Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ronald Reagan Trail: Chicago and the likely demolition of the Reagan apartment

832 E. 57th Street, Chicago
In my last entry in this series I said that Tampico would be my next topic. But on Sunday I drove to Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood to visit the University of Chicago-owned Reagan family apartment at 832 E. 57th Street. I planned for this post to be my penultimate post, but since it appears that the only Chicago residence of a president--excluding the current occupant of the White House of course--will soon be demolished, I decided to reshuffle my deck. As with my previous entry on the Hennepin Feeder Canal, Chicago is not on the Ronald Reagan Trail.

Shortly after New Year's Day in 1915, the Reagans moved from tiny Tampico to the South Side of Chicago; Ronald's father Jack accepted a sales position at a downtown department store.

From Reagan's An American Life:
The Reagan Apartment
Our stay in Chicago introduced me to a congested urban world of gaslit sidewalks and streets alive with people, carriages, trolley cars, and occasional automobiles. Once, while watching a clanging horse-drawn fire engine race past me with a cloud of steam rising behind it, I decided that it was my intention to become a fireman.
The family lived in Hyde Park for about a year.

Dutch viewed Chicago from the first floor window on the right. The two-by-fours in the window are there to prevent metal thieves from stripping the apartment. The flats are on the corner of 57th and Maryland, most of the apartment buildings on Maryland between 57th and the University of Chicago football field to the north are vacant and also owned by the college. Across the street from Reagan's view is the still-under-construction University of Chicago New Hospital Pavilion. The university says that a demolition permit has not been issued for 832 E. 57th Street, but it's obvious to me--the Reagan home will be razed soon. The college has a long history of buying buildings, particularly ones it views as crime-ridden, tearing them down and eradicating the problem, although on-campus crime remains a major concern at the elite school. The University of Chicago Police Department is the largest private law enforcement agency in the nation. Saul Alinsky tried to fight back against the university but he failed, as he usually did. Structures in the way of U of C development don't stand long.
 The New Hospital Pavilion

Two buildings to the east of the Reagan home, an apartment building is being torn down.

The University of Chicago Hospital has an uneasy relationship with South Siders, particularly poor ones. Michelle Obama was a top executive there and the future first lady was in charge of the innocently-named Urban Health Initiative. But its purpose was to shift patients without private insurance away from the prestigious hospital to other health care facilities. Call it a polite form of patient dumping. To hawk the plan, Michelle hired David Axelrod's ASK Strategies.
Tear-down two buildings to the east

President Obama is a former teacher of constitutional law at the University of Chicago and the first family lives in the adjoining Kenwood neighborhood.

Of course the Reagan home can be saved. Chicago's City Council could give it landmark status. But they have to hurry.

Reagan's ties to the University of Chicago are deeper than you'd think. The Gipper utilized the conservative economic theories of Milton Friedman, system of free enterprise. U of C College Republicans President Joseph "Tex" Dozier told the Chicago Maroon in February that he favors turning the building into a museum. That's a great idea--especially if there is a Friedman wing.

The photograph of me on the doorstep was taken by a young Asian woman who was impressed when I informed her that Reagan lived in the six-flat nearly 100 years ago--she was previously unaware of this bit of Chicago history.

Where Reagan entered
Two blocks away from the Reagan apartment the DuSable Museum of African American History Arts and Craft Festival was going on, a Caribbean band was crooning "Don't Worry, Be Happy" while I was snapping photographs.

I'm worried.

Next: Tampico

UPDATE December 14, 2012: There is a petition at to save the Reagan apartment. Click here to sign.

Earlier posts:

Hennepin Feeder Canal
Ohio, Illinois
Peoria Heights
On Reagan's front door
Washington, Illinois
The town of Eureka
Eureka College's Reagan Museum
Returning to Eureka College and the 1982 address
Eureka College
Carl Sandburg
Wyatt Earp

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