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Twelve Blocks

Midway Park, 5800 West | Austin

Photo: Lee Bey

Friendly Confines

By Lee Bey

Published Oct. 29, 2018

As an architecture critic who’s also a South Sider, I’m quick to boast about the stately homes on Bronzeville’s King Drive, say, or Beverly’s Longwood Drive. But here’s a confession: My favorite block in the city isn’t on the South Side. It’s on a short street called Midway Park, which harbors a collection of houses that would look perfectly comfortable snuggled up in a quaint New England town. As it happens, they’re snuggled up on the West Side, just north of the Austin stop on the Green Line.

I first stumbled on Midway Park some 30 years ago. Wide-eyed, I rode the brakes of my aged Volvo and marveled at the magnificent Queen Anne, shingle-style, and Prairie School houses. A landscaped median rolled down the middle of the street like a green welcome mat; it was an invitation I couldn’t resist.

Still can’t. Over the decades I’ve revisited Midway Park countless times, following its entire three-block run from Waller Avenue to Austin Boulevard. All three of those blocks feature impressive architecture. But it’s the middle one that has it in spades. Take the Frederick Schock House, at 5804 West Midway Park. It’s an eye-popping three-story eruption of gables, arched windows, stone, leaded glass, and decorative columns. There is no other house like it in Chicago. Not even close. One door west, at 5810, stands a Queen Anne stunner with walnut-and-African-mahogany-trimmed interiors and an honest-to-God ballroom. A man named George Manning has owned that house since the 1970s. He invited me onto his porch for iced tea when he noticed me taking a picture. Another owner, who lives in the Arts and Crafts house at 5837, gestured to a colorful wreath of flowers hanging on the front door. He wanted to make sure I got it in the shot. It’s that kind of block. Folks greet you. They shake your hand. They wave as they zip past you on a bike. They’re proud of where they live.

Lee Bey is an architecture photographer and critic and a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute.

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