South Oakwood-Brookhaven Neighborhood Organization

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South Oakwood-Brookhaven Neighborhood Organization


The Organization and the Grand Crossing CommunityCommunityGraphic.png

The beginnings of the South Oakwood-Brookhaven Neighborhood Organization actually came out of a very different kind of organization than the one that exists today.

Mrs. Eileen Gerst who, with her husband, Dr. Isidore Gerst (both now deceased), resided at 7133 South Greenwood Avenue, related in a 1996 letter:

"When we first came to Chicago in 1946 and bought the house, there were no Blacks for several blocks and there was a white neighborhood organization, which we were asked to join. When we found out that its purpose was to keep the neighborhood segregated, we, of course, refused to join. Before you all moved in there was a period when a lot of these people were moving out and renting their property to white transients -- a very rough lot. What an improvement it was to have our new Black community!"

A Community Weathers Change

Regular meetings of the South Oakwood-Brookhaven Neighborhood Organization began in 1960, but the groundwork for the organization actually was laid during a 1959 meeting attended by Dr. Gerst, Mrs. Elizabeth Moore, Mrs. Morton and Mrs. Munson. At that time, the need was for the new neighbors and the old to come together for the benefit of all who lived there and sought to make the Grand Crossing neighborhood home. The need then was to build a sense of community, a basis for consensus, for neighborhood stability and improvement.

A middle- and working-class community, the area in and around South Oakwood-Brookhaven was home to a number of businesses and neighborhood institutions: Hunding Dairy Company, Joal Coal Company, the fire station at 73rd and Dobson, Hansen's and Brogan's grocery stores, E.F. Casey Real Estate - all gone now.

A Neighborhood Beating the Odds

The name Greater Grand Crossing can be traced back to 1853, when a 'right-of-way' feud between the Lake Shore and Michigan Railroad and the Illinois Central Railroad led to a collision that killed 18. Subsequent regulation commanded all trains to come to a full stop at the intersection where tracks between the two railroads overlapped: 75th Street at South Chicago Avenue. The neighborhood, once called, "Cornell", came to be known for this urgent crossing. The community of Grand Crossing was developed by Paul Cornell, who was also credited with the development of Hyde Park. The similarities between the two communities would seem to end there.

Grand Crossing once had no libraries, hospitals, or nursing home facilities. Population, over 54,000 in 1970, was once predicted to decline to below 30,000 residents by 2003.

In recent years, there have been bright spots: Businesses have remained, although under economic pressure: Grier Manufacturing, Lee's Unleaded Blues Lounge, Food and Supply Products, and Walker's Tire Shop. Our churches continue to keep the faith in the South Oakwood-Brookhaven community: Bray Temple C.M.E. Church, Carey Temple A.M.E. Church, and the Church of the Nazarene.

Cultural offerings in the area attract a steady number of 'tourists', along with African American artisans and art patrons from across the city. Nearby ETA Creative Arts Foundation, founded in 1971 and once, the city's only African American owned and managed cultural arts institution, continues to draw theater-goers from around Chicago.


The Community Rebounds

Following on the heels of Dorchester Place, a development of single family homes located just two blocks beyond our eastern boundary (the Illinois Central Railroad), developers constructed Revere Run: a scattered site development of new single family homes within South Oakwood-Brookhaven. These new homes have added to the stability of the entire area and improve the quality of life for all. This success should convince any doubters that such development in this area is, indeed, a worthwhile venture.

The creation of the South Shore/Greater Grand Crossing TIF district in 1998 offers inspiration to investors to return to the thoroughfares of 71st Street, Stony Island and South Chicago Avenues, once thriving corridors of commerce and industry. Today, our neighborhood is poised for a comeback with the approval of the 73rd & University TIF redevelopment project, which holds the promise of continued investment right in the heart of our community.


The completion of the Gary Comer Youth Center at 72nd and South Chicago Avenue in Spring 2006, the opening of Noble Street Charter School/Gary Comer College Prep (2008), and the 2011 opening of Grand Crossing Branch of the Chicago Public Library at 73rd Street and South Chicago Avenue are milestones that we all hope to see more of in South Oakwood-Brookhaven.

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