Kenwood is located on Chicago’s South Side, about six miles from the downtown Loop. It is divided into a north and south section, bisected by 47th Street. Socioeconomically, the two parts are quiet different. The northern portion of Kenwood is less affluent than the southern half, where properties are valued in the millions. In 2007 and 2008, the neighborhood received much publicity as the home of the United States’ first African American President. Barack Obama’s brick mansion is near Kenwood’s southern border (shared with Hyde Park where Obama lived for several years), which is why both neighborhoods are considered Obama’s home town.
About three-quarters of Kenwood’s population is African American (according to the 2000 census) and many prominent black public figures have lived in the neighborhood over the years, including legendary boxer Muhammad Ali and Nation of Islam leaders Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan.
The community streets are dotted with prime examples of remarkable nineteenth and twentieth century architecture and historic landmarks. During the late 1800s, the neighborhood established a reputation among the city’s elite residents who built gigantic homes on the sprawling lots. Kenwood’s golden age, however, was followed by a dramatic decline, which manifested in the northern end of the neighborhood. The area experienced a period of depopulation and weakened commercial business that finally began to rebound after 1990. A gradual revitalization of North Kenwood is taking shape, while Kenwood (as the blocks below 47th Street are called) has maintained solid real estate values through it all. In fact, Kenwood has some of the biggest houses in Chicago and some of the most sought-after properties in the city.
A lot of the neighborhood’s allure is its diverse residential architecture. The attuned eye will notice everything from Colonial Revivals to Queen Annes, stately villas from the Italianate School to Wright designs from the Prairie School. Kenwood homes showcase it all. And the beautiful community sights are just as magnificent, boasting Chicago’s oldest surviving fountain and several structures dating back to the late 1800s.
The neighborhood has a small artist community anchored by the Little Black Pearl Art and Design Center and the Hyde Park Art Center (which is actually in Kenwood). These organizations are great local amenities that offer a creative outlet for everyone from youths to seniors. Both centers have exhibits, performances and programs that serve the Kenwood district. The Kenwood Community Center is the neighborhood’s number one recreation hub. In the summer the park area comes alive with baseball games, tennis, day camps, and kids playing in the spraypool and on the jungle gyms.
If you have a vehicle, Lake Shore Drive provides a convenient and scenic route north to the Loop (downtown Chicago). If you prefer to use public transportation, the Metra Line commuter rail runs right through Kenwood, heading north/south with a station at 47th Street. This is a quick way to get around because it has few stops and goes to the major destinations in the area. Buses run along all the main Kenwood streets (51st, 47th, 43rd and Lake Park) and are easy to navigate.