HYDE PARK — It began as a heated town and gown battle over the preservation of historic homes on Woodlawn Avenue near the University of Chicago campus.
But it ended with the university and the Woodlawn Home Owners Association hammering out an agreement on maintaining the architectural character of the neighborhood.
The fact the two sides, after being bitterly at odds, were able to reach a consensus led the Hyde Park Historical Society to present its yearly preservation award to both groups, the society announced this week.
The Marian and Leon Despres Preservation Award will be presented on Feb. 23.
“We had another one of those town and gown battles and this one successfully ended as being beneficial to both sides,” said Jack Spicer, chair of the group’s preservation committee.
Over the span of more than eight months last year, the university and its neighbors worked together to identify buildings on the 5700 block of South Woodlawn Avenue last year that should be protected. They also outlined design principles for future development that would maintain the residential character of the street.
“It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad,” Spicer said of a document drafted by the university in cooperation with the community that set new zoning guidelines for development on the block.
After a calamitous debate about how a 5757 S. University Ave. seminary would be readapted into space for the economics department, the agreement was seen by many in the neighborhood as an example of how the university and its neighbors could successfully cooperate on plans for campus expansion.
The award will honor the agreement, but also the spirit of debate leading up to it.
“It’s partially for the social phenomenon of it,” Spicer said.
Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives will also be presented with the Despres Award this year for its exterior renovation of five residential buildings in the Pullman neighborhood.
Tim Samuelson, the city of Chicago’s cultural historian, will be the keynote speaker at the Feb. 23 dinner at the Quadrangle Club, 1155 E. 57th St.