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Faces of the South Loop

THE NEIGHBORHOOD COUPLE

Stephen Pugh and Margo Brooks-Pugh, residents since 1999

“We saw a terrific new city neighborhood coming up, a place with a lot of hope and promise,” says Stephen Pugh. He is recalling the decision he and his wife, Margo Brooks-Pugh, made in 1999 when they moved from their Randolph Street condo south across Grant Park to a Central Station townhouse. “It was a new type of community, one where for the first time you might have a true mixture of all the diversity we have in Chicago. Not just the diversity of colors, but of people generally. We see a lot of people from the suburbs and from out of town and overseas. It’s been a true melting pot of eclectic people.”

Last year, the couple returned to high-rise living when they bought a 25th-story penthouse, also in the South Loop. “When we come down in the elevator in the morning, everyone on the elevator says hello to each other,” Pugh notes. “Can you imagine that?”

Both of the Pughs can get to work quickly—he’s a Loop attorney; she’s an administrator at Jackson Park Hospital on the South Side—but it’s what awaits them when they return home that they most appreciate. “First of all, there’s the lake, and the terrific running trail,” Stephen Pugh says. “We have the opera and all the restaurants; Columbia College puts on all these terrific music events and plays; and we think Michigan Avenue north to at least Madison belongs to us.”

Despite these many amenities, says Pugh, the neighborhood is still establishing its personality. “It’s not the Gold Coast; it’s not the North Shore. I don’t know what it is yet,” he says—and then adds: “It’s Steve Pugh.”

 

THE PARENTS

Erin and Patrick Fravel, residents since 1996

Erin and Patrick Fravel bought a house in the South Loop 11 years ago because it was a bargain compared with Lincoln Park, where they had been renting. But since having a child five years ago, the couple, who are both bankers, have found that their 1996 move is saving them something even more valuable than money: time.

Erin’s commute from their house in the Dear-born Park II subdivision into the West Loop is eight minutes; Patrick’s, into the Loop, is five. That gives them more time to spend with their daughter, Delaney. “With both of us working, we don’t want to be an hour’s train ride from her,” Erin says. “Patrick can drop her off at preschool and be at his desk by 8:30. If we lived in the suburbs and worked downtown, that would never happen.”

She calls the South Loop “the ideal place to raise a child in the city.” The neighborhood is surprisingly green, with two play parks within a few blocks of the Fravels’ house, and Grant Park—as well as the Museum Campus—only a little farther away. There is a burgeoning youth soccer league that plays in Chinatown, and because the Fravels live on a gated cul-de-sac, Delaney can play outside her house with neighbor kids, just like in many suburbs.

“I think what’s typical of the [parents] I know here in the South Loop is that they both work and the dads are very hands-on,” Erin says. “They don’t want to be the guy who’s out the door before the kids are even up. Go to the park: you will see as many dads as moms.”

When their daughter was just ten months old, the Fravels got involved in the effort to start a school at Old St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Now Delaney is there five days a week, with ballet class and other afterschool programs right in the building.

“We never thought of moving away from the South Loop,” Erin says. “If you can work out the school thing, there’s no reason to leave.”

 

THE PIONEER

Lynn Norment, resident since 1984

Lynn Norment has been a resident of the South Loop since 1984, long before most Chicagoans even knew the neighborhood existed. Today she sees her life there as “consummate city living.”

“Everything I want in the city of Chicago is within walking distance,” Norment says, “but it doesn’t feel congested here. I’m from a very small rural town in the South, so I want that feeling of openness you get from having Grant Park right outside. I’m always discovering new places, new shops when I walk the neighborhood.”

The managing editor of Ebony magazine, Norment came to Chicago from her native Tennessee in 1977. At a relative’s suggestion, she first settled in Hyde Park, but her job at Johnson Publishing—at 820 South Michigan Avenue—found her traveling each workday into the South Loop. So when she finally got ready to buy her own home, she opted for something close to work: a condo in a mid-rise unit in Dearborn Park I—at that time, she says, “the only place you could live down here.” Eighteen years later, in 2002, she moved even closer to work, buying a condo in a brand-new building right around the corner from her job.

Norment acknowledges that when she first moved into the neighborhood, “there was nothing happening. But I always felt like this neighborhood was going to happen any day.” Now that it has, she’s delighted. “It used to be Michigan Avenue, Printers’ Row, Prairie Avenue, and the spaces between them,” Norment says. “Now I feel like it’s all coming together into one complete neighborhood.”

 

THE ACTIVIST

Tina Feldstein, resident since 2004

Soon after moving to Chicago from Los Angeles in 1992, Tina Feldstein got a job driving a tourist trolley. At the start of each workday, she would ride her bike from Wicker Park to the trolley garage at 18th Street and Prairie Avenue—and she fell hopelessly in love with the stunning 19th-century mansions on the next block south. “The first time I rode down Prairie Avenue and saw the Kimball House and the Glessner House, I was blown away,” she recalls. “I’d go look at them every day, and I said to myself that one day I’d live on Prairie Avenue.”

As of 2004, she does, in a townhouse one block south of the mansions. “Prairie Avenue has some great historical integrity, and until now, everybody who has built here has been good about that,” says Feldstein, a real-estate agent since 2000. Red brick townhouses replaced her old trolley garage, and though not as fabulous as their older neighbors, the new buildings at least gave a stylistic tip of the hat to the veterans.

But in the fall of 2006, developers unveiled what Feldstein considers an insult to the mansions’ scale and grace: plans to develop a pair of ultramodern towers, one 44 stories tall and the other 33, immediately north of Glessner House. Called X/O, the towers, designed by Lucien Lagrange, are potentially beautiful, says Feldstein. “But,” she asks, “who in their right mind would put the most modern structure you could come up with on the most historic street in Chicago?”

That sense of outrage moved Feldstein to join with others to create the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, which now includes at least nine local homeowners’ associations. “We’re pro-development,” says Feldstein. “We want high-rises, and we want to see every block in the South Loop filled in. But [X/O] has us all freaked out.” The organization is fighting the project, which has yet to break ground.

“It’s time for this neighborhood to have some groundbreaking architecture,” counters Brian Giles of Frankel & Giles, which is selling the condos in X/O. He notes that the building defers to its old-line neighbors with a lawn area at its south end, across from Glessner House.

To Feldstein, that’s not enough. “Lucien Lagrange is capable of designing something for that site that is more respectful of what’s already here,” she insists.


Photography by Anna Knott

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