October 13, 2009

Boyer's bike tour highlights Obama, Olympics, and White Castle

Roughly 40 eager cyclists checked in Saturday morning at Bartlett Quad for a 15-mile bike tour that led students to nine sites throughout the South Side of Chicago, each unraveling another layer of the South Side’s elaborate and sometimes tumultuous history. The tour touched on racial conflict, mixed-income housing, architecture, political corruption, Obama, and the recent failed Olympics bid.

Led by John Boyer, dean of the College and bicycle enthusiast, the South Side History Bike Tour made stops throughout the area. Boyer and his fellow guides, sociology professor Terry Clark and Dean of the Social Sciences Mark Hansen, offered insight into the history and politics of the South Side’s many neighborhoods.

Many sites related back to the University, even though they were miles away. On 1900 Prairie Avenue, Boyer offered an anecdote about how the U of C was “born over on the corner” in the house of Silas Cobb, the first person to contribute $100,000 to the University—and to spur John Rockefeller to match his donation.

The tour was originally part of Clark’s sociology class and was offered only to his students, but it has since been opened up to the entire University and offers an up-close look at the South Side’s past and present.

At a White Castle on East 35th Street and South King Drive, Clark spoke about how the replacement of small shops by national franchises changed race relations by offering services that didn’t rely on a personal relationship with an owner.

But Clark’s speech was interrupted when he recognized a Bronzeville local and architectural preservationist, Harold Lucas, who offered the cyclists a warm welcome to Chicago and the hope that the Bronzeville community will have a “better relation with the 800-pound gorilla that is the University of Chicago” in the future.