. They were upper-middle-class suburbs from where men, who worked in the commercial and financial institutions in downtown Chicago, would commute to work.
This was possible because the Rock Island Railroad ran a line from Beverly and Morgan Park into the city. As an adolescent, I would ride that same train, not to work but for fun. It was how I first experienced the excitement of a big city.
As a child, I knew nothing of how Beverly and Morgan Park had come into being. I just knew that on the streets just east of ours, there were houses far grander and more fun to look at than the unpretentious bungalow we lived in at 10622 South Oakley. In 1948, 1949, and the 1950s, I had no idea that my family had settled in one of the most architecturally significant districts of the city.
As a boy, I had not heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, his fame as an architect, or that he had designed four homes in Beverly.
Morgan Park, that begins south of 107th Street, and Beverly Hills that extends north as far as about 91st Street, had been founded by Protestant families with roots in New England.
They envisioned fine residential communities with numerous churches, no noise, and restricted commercial development. These were to be temperance communities; no saloons or corner bars were permitted. Beverly and Morgan Park were “dry” and still are today. I was not conscious of this distinction as a kid, although I was aware that the only bars anywhere near us were located outside of Beverly on the far side of Western Avenue, the main street that formed the western boundary of Beverly and Morgan Park.
Those who platted our neighborhoods aimed to give them a feeling of spaciousness. Unlike most other city districts, Beverly’s had a village quality. Lots were deep and houses set well back from the streets and sidewalks.
Growing up in Beverly, I was lucky in ways I took for granted. Safety! The streets of Beverly and Morgan Park were safe places to play. What traffic there was moved slowly and in the 1950s few parents had any thought that their kids might be assaulted or kidnapped on the street. There was also no need to deal with the tension of diversity either. Everyone I knew, all my friends and their families, was white and protestant. We were a homogeneous bunch. There were few Catholics among us and even fewer Jews.
Clissold is an elementary school a few blocks from where I lived. It was close enough so that in my primary grades I would walk home for lunch and eat my tomato soup and ham sandwich, sitting in front of the T.V. before walking back.
Clissold is where my friends and I sat in the same classrooms from kindergarten through 8th grade, and though I clearly remember many of my classmates, my memory of my teachers and what I studied is more vague. I was a poor student and only wanted to be outside and free. At one point, the administration must have concluded that I was not destined for higher things and so they put me in a shop class where I was taught the use of woodworking tools, a misjudgment on their part and a thing I’ve often had reason to be thankful for in my life.
Clissold is located in Morgan Park and, today, as I walk the same streets I did as a kid, I pass the houses where certain of my childhood friends lived with their families. They still look as I remember them.
Besides my classmates, I played with kids on my own Beverly block between 106th and 107th streets. They were several, and I have no idea where they are today, but the houses where they lived evoke powerful memories of their personalities and of the games we played.
As I remember, I lived to be out of doors, either on foot or on one of several bicycles. These were made of heavy steel and had coaster brakes and balloon tires with Schrader valves that could be filled from service station air pumps. Biking extended my reach. I could ride as far as the Beverly Theater on 95th Street and in the other direction as far as the A&W Root Beer stand in Blue Island. I don’t ever remember locking a bike. Bike theft was not a problem where I went in those days.
Nearby Crescent Park was not terribly large, but it was very close to where my friends and I lived. It. It was a city park with a bubbling drinking fountain, a couple of tennis courts, and a surrounding gravel path where, on occasion, some of us would wildly race our bicycles with no thought to what might happen if we crashed or fell. Bike helmets were unknown in those days.
Thinking back, It’s a wonder that I survived my childhood as well as I did. I used to climb a lot: trees, garage roofs, and up into the rafters of the two-flat apartment buildings that were being built on the last vacant lots of the neighborhood. These were the same building sites from which a couple of us would “liberate” a few 2x4s when needed for our personal projects.
One of mine was this little car. It had a wooden frame, a three horsepower engine, a clutch, and steering wheel but no brakes. I would drag my left foot to stop it. Its top-end was probably 20 mph, which seemed pretty fast when I was sitting so close to the street surface. It was a lot of fun, and I must have driven it for a season or two.
Beverly’s only commercial street was Western Avenue, a wide four-lane that marked the western boundary of the neighborhood. Unlike the residential side streets, Western’s commerce has gone through several iterations since my childhood. The Midwest Super Market, Fasel Brothers’ nursery, Danny Boy’s Shell station, Snackville Junction, the Medical Arts building, the Surrey Restaurant, and even the Evergreen Plaza, one of the country’s first shopping malls, have all come and gone during my lifetime.
Among Beverly’s many architecturally significant buildings, some of the most impressive are to be found along the neighborhood’s eastern boundary. Longwood Drive runs along the bottom of a ridge and is Beverly’s most prestigious address. The homes built along the ridge have long, sloping front lawns that descend to the drive below. They have long uphill driveways that lead to their attached garages. It was our fortune that my aunt Sigrid had married Dr. J.J. Tipler, a dentist with a thriving practice who was considerably older than she was. It was his second marriage, and when young, he had built his Longwood drive residence on the ridge near 100th Street. As a boy, it was the largest home I had ever been in, and I was suitably impressed when I was allowed to visit.
If, in my account of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, you can sense whiffs of nostalgia for a long-ago childhood, it’s because it was a happy childhood, and in the ensuing years when nearly everything else has changed, it’s a comfort to find the neighborhood I knew and loved best pretty much as it was.