- Best Italianate Mansion
- Best Movie Rental and Specialty Microwave Popcorn
- Best-Laid Plan
- Best Eye-Opening Gorditas
Best Italianate Mansion
The Dupont-Whitehouse mansion is tucked away on a quiet block in McKinley Park. But once you’ve turned down Artesian Street, it’s unmissable, dwarfing its one-story neighbors. The s-curved brackets holding up the roof, which help give the mansion its distinctly Italianate flavor, immediately draw the eye. The roof’s purple eaves jut over the geometric green and gold cornice. Patches of the building’s original brick are visible, though much of it is covered with concrete.
A 2014 article in Chicago Patterns described this ornate mansion as “the house that gunpowder built,” nodding to its 1875 origin story: the house was built at 36th and Western by the DuPont explosives company for its plant superintendent Junot Whitehouse, who had requested a “small house.” It was designed by the firm of architect Oscar Cobb. In 1920, when a different company acquired the land, the house was saved from demolition and moved to its current location on Artesian a few blocks away. While it is officially—though just barely—located inside the McKinley Park boundaries, the mansion was once home to John McCaffrey, known as the father of adjacent neighborhood Brighton Park. The mansion was designated an official landmark in 1996.
By the early 21st century, the house had fallen into disrepair. A 2011 post on the blog Crib Chatter asked readers “Do you have the vision to save this house?” after the then-owner put it up for sale when the recession foiled his renovation plans. (That owner had already done significant work on the mansion, including adding the curved brackets.) The price eventually dropped to $190,000. It’s evident, however, that someone did have that vision. Public records indicate the house was sold in 2012, and it now bears unmistakable signs of life: windows and doors are no longer boarded; the grass is cut; furniture is visible inside; a car is parked out back. Long live the Dupont-Whitehouse House! (Mari Cohen)
Dupont-Whitehouse House, 3558 S. Artesian Ave.
Best Movie Rental and Specialty Microwave Popcorn
The Video Strip
“Some people bring their kids here, like it’s a museum, to show them how you used to get movies,” says Manuel, who has been coming in since he was a kid himself. He has now worked there for five years (and is the only employee aside from owner Joe Trutin). Manuel’s taste in films is as wide ranging as the store’s collection—he admits that he’s seen The Emoji Movie more times than he’s seen The Godfather.
The Video Strip is one of the last remaining neighborhood video stores in Chicago, with a broad selection of video games, DVDs, and blu-rays—including extensive television, wrestling, horror (“probably our most popular”), and Asian film collections. While they have lost some customers to Netflix, many who once abandoned the shop for streaming have been coming back. They’ve also been picking up a few new customers every week that turn into regulars. Some customers even come by just to pick up some POP figurines or the shop’s specialty microwave popcorns (their flavors include ghost pepper, sriracha, habanero, kettle corn, barbecue, and chile lime). In general they serve neighborhood residents, but with the dwindling amount of rental stores, some people come in from the suburbs and North Side seeking the serendipity found in poring over DVD covers. Plus: they deliver. (J. Michael Eugenio)
The Video Strip, 3307 S. Archer Ave. Sunday–Friday, 1pm–midnight; Saturday noon–midnight. Rentals start at $2.99; unlimited memberships begin at $10.99 a month. (773) 927-4307. thevideostrip.com
McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan
McKinley Park has a lot going for it. As the McKinley Park Development Council noted in its application for a Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) grant last year, the neighborhood’s strengths include “a relatively low crime rate,” “affordable, owner-occupied housing stock,” “easy and well-utilized transit,” and “a beautiful, beloved park.” But, the proposal said, McKinley Park faces challenges, too, including a scarcity of housing units and retail and gathering spaces and an unemployment higher than that of the city as a whole. For these reasons, the council proposed a neighborhood plan to unite various development efforts in a central, community-driven process, with the hope of increasing jobs and bringing in new amenities and services while avoiding gentrification.
CMAP awarded the grant, and the eighteen-month McKinley Park Neighborhood Plan is now underway, with an expected conclusion in 2020. The plan’s current phase involves assessing the neighborhood’s conditions and seeking input from neighborhood residents. According to McKinley Park Development Council President John Belick, response to the plan has been positive so far, and meetings have been well attended. Belick, who was born and raised in the neighborhood and watched a lot of businesses leave, is particularly excited about the plan’s efforts to make use of empty buildings in the central manufacturing district and increase retail options on the 35th street corridor. He encouraged as many residents as possible to get involved: “We’re always looking for people to come out and help and offer their opinions.” (Mari Cohen)
Best Eye-Opening Gorditas
Gorditas La Tia Susy
I’ll be the first to admit: gorditas are not my Mexican restaurant go-to. Or should I say, they weren’t—Gorditas La Tia Susy has opened my eyes to the joys of the small stuffed masa pastries. I am converted thanks to the shop’s variety of fillings offered and the low price point of $3.50. The chicharrón prensado (pressed pork skin) crackles; the nopales (cactus) fill your mouth with tart, chewy strands; best of all, the decadent requesón con frijoles (ricotta cheese with beans) combines two subtle, creamy flavors so well you don’t even realize how delicious the gordita is until it’s all gone and you need to order another. Not to be missed is the homemade salsa by Edi Quiñnones, the owner’s son, made from peppers he grows. It add an incredible punch to every bite. (Sam Stecklow)
Gorditas La Tia Susy. 3500 S. Western Ave. Monday–Thursday, 9am–9pm; Friday–Sunday, 9am–10pm. (872) 281-5099