STREETERVILLE — A lot has changed since James Braxton first moved to McClurg Court Center in 1977.
For starters, the neighborhood was so undeveloped that Braxton's wife Virginia remembers "seeing rabbits running in the street."
"Can you imagine seeing something like that today?" said Virginia Braxton, 81.
After 37 years living in the building at 333 E. Ontario St. — 35 since his wife moved in with him — Braxton's ties to the neighborhood and the building are so strong that the management team leapt into action to celebrate his 100th birthday with a party Monday afternoon.
"We keep track of demographic information for all our residents, so when we saw that James had a 100th birthday coming up, we knew we had to do something special," said Cyndi Pokrzywa, McClurg Court Center's property manager. "He's been a resident for almost as long as this building has been here."
The management team provided food, drinks, decorations — and most importantly, a cake — for a reception on the building's terrace, where Braxton was visited by residents of all ages, from longtime neighbors to new tenants.
Lizzie Schiffman was at the party and spoke with the man's wife, who offers a glimpse into the neighborhood's past:
Virginia Braxton said that's something that kept them in the building for so long after they were married on Aug. 30, 1980.
"It has always been such a diverse neighborhood," she said, "I imagine things would have been different for us [as an interracial couple in the late '70s] if we lived somewhere different."
"I love the diversity of ages, the diversity of languages in our building," she said. "We have a number of friends here."
The couple met through their church while James Braxton was living in Hyde Park, where Virginia said he was actively involved in the civil rights movement, marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and fighting for affirmative action at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District as one of its first black assistant chief engineers.
"He might have been the first one," Virginia Braxton said. At the end of his career, Braxton was running the Calumet Treatment Plant while commuting to and from Streeterville.
Braxton said her husband was drawn to the neighborhood — and what was, at the time, the only new construction building on the street — for its "professional environment."
She said they have fond memories of watching the neighborhood "grow around us, as everything we needed came to us." The couple were among the first in line to get into the Lake Shore Drive Treasure Island grocery store the day it opened.
Virginia Braxton said she and James treasured the opportunity to celebrate his birthday with their neighbors.
"There are so many people in the building that have always beeen solicitous, encouraging and fond of him," she said. "I'm very glad to have a chance to acknowledge their interest in him."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: