List Price: $1.2 million
Sale Price: $1.125 million
The Property: Until its sale earlier this month, this vintage 1895 brownstone had remained for 50 years in the family of a pioneering African American couple. In 1958, Claude Barnett and Etta Moten Barnett bought the 12-room residence, and its enormous lot, on what was then South Parkway (today it’s called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive). They were the home’s third owners; it had originally been built for Harold McConnell, a canning company executive.
Claude Barnett founded the Associated Negro Press (ANP) in 1919; it went on to become the largest black press service in the country, distributing articles on people, news, and events to most of the country’s African American newspapers, as well as to 75 newspapers in Africa. He died in 1967, three years after ANP shut down.
Etta Moten Barnett was a singer and actress who broke through racial barriers on Broadway, in Hollywood, and at the White House. She played a war widow in Gold Diggers of 1933, at a time, critics note, when black women had only background roles as maids and nannies. In 1933 she also appeared as a sexy Brazilian singer in Flying Down to Rio, the first movie to pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In 1934, the same year she married Claude Barnett, Etta Moten became the first African American screen actress to perform in the White House. At the invitation of Eleanor Roosevelt, she performed “The Carioca,” her Oscar-nominated song from Flying Down to Rio, at a birthday celebration for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. George Gershwin reportedly wrote the part of Bess in Porgy and Bess for Moten, although she did not appear in the role until a 1942 revival of the show that ran for three years.
Etta Moten Barnett died in 2004 at 102 years old. When she had turned 100, Harry Belafonte said that, in her years as a performer, she had given African Americans “an opportunity to see themselves on a big screen as something beautiful. In her, we found another dimension to being black in our time.”
One of Moten’s three daughters from her first marriage, 88-year-old Sue Ish, remained in the house until selling it on July 16th, to a buyer whose name has yet to show up in public records. (The property had been listed for sale since April 2007, initially at an asking price of $1.5 million.) She will move to a smaller condo several blocks away. “There are so many memories here,” she told me last week. “I’ll have a pain in my stomach every time I drive past this house.”
Price Points: According to Sue Ish, the house cost $9,000 to build in 1895—that’s equivalent to spending $1.85 million today. Ish says her mother and stepfather paid $45,000 for the home in 1958—or $768,600 in today’s dollars—when white flight had already begun eviscerating property values on the South Side.
Listing Agent: Lucille Ish, of Urban Search Chicago, (312) 337-2400