The Grid: Exploring the South Shore neighborhood
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Welcome to the “The Grid,” the Chicago Sun-Times in-depth look at Chicago neighborhoods.
Today’s stop: South Shore.
Located about nine miles from downtown Chicago, this neighborhood is named South Shore because of the way it hugs the southern shore of Lake Michigan. The lakefront — especially the South Shore Cultural Center — is the anchor of this unique community. Many a well-known people grew up here, including the former first lady, Michelle Obama. The Obamas held their wedding reception at the Cultural Center and often return here for various events. Go for the easy lakefront access with show-stopping views, but stay for the people who make it a truly special neighborhood.
There’s much to explore and many people to meet in South Shore, as you’ll see in this episode of “The Grid.”
Our story includes:
- The history of South Shore
- The South Shore Cultural Center
- Where to find the best food
- Must see places to visit
This story on South Shore is one in a series by the Sun-Times focused on the interesting people and places in Chicago’s many neighborhoods, intended for locals and visitors alike in hopes that all will be inspired to explore our city. We have engaging videos and a comprehensive story all curated by our Sun-Times audience team to help provide you with the most current and meaningful information about the important and best things to do in each neighborhood.
We’re proud to welcome Baird & Warner as presenting sponsor of “The Grid.” Leading our video adventure is Sun-Times program host, Ji Suk Yi.
Ji visits South Shore
During my visit to South Shore, I was welcomed with smiles at every turn, with hugs and a level of palpable excitement. Entering Chef Sara’s Cafe, there was an eagerness from everyone I met. Each person wanted to tell me about his or her entrepreneurial or cultural arts project, pop-up — or introduce me to someone else that I just had to meet.
When I announced I was working on the South Shore episode of “The Grid,” there was a sense of urgency to this version of “show-and-tell” from the hospitable lunching crowd I had interrupted. Everyone wanted to share what they knew — the really good stories about a really good neighborhood filled with hard-working people and caring families.
After years of residents feeling as though they haven’t been heard or validated, they find themselves at another crossroads, with potentially life-altering changes afoot. Those potential changes could come from the planned Obama Presidential Center in adjacent Jackson Park, and companion projects like the Tiger Woods-designed golf course. Hopefully, the majority of these changes will be positive. But neighbors voiced concerns about the displacement of residents and having the desire to have a seat at the table during the planning stages.
South Shore is gorgeous. Residents and visitors alike immediately mentioned the lakefront as they gushed about the beauty of the neighborhood. There’s a lot of lush green space, parks, beaches with grand vistas of the city skyline, and, of course, the crown jewel of the neighborhood — the South Shore Cultural Center.
The architecture is lovely and harkens back to an era when details mattered. There’s something for everyone in South Shore – from the mansions in the Jackson Park Highlands District, the neat bungalows and three-flats farther inland, and the high-rise, roomy apartments with views of the lake.
South Shore is indeed a hidden gem. If you don’t live in South Shore, it’s easy to miss the true beauty of the neighborhood, which runs deeper than what’s on the surface. The neighbors I talked with on my visit didn’t shy away from expressing their concerns about the problems – like safety and violence, job loss and lack of retail, businesses and a major grocery – that plague their beloved community. But they also wanted to highlight what’s good — and that there is a lot of good to discover here!
Daily life is as rich in experience, sense of community and culture as in other neighborhoods, but groceries, shopping, restaurants and entertainment means commuting elsewhere. So how does a neighborhood that had one of the busiest shopping corridors in the city, now have so many empty storefronts and streets with foreclosed, abandoned homes?
After speaking with long-time residents, the reasons unfold: Like so many neighborhoods on the South Side, South Shore was predominately white when the civil rights movement brought racial integration. African-Americans moved into better neighborhoods looking for resources and schools for their children. At the same time, many wealthy and middle-class whites moved out, resulting in “white flight.”
Discriminatory lending practices aimed at African-Americans, the housing market collapse during the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009 that resulted in foreclosures, influx of low-income renters displaced after the demolitions of CHA public housing structures, the loss of jobs, and lack of resources have all affected the economic vitality and public safety of the area. South Shore Bank — once the local community development bank and the force behind neighborhood revitalization efforts — failed in 2010. Dominick’s at Jeffrey Plaza, once the area’s only major grocery store, closed in 2013, and many middle-class African-American families have been moving away to seek safer neighborhoods, jobs and better schools.
Despite the economic downturn and hurdles in growth, developers are eyeing South Shore closely in light of the presidential center as both public and private investment opportunities are being explored to improve retail, housing and transportation. So, how will the neighborhood ignite economic growth without pushing longtime residents out?
For me, exploring South Shore was a lesson in disparities. Walking along 71st Street from Exchange to Jeffrey, you can see empty storefronts and then a tidy, cheerful window. Farther west, there’s a mix of hair braiding shops, salons, convenience stores and fast service food. The Metra line runs along 71st in the median. I wonder how many commuters would be willing to stop and shop if the corridor were built up again.
There are stand-outs like bicycle shop owner Leroy Brown. A lifelong South Shore resident and former bicycle mechanic for Huffy Bikes, he’s had his own shop since 2003. He has new bikes for sale but he said the bulk of his business is in repairs. As for his customer base, he said the key was to “roll with it, take the good with the bad.”
Walking south from 71st along side streets, the well-kept homes and neatly manicured lawns are lovely. There are flags on display, flowers in bloom and sprinklers going full-blast. It’s hard to understand why there isn’t a major grocery store nearby or why the major business corridor would be spotted with so many empty storefronts.
First Lady Michelle Obama grew up near 74th and Euclid and attended Bryn Mawr (now Bouchet Math and Science Academy). It’s a point of pride for South Shore residents. Now there are hopes that the legacy she and her husband will create in the library will bring a positive impact to her former neighborhood.
The stately South Shore Cultural Center
The crown jewel of the South Shore neighborhood is the South Shore Cultural Center. The 65-acre park began as a private country club in 1905, started by the president, banker Lawrence Heyworth of the Chicago Athletic Club, as a country escape for city-dwellers. The grounds and clubhouse were expanded and improved in 1916 and membership peaked in the 1950s.
With the advances in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, South Shore experienced an influx of African-American residents moving into the neighborhood. As racial integration began, many whites moved out of the neighborhood creating a void in revenue for the private country club.
Rather than extend membership to African-Americans (or Jews) at the time, the private club quickly met its demise and shuttered. (Also, I should note that at one point in time, the Protestant founders and members of the club did not want Irish-Catholics as members, but eventually they were allowed.)
In 1975, the Chicago Park District purchased the property but did not plan on keeping the clubhouse. South Shore community activists and preservationists rallied together to save the majestic clubhouse from demolition. This year, the facility will under go a facelift and maintenance renovations.
The grand ballroom, stately hallways and rooms, expansive lawn and formal garden are the perfect backdrop for a dream wedding. President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama held their wedding reception at the center in 1992. The center has become a go-to destination for not only weddings but for all types of events.
Designated a historic landmark, the Mediterranean-Revival building was designed by architects Marshall and Fox (who also designed the Drake Hotel downtown) and has ornate details that reflect the wealth and luxury of the time period, including chandeliers, marble and wood paneling. In addition to the ballroom, the building has a solarium, the Paul Robeson Theater, library and a restaurant called “The Parrot Cage.”
The Parrot Cage Restaurant serves modern American cuisine in a casually elegant setting. It’s operated by the Washburne Culinary and Hospitality Institute and its students gain valuable experience working in the kitchen and front of house. It’s open for dinner Thursday to Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. With such beautiful ambience, a meal at the restaurant is even more of a bargain when you find out it’s BYOB.
South Shore Cultural Center is home to many youth programs teaching crafts, dance and music. Also, there are “movies in the park.” The Cultural Camp during the summer and Cooking Academy have remained in demand and are successful programs, and registration details can be found on the Chicago Park District’s website.
Also, there are fitness programs for adults like Boot Camp, Cardio Beats and yoga. And of course, there is very affordable golf tee times for both adults and kids! In fact, kids play the course free with a paying adult.
South Shore Golf Club is a public golf course which means no membership is required. You’ll find multiple tee boxes for all levels, and the lake and skyline vistas are fantastic. The par 33 golf course is always bustling with activity and is home to many men and women leagues.
If you’re hoping to introduce your kid to golf, The First Tee of Greater Chicago is a great sports program. A nonprofit youth program, The First Tee believes in providing access to safe places and caring adult mentors while teaching the fundamentals of golf. Group sessions are for kids from ages 7 – 18 and equipment (golf clubs and balls) are provided through the program. There is also reduced fee programming and scholarships.
Erika Shavers, assistant program director of The First Tee of Greater Chicago, works on the South Shore Golf Club. The South Shore resident and former real estate and mortgage industry professional said she discovered golf after she was downsized from her job. She started on her Wii video console, then took private lessons.
“I fell in love with golf. Golf found me at a transition in my life and it basically saved me,” Shavers said. “First Tee participants learn golf fundamentals but with core values like respect, honesty, healthy habits with friends and family. It’s all part of our curriculum and we use that to teach the game of golf.”
As you walk past the Cultural Center grounds towards the the lakefront, you’ll see picnic areas on the grass where families are grilling. There is the South Shore beach, which is kid-friendly, sizable and still off the beaten path.
My favorite discovery was the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, which I hope remains in the neighborhood past the much anticipated and discussed Tiger Woods redesign of Jackson Park and South Shore Golf Course into a PGA-level course.
The sanctuary is a reprieve from city life and just a stunning enclave of nature in the city. There are birds, butterflies, dragonflies and gorgeous wildflowers in bloom. There are several seating areas with benches where you can just relax in peace, think and be. I sat near a beautiful, tranquil lily pond listening to the chirping of birds and the buzzing of dragonflies flitting across the water. What a hidden gem from the strains of city-living!
The Quarry is an event space located at 2423 E. 75th Street. Formerly owned by Ernest and Suzanne Armstrong, it is now helmed by South Shore activist and fiercely passionate resident Yvette Jackson Moyo.
If Moyo’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she publishes the magazine “The South Shore Current: Good News from Chicago’s Cultural Soul Coast” and is co-founder of “Real Men Cook,” an annual event celebrating black fatherhood. Moyo should be retired, but instead she’s spending her savings and asserting her tireless energy into renovating The Quarry and transforming the neighborhood.
Moyo’s mission is not only to share positive stories about South Shore (and the South Side) in her magazine, but to provide a space for residents in the neighborhood who would otherwise have to drive outside of South Shore to throw an event or celebration. She wants The Quarry to be a destination and a resource that is easily accessible with a straight-forward rental application and affordable rates.
Moyo grew up in South Shore and returned to take care of her ailing mother. Although, she’s not a contemporary of the Obamas (she’s a bit older, although you’d never guess it), she proudly tells me she grew up down the block from where the First Lady Michelle Obama would later grow up and attended the same elementary school, Bryn Mawr (now Bouchet Math and Science Academy) located at 73rd Street and Jeffery Boulevard.
Moyo’s mission as a “community builder” is to transform 75th Street, starting with her event space. Currently, there is live jazz every Friday evening, in addition to a supper club. The space has a full kitchen that not only can cater sizable events, but is also a community kitchen that can be rented including as an incubator for food start-ups. She also rents offices and hosts a farmers market to combat the gap left by not having a major grocery store in the neighborhood.
Her eyes simultaneously dance with excitement and narrow with focus when she talks about her beloved community.
“We’re turning rocks into diamonds,” she said. “It may not look like what you see on TV every day.”
The Quarry will be undergoing renovations, in large part because it is a 2018 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund recipient. “They talk about us being a food desert, but (we’re) not a cultural desert.”
Moyo said South Shore includes residents ranging from some of the city’s greatest luminaries, intellectuals and contributors who work downtown and across the city, while also home to “the most desperate people that you’ve ever met in your life — all right here.”
“The people that are available during the day are serious activists. We are seriously looking for ways to work and spend in our community. We want to know, we’re hungry to know so that we can share about other peoples’ victories and have people come in and support them,” Moyo said.
Reflections on the South Shore neighborhood by Mary Mitchell
Mary Mitchell is a Sun-Times reporter and columnist and lives in the South Shore.
South Shore has long been the mecca for professional black folks on the South Side. Besides having great public transportation, it is a short hop from Lake Shore Drive and that puts you 15 minutes from the city’s core. Those of us who live on the Drive can see the sun rise from the lake and forecast the weather by the color of the water. Like too many neighborhoods in urban cities, we have our challenges with crime and disinvestment. But it is the natural wonder of Lake Michigan and historic treasures — like the South Shore Cultural Center — that engage us and keeps us rooted, determined to overcome those challenges.
Where to find the best food in South Shore
Several restaurants are “old-school” spots that have been neighborhood favorites for some time. Many friends and colleagues listed Chinese restaurant House of Bing and South Side local pizza chain favorite Italian Fiesta. For Jamaican flavors, the go-to favorite is Royal Caribbean Jerk.
There are newcomers which focus on health, like Good Foods Vegan/Vegetarian Deli on 1966 E. 73rd St. It’s easy to eat healthy when you can pick up something from their selection of packaged and ready-to-go snacks and meals or order a made-to-order vegetarian sandwich.
Another health conscious eatery is Betty Bot Shop at 7100 S. South Shore Dr. A favorite at local farmers markets, the store’s owner, Betty Alper, has developed a cult following for her gluten-free and vegan baked goods. Her storefront serves light lunches, toasts, smoothies and her famous pastries.
At 71st and Crandon, there’s a Louisiana-inspired fast-service fish restaurant and bakery. Surf’s Up is a local chain and has been in South Shore for four years. Chef Latoya Ellis lives in the neighborhood and said the salmon burger and Hennessy-seasoned wings and shrimp are the best-sellers. She was also cooking five orders of snow crab served with corn and red potatoes when we spoke. The fried biscuits are similar to beignets with powdered sugar.
Next door, there’s Give Me Some Sugah Bakery. Lenore Lindsey started baking when she turned 40 while working as an accounts manager in a corporate setting downtown. She hadn’t enjoyed cooking in the kitchen prior to her new found love of baking, which she found “relaxing.”
After getting rave reviews from friends and coworkers, she decided that baking might be a “nice retirement job.” Little did she realize just how in demand she would be. A steady stream of customers kept her busy as I waited to chat with her. The best-seller is her chocolate chip cookie with walnuts. She also has a famous potato chip cookie and enjoys making her savory soups and quiches.
Lindsey returned as a resident to South Shore 30 years ago. “This is the best time in my life. You work really hard but just being in my neighborhood, getting to know my people, being involved with them, it’s the best,” she said. “The relationships are the most important thing. This is wonderful.”
An easy way to plan a visit to South Shore is to explore near 72nd Street and Exchange Avenue. The South Shore Metra stop drops you off near a small enclave of businesses which include restaurants, a hair salon, shopping and a wellness boutique that includes a tea shop. This pocket of independently-owned businesses and restaurants is within easy walking distance to the South Shore Cultural Center.
Chef Sara’s Cafe
Chef Sara’s Cafe is an institution in South Shore. There is no one that captures the essence of South Shore hospitality more than Sara Phillips. She’s the self-proclaimed “grandmother of South Shore” and also seems to be the honorary mayor of her block.
Hailing from Pittsburgh, Phillips moved to Chicago in 1971 as a TWA (later American Airlines) flight attendant for 30 years. After her career with the airline, she went to culinary school at the Art Institute of Chicago. After she graduated, she had a delivery food service for four to five years which grew her followers and garnered the attention of the property owner of her current location.
When the landlord offered her six months rent free, Phillips felt she had nothing to lose and she didn’t look back. Her food is delicious, but she’s created much more than a cafe. The ambiance is beyond welcoming, and there’s a constant hustle and bustle with patrons coming in and out of the restaurant.
Not only is it a place to satiate your hunger but to also, do work, have meetings, talk and exchange ideas. “So much is going on in this neighborhood but (neighbors) come to this corner to find out about what’s going on,” Phillips said.
Chef Phillips knows everyone and she’s as generous about shining a light on others in the community as she is determined to feed me. The shrimp and grits are delightful and my favorite entree item is “Granger Arranger” — a salmon patty with rice, greens and cornbread.
Phillips has such an infectious personality that I don’t want to leave the conversation, let alone her delicious food. Hers is a formula that would work in any neighborhood, but she’s dedicated to South Shore.
“The (residents) opened their arms and wrapped their arms around me,” said Phillips. “My mother, growing up as a child, her doors were always swinging. Everybody was invited into her home, and I feel the same way. Everybody is invited into my cafe.”
Majani Vegan Restaurant
Across the street from Chef Sara’s Cafe is Majani Vegan Restaurant. After celebrating their one-year anniversary, owners Tsadakeeyah Emmanuel and Nasya Emmanuel are one of the recipients of the 2018 Neighborhood Opportunity Fund. With the funds, they hope to expand to other neighborhoods – Pullman in the fall and then to Englewood – after establishing a central cooking and baking commissary at 7355 S. Exchange Ave.
Tsadakeeyah has been a 25-year resident of South Shore. The two live near the restaurant and walk to work every day. Majani means “green” in Swahili, and the chefs try to incorporate as much produce from local farmers as they can.
Both agreed it was a gamble, and many others thought they were taking a huge risk opening a vegan restaurant in South Shore. But Tsadakeeyah has been a vegan for 37 years and knew people would “appreciate good food” whether it was vegan or not.
“We just had to follow faith and do what our hearts were telling us to do, to open up in a neighborhood that really needs it,” Nasya said. “Of course (South Shore) has its problems, but a lot of positive things are happening here.”
As noted, the Dominick’s grocery store in Jeffrey Plaza closed in 2013, leaving many in the neighborhood with even fewer grocery options. Classified as a food desert, there are rumblings that a new grocery store is in talks with anchoring the shopping mart but that could still take a significant amount of time to come into fruition — a year or more.
“That is maddening to me. That really fueled me. What do we need to do to bring healthy eating options into this community,” Tsadakeeyah said, “So going to Hyde Park or South Loop was out of the question for me, I had to take care of home first.
“We’ve kind of realized now that if we’re going to have a walkable, healthy community, we’re going to have to build it. So folks are kind of embracing that saying: What do you have? What do I have? How can we come together to build the kind of community that we want?” he said. “There is some support that’s coming, but I think we’re realizing that our best resources are each other.”
Tsadakeeyah’s determination is clear as he speaks. It’s echoed in the physical transformation of the building his restaurant occupies and the way he runs his kitchen. While I waited to interview him, at least four people walked in hoping to apply for a job.
As Tsadakeeyah stared outside the open front windows to the South Shore Metra stop across the street, he said, “(It’s an) eclectic mix because we have a lot of white collar workers that get on the train, right across the street, that go to work every day. And low income housing. And there’s a mix of folks that respect the neighborhood that want to see it grow. We have gang activity, so that battle, what’s the soul of South Shore going to be, is what is happening right now.”
Places to visit in South Shore
There’s all the good work that internationally renowned Chicago artist and community developer Theaster Gates is doing with the Rebuild Foundation and the Dorchester Art Housing Collaborative. The Stony Island Arts Bank is technically located in the South Shore neighborhood (according to the city maps, although many residents consider the western border at Stony Island). This is such an incredible feat spearheaded by one man’s vision — we hope to cover it as a stand-alone feature as one later episode of The Grid.
South Shore is home to the Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago, a performing dance company. Founded in 1972, the company performs progressive, contemporary as well as authentic, ancient interpretations of African and African-American dance, music and folklore.
The world famous South Shore Drill Team, best known locally for its spectacular performances during the Bud Billiken Parade, was founded by South Shore resident and Chicago Public School teacher Arthur Robertson in 1980 and initially made its home in the South Shore Community Center. Currently, the team is based at the Gary Comer Youth Center and continues its legacy, providing life-changing support and stability to many at-risk youth.
Lost Boyz Inc. was started in 2008 by LaVonte Stewart. Its mission is to decrease violence, provide emotional support and financial opportunities for youth in South Shore. The organization provides mentors and teaches civic engagement through baseball and other workshops.
Additional resources for children and adults can be found through the South Shore Chamber of Commerce, South Shore for All, Ray of Hope Center of the Arts, Annie B. Jones Community Services, Black United Fund of Illinois and South Shore Works. South Shore Works is an independent, dedicated consortium of individuals and key organizations committed to the revitalization of the South Shore community in every aspect.
Reflections on the South Shore neighborhood by Mikki Kendall, Chicago writer
Mikki Kendall was born and raised in Chicago and has written for many online and print publications. She is working on two books, “Hood Feminism” and “Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight For their Rights.”
The ugly parts of life in South Shore are most likely to make the news, whether it be a shooting or a fight. But South Shore is a neighborhood filled with families who work hard and try to do their best in area that is only occasionally resourced. The golf course and the harbor are beautiful, walks by the lake are some of the most soothing, but there’s no major grocery stores, jobs that pay a living wage are scarce, and access to public transit and quality education are limited.
If you stand on the shore, you can see all the way to the fireworks in Indiana or at Navy Pier. What’s harder to see is that as people are being priced out of Hyde Park, pushed out of Woodlawn and so many other “popular” areas, South Shore’s role as an affordable beautiful neighborhood is being undermined by everything from the plans for the Obama Library with no community agreement to the overbearing aggression of Chicago police. Is this a perfect neighborhood? Of course not, but a quick trip to the Cultural Center will show you how many families of color in this city are working hard to give their kids the best they can while budget cuts undermine every possible program and taxes continue to rise. Like the rest of the South Side, South Shore is a place that is wonderful and under attack.
Oldest shop in South Shore: Sullivan’s Fashions
Sullivan’s Fashions has been on 2524 E. 75th St. since 1969. Husband and wife proprietors, Everett and Naomi Sullivan are both Mississippi natives. They met in Chicago and fell in love.
Everett, 81, wears a tie every day. When I asked how many ties he owns, he answered, “God knows, how many! A whole lot of them! My sister-in-law would tell people: Believe it or not he cuts the grass with his tie on!”
Impeccably dressed, Everett finds a pair of earrings for Naomi, 87, to wear for our interview. Naomi relies heavily on her husband these days as he mostly manages the store. It’s clear they are still in love and work seamlessly together.
The two have been married since 1963. Everett’s advice for a successful marriage: “Give and take, and remember the lady comes first. Men should never want the lady to stay in the background. He should always keep her up front and make decisions together.”
He certainly has kept Naomi in the foreground of their business and their lives. The two learned how to sew, and became custom tailors for their clients. In 1985, they discontinued carrying menswear.
With the ups and downs of the neighborhood, the Sullivans have seen it all. They remember the bustling street that 75th once was, and recall how drugs and gangs have affected the neighborhood.
“South Shore is a great place to do business. We just need more businesses come in to South Shore,” Everett said.
The Sullivans stayed in business and are a beacon of what South Shore was, and speak to the resiliency of what present-day South Shore is as well. “We just had a love affair with what we’re doing, and we had a love affair with our people that come back from time to time.” Everett said. “Some of our customers that moved to the suburbs, they still come back to the store. I make sure that things are fitted for them because I’m a tailor. That and the quality merchandise keep them coming back.”
Explore South Shore
I had, both a full stomach and heart, leaving South Shore. The people that live there were some of the most dynamic and caring individuals I’ve encountered during my exploration of neighborhoods for The Grid. These were the most active group of citizens, of all ages, I have encountered. They do not love their community passively. There’s a lot of work ahead for the neighborhood, but there is so much that is already good! It possesses natural beauty, stunning lakeshore views, great housing stock, plentiful transportation and deserves your time, investment and patronage. More than anything, it is rich in the culture, resiliency and tenacity of her people. It’s so worth a visit!
See you next time on The Grid!
This new Sun-Times video series showcases the best of Chicago’s neighborhoods (and suburbs!) by turning a spotlight on the people, places and things that make our city one-of-a-kind. Look for a new video episode each Wednesday on the Chicago Sun-Times website. #thegrid. We hope you will watch, read and share all of The Grid stories!
The Grid neighborhood guides
- Episode 1: Logan Square
- Episode 2: Andersonville
- Episode 3: Pilsen
- Episode 4: Hyde Park
- Episode 5: Ravenswood
- Episode 6: Printers Row
- Episode 7: Roscoe Village
- Episode 8: Bronzeville
- Episode 9: Rogers Park
- Episode 10: Chinatown