Stick to the North and You'll Miss the City's Best"The South Side is the best lakefront frontage in America. Far better than the North Side. You can see the skyscrapers and the University of Chicago and all the modernist architecture."
Native South Sider Lee Bey remembers when, not that long ago, most of the tourist maps to the city ended at 23rd Street. All the mapped attractions were downtown and points north, while areas to the south were virtually ignored. "People just didn't know there was anything there. People just thought the South Side was the crime capital."
Bey's biased, of course, but he thinks those who stick to Chicago's Loop and the North Side miss some of the city's best, and he's not even talking about baseball. "[The South Side] is the best lakefront frontage in America. Far better than the North Side. You can see the skyscrapers and the University of Chicago and all the modernist architecture at IIT [Illinois Institute of Technology], all these leafy neighborhoods linked by rail."
As the executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee and an architecture critic, Bey has a healthy appreciation of the city's downtown and its urban planning. "We think a connection to downtown will make the neighborhoods healthier. We do want to show people the entirety of the city."
As makes sense for someone who studies architecture and works on issues relating to how people live, Bey's Chicago favorites are weighted heavily in favor of residential neighborhoods. He starts with his own, Beverly, a historic enclave of 1860s-1920s architecture on the far South Side. Beverly highlights include Beverly Rare Record Shop, the Ingersoll-Blackwelder House and Givens House.
Bey continues his tour of unexpected gems in Pill Hill, a South Side neighborhood with many upscale homes dating from the 1950s. This small area, about four square city blocks in size, is a modernist favorite, Bey says. "All the residents who live there get it. They still cut the bushes in the pop art ways that people used to." Just drive by to see these well-preserved homes for yourself. Farther south is Pullman, the industrial community built by George M. Pullman in the 1880s. "Those houses are in almost mint condition," Bey says of the brick planned community. "Pullman's social experiment failed, but the architecture remains."
Take almost any direction out from the Loop and you'll see tracts of Chicago bungalows, iconic homes built in the 1910s and '20s. Besides being perhaps the most classic Chicago housing stock, Bey says these little houses "democratized the idea of architecture. If you think about what a rich guy has in his house, it is all here, except in miniature. A bathroom, a brick house, a garage — it's all there."
But Bey is not just about the built environment. He's also a fan of Dan Ryan Woods, part of the expansive Cook County Forest Preserves, where city dwellers can enjoy native flora and fauna and fresh air without the urban backdrop. Columbus Park and Washington Park are also frequent stops of Bey and his daughters. He's partial to Washington Park, which is home to the DuSable Museum of African American History. This long-time museum (founded in 1957) "has new leadership and it's really stepped up and become a cultural center. It is really exciting to see what they've done to break the mold."
While it may be counterintuitive to call an attraction located smack-dab in the middle of downtown Chicago a "hidden spot," Bey counts the Chicago Cultural Center in that category. "It is free and has all this museum-quality stuff and no one knows it's there."
Check out Lee's Chicago.