November 1, 2007

SSA student pens Hyde Park history

Max Grinnell (A.B. ’98), a graduate student at the School of Social Service Administration, discussed his new book, Images of America: Hyde Park, Illinois, at the Regenstein Library on Monday. The book offers new insights into the controversial gentrification plan that dramatically altered the development of Hyde Park.

His research is unique in that it uses pictures and images as “data points” to provide a visual history of the Hyde Park neighborhood. In introducing the book, Grinnell emphasized the difficulty in obtaining photographs and archived information. He first attempted to gather information by publishing a letter in a University alumni magazine. “I only got about a dozen responses,” he said. However, Grinnell republished a letter in the Hyde Park Herald and began digging through a multitude of local and city-wide archives. This search provided the information for the book. However, many of these archives are poorly organized or incomplete. To describe this process, he joked, “I called the CTA in 2000, and they got back to me eight months later. I guess it’s like being on the train.”

Grinnell’s research covers multiple aspects of Hyde Park’s history—from the “social milieu” of the University of Chicago Mandolin Club in the early 1950s to the dramatic effects of racial segregation. In particular, Grinnell singled out “restrictive covenants,” land agreements that forbid blacks from living in or even walking through particular neighborhoods.

Grinnell balanced some of the smaller institutions and decisions that shaped Hyde Park—like the presence of the YMCA, the roles of specific businesses, and an abandoned plan to build a highway through the Midway—against the dramatic, federally funded gentrification of the 1950s. The first of its type, the program was later criticized for its heavy-handed approach that solicited little community input.