Sports history found in Kenwood homes
Today’s walk through the Kenwood neighborhood brings up a theme a lot of people are missing this time of year: sports. Follow along to learn about a few of the sports stars and leaders who once called Kenwood home.
by CAC docents John Hug, class of 1999, and Maria Corpuz, class of 1996
Our walk begins on Woodlawn Avenue at a house occupied for many years by Muhammad Ali. The boxing star acquired the home at the time of his conversion to the Muslim faith. His spiritual leader, Elijah Muhammad, lived nearby, on the corner of 48th and Woodlawn. The current occupant of the latter house is Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam.
Two lots north of Ali’s home is the long-time residence of sporting goods store owner A. G. Spaulding. Everyone recognizes the last name, but are you familiar with his accomplishments? Spaulding was a successful pitcher and hitter for the Boston Red Stockings and Chicago White Stockings. He also helped organize the National League and published the first rules of professional baseball (which, in true Chicago fashion, included using only Spaulding baseballs).
One block north sits the house of Thomas E. Wilson. Wilson was president of Morris Meat Packing (third largest in Chicago after Swift and Armour). One of his customers, Sulzberger & Sons, bought the innards of slaughtered animals to make gut strings for tennis racquets. You can see where this story is going. Wilson was asked by Sulzberger’s owners to take over the company, which was then renamed the Thomas E. Wilson Co. and later, of course, Wilson Sporting Goods.
The last stop is an architecturally unusual home for a very unusual sportsman. The home, part of the Atrium Houses built in 1961 by Y. C. Wong, has no windows. Instead, each of the Atrium Houses contained a central atrium for light and air. The home was the last owned by Bill Veeck, owner of the St. Louis Blues, the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago White Sox (twice). Veeck was the master showman – he created the exploding scoreboard for the White Sox and added ivy to Wrigley Field when he served as president of the Chicago Cubs. He died in 1986, but his widow Mary Frances Veeck, who still resides in the area, will celebrate her 99th birthday on September 1. Here’s hoping we’ll be watching sports again by then.