In Barack Obama's Chicago footsteps

 
LA Times | Travel
 

Hyde Park, which is on Chicago's South Side, is a well-established, diverse neighborhood where majestic houses share the tree-lined streets with scores of brownstone apartment buildings. On a brisk autumn day, a mix of students in scruffy jeans (the University of Chicago is here) and businessmen ...

By Jay Jones // 11.12.08
 

Hyde Park, which is on Chicago's South Side, is a well-established, diverse neighborhood where majestic houses share the tree-lined streets with scores of brownstone apartment buildings. On a brisk autumn day, a mix of students in scruffy jeans (the University of Chicago is here) and businessmen in expensive suits mingled amiably, greeting neighbors and strangers.

Most tourists skip Hyde Park, choosing instead the popular attractions downtown, about 10 miles to the north. But this eclectic community is braced for a growing number of visitors now that Barack Obama, its favorite son, is about to ascend to the presidency.

Obama bought the large, red brick house on South Greenwood Avenue in 2005. Until the final months of the presidential campaign, he would still come home most weekends to be with his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Natasha (called Sasha).

The area has plenty of attractions, of course. The University of Chicago's fine museums draw their share of visitors, as do two Frank Lloyd Wright homes. And Obama isn't the first famous person to live here.

Louis Farrakhan lives here and Muhammad Ali once did too.

Obama has lived in the area since the late 1980s, but only recently has his home taken on a celebrity aura.

His block of Greenwood is cordoned off, and tourists -- who are kept behind barricades across 51st Street -- are told not to stop, even to snap a photo.

There are, however, many places in Hyde Park where visitors can walk in Obama's footsteps without drawing the attention of the ever-watchful Secret Service agents. Here's a sampling:

57th Street Books, 1301 E. 57th St., semcoop.booksense.com. The Obamas have been customers of this basement bookstore for years. In fact, they (and thousands of other members of the co-op) are part owners. "They still come in, with an entourage," says manager Jack Cella.

Basketball courts, Hayes Drive at South Lake Shore Drive. Obama has come here to shoot hoops with his brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, a Chicago native and head coach of the basketball team at Oregon State University.

Burnham Park, east of where 55th Street dead-ends at a public parking lot, www.chicagoparkdistrict.com. Before becoming famous, Obama and his family were frequently spotted walking through this sprawling park along Lake Michigan. Promontory Point offers views of downtown in the distance.

Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, www.msichicago.org. This world-class museum, originally built for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, has been a favorite with families, including the Obamas, almost since it opened. Michelle served on the museum's African-American Outreach Committee.

Pizza Capri, 5307 S. Harper Ave. When they're in the mood for pizza, the Obamas often head here.

Ramada Lake Shore Chicago, 4900 S. Lake Shore Drive, www.ramada-chicago.com. This is where Obama took his first step into the world of politics. He held the kickoff to his successful campaign for the state Senate here in September 1995.

Site of the Obamas' first kiss, 1400 E. 53rd St. It's now a vacant unit in a small strip mall, but in 1988, this was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store. That summer, Obama brought Michelle Robinson here for an ice cream cone. "We sat on the curb and ate our cones in the sticky afternoon heat," he recalls in his book "The Audacity of Hope." University of Chicago Law School, 1111 E. 60th St. Obama taught law from 1992 to 2004 in this imposing building.

Don't miss . . .

While on campus, consider visiting the Oriental Institute Museum ( www.oi.uchicago.edu), a well-respected showcase of artifacts from the ancient Near East. Both Eastern and Western civilizations are represented at the Smart Museum of Art ( www.smartmuseum.uchicago.edu).

Robie House, 5757 S. Woodlawn Ave., www.wrightplus.org. Wright designed several homes in and around Chicago. This is one of the better known ones. The house is undergoing renovation, and until its completion tours are offered only on Saturdays.

Jones is a freelance writer.