Under more than a few new lights, Hyde Park residents descended for an evening onto 53rd Street. Some wandered the street, perusing storefronts and casually chatting with neighbors, friends, and family, while the core of the crowd congregated under a sprawling white tent where DJ Dave Henry was blaring house music mixed with some golden oldies. The line at Chipotle could barely be contained within the store; others huddled around the Ja’Grill and Porkchop food trucks for a taste of Jamaican jerk chicken and sandwiches stuffed with savory pulled pork. Harper Court, the new development district in east Hyde Park, had officially kicked off.
The kick-off began with a ribbon cutting in the afternoon on Friday, November 8. Dignitaries like Rahm Emanuel and University of Chicago president Robert Zimmer were present, along with Grammy Award-winning singer Estelle. Even before the headline act arrived, though,
residents were bumping to the beat and swaying in their seats. A daughter, dressed in pink and pandas, was lifted into the air by her father. A smooth older couple got onto the stage and began swing dancing. Wearing a black cap and polished burgundy loafers, the man spun and grabbed the woman, dressed in a fur leopard coat and cheetah-print heels.
Elainea, who lives close to the area, came when she heard about the festivities, especially Estelle. “It’s a welcome change in the community…all of this is bringing new people who aren’t from here [to Hyde Park]. I just met somebody from the suburbs of Chicago,” she said. A couple of minutes later, as DJ Dave Henry switched tracks, she got up with a group and began jumping in time to the music.
However, not all sentiments conveyed the jovial spirit of the night. Dawn, a neighborhood resident for twenty-five years, said, “I think it’s a good thing they’re doing here [bringing Estelle and a DJ], but I think it’s destroying the identity of Hyde Park. It’s making it more commercial and bringing in a bunch of new faces. It’s turning it into an ‘anywhere town.’ ”
As the night wore on, more and more people arrived in hopes of seeing Estelle. Before that, radio and TV personality Bioncé Foxx walked onto the stage to introduce the manager of the Hyatt and also Will Burns, alderman of the 4th Ward. She joked about opening a club in Hyde Park for the older persuasion, and then, in a vote by applause, teased out the average age of the crowd: a cool forty-plus years old.
When Estelle finally made it to the stage, she hit it off with a powerful rendition of her Grammy-winning song, “American Boy.” “They tell me I’m in South Side, East Side,” she later said, in between songs. “All I know is that I’m just here. I’m just here.”