Obama Neighbors Welcome 4 More Years of Increased Security
With Secret Service agents in black SUVs positioned at the ends of the 5000 block of South Greenwood Avenue, Obama neighbor Adela Cepeda joked, “I always wanted to live on a cul-de-sac, and now I live on a cul-de-sac.”
Neighbors sharing the block with Obama's Georgian Revival mansion at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave. have spent the last four years under the careful watch of the Secret Service, which requires they call ahead if guests are coming. The prerequisite can intimidate friends from dropping by for a chat, some neighbors said.
"Getting to the point of accommodation and a mutual understanding" was an early challenge, Cepeda said. "But the problems have been minimal."
After four years, residents said the security has become routine.
“It’s the same, with a lot less traffic,” said neighbor Addison Braendel, adding that the omnipresent Secret Service agents are always polite and respectful.
Because the avenue is blocked, “we can play Frisbee in the street, and sometimes do," Braendel said.
Representatives from the Secret Service said they try to make their presence easy on residents.
"We work well with our neighborhood residents — we try to minimize our impact on their lives," said spokesman Max Milien.
Obama bought the red-brick home for $1.65 million in 2005. At 6,400 square feet, it features six bedrooms, six baths, mahogany bookshelves and a granite kitchen floor.
The next year, in a move he would later say he regretted, Obama purchased part of a lot next door for $104,500 from Rita Rezko, wife of corrupt businessman and campaign fundraiser Tony Rezko.
The Obamas paid $26,751.27 in property taxes in 2011, county documents show.
Early in his first term, Obama called the house "my Kennebunkport" and vowed to return at least every couple months.
But the first family wasn't seen that much in his first four years in office: He stayed there on the night of his re-election in November and held a fundraiser at the house in August (where he joked that, with the Secret Service in charge of landscaping, "The lawn hasn't looked this good in a while.")
Before that, he hadn't slept on Greenwood since April 2011.
Braendel said the block — marked by a row of similarly pricey architectural gems built after the Great Chicago Fire — lights up during Obama’s rare visits to the neighborhood.
“The street is quieter — except when the president is home,” Braendel said. “Then there are bomb-sniffing dogs, car checks and lots and lots of security.”
Cepeda said the block and the Kenwood neighborhood have always been safe. During her 24 years living on the block, she’s been burglarized once — a Weber grill was taken from her backyard more than five years ago.
Thefts still happen, she said, but that’s not why the Secret Service is there.
“It’s somewhat of a deterrent, but we’ve had thefts from the garage next door even with them there,” she said.
She admits that cabs are often too intimidated to pick her up or drop her off at her doorstop, but thinks the Obama connection has been a plus for the area.
“I think it’s good for Hyde Park,” she said of the sightseeing tours and tourists that parade up and down East Hyde Park Boulevard when the weather is warmer.
“I don’t think that people are trying to loiter, I think they just have reverence.”
Cepeda said she supported Obama for re-election because she supported his politics, not the quiet it has brought to her block. She tried to express that to Michelle Obama on a rare meeting.
“Everything is fine on the block, you don’t need to come back, we need you in Washington, D.C.,” Cepeda said she told the first lady.
The congregation at K.A.M. Isaiah Israel, located at the south end of Obama's block, is also getting used to the Secret Service presence.
“They’re usually extremely accommodating during the holidays,” said Stewart Martin, an administrator at the synagogue at 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd., adding that the president’s visits home have yet to coincide Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.
“It might have been more chaotic if he lost [in November] because he would be home so much more,” Martin said.
One holiday does get chaotic on the block, with many more children lured to the president’s block in late October.
“Halloween may be even more raucous now than before 2008 — hundreds of kids and non-kids come by,” Braendel said.