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Obama's Neighbors Worry President's Kenwood House Will Become Tourist Trap

By Sam Cholke | January 16, 2017 5:20am
 Barack Obama's neighbors in Kenwood sing
Barack Obama's neighbors in Kenwood sing "Happy Birthday" to him on his 51st birthday on Aug. 12, 2012. His neighbors are now worried tourists will take over the block if security is loosened.
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Flickr/The White House

KENWOOD — President Barack Obama’s neighbors are worried that when he leaves the White House, the tourists will invade his block.

Since Obama was sworn in as president in 2009, his block has been closed off by the U.S. Secret Service to everyone who didn’t have business on the block.

That’s meant life has been very quiet near Obama’s house, at 5046 S. Greenwood Ave.

“It’s probably one of the few places in the city where you can leave your Amazon packages for Christmas on the doorstep and not worry about it,” said Stephen Phalen, who moved his family to the block just as Obama started his presidential run in 2008.

He said before Obama took the oath of office in January 2009 and the Secret Service shut off Greenwood Avenue, tour buses weren’t uncommon on the block. He said he’s worried it will be even worse after Obama leaves office if Greenwood is opened back up.

Former presidents get Secret Service protection for the rest of their lives, and their children get protection until they turn 16.

The Secret Service said it does not disclose information about security for a sitting or former president.

Other neighbors said they’re worried tourists will become inescapable.

“Even with the Secret Service presence, tourists can be very aggressive,” said Lara Moynihan. “Given that I am next door, I do worry about having tourists on my driveway and in my backyard taking photos at all hours of the day and night.”

Even now, tourists get as close to they can, coming up to the gates at the end of the block next to K.A.M. Isaiah Israel, at 1100 E. Hyde Park Blvd.

Robert Nevel, who was president of the synagogue’s congregation for much of Obama’s tenure, said the tourist interest changes more with the weather than in response to whether the Obamas are home.

He said it's not uncommon to see two or more coach buses parked across Hyde Park Boulevard and let tourists out to take pictures of Obama's empty house.

“Even if they sell the house, it will still be a tourist attraction,” Nevel said.

So far, there are no indications the Obamas will come back to live in the Kenwood house full time.

Obama said last spring during a trip to Milwaukee that his family will stay in Washington, D.C., until his daughter Sasha finishes high school, and he hasn’t figured out what he'll do after that.

"Hawaii's home for me, but I spent almost 30 years in Chicago,” Obama said. “It's where I met Michelle; it's where she grew up. It's where our daughters were born.”

Obama’s presidential library will also be near the Kenwood house, in Jackson Park.

But people who followed Obama to the White House from Hyde Park and Kenwood, doubt he will return.

Austan Goolsbee, former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under Obama, said at Obama’s Tuesday farewell address that he wasn’t sure whether Obama would ever move back to the South Side.

He said the Kenwood house might no longer fit the Obamas’ lifestyle after the White House because both of their children will be in college, and they will be more focused on running their foundation.

Goolsbee moved back to Hyde Park after his stint at the White House, and former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, an old friend and frequent basketball partner of Obama, recently moved back to the neighborhood.

But if Obama has plans to get the old gang back together, he hasn’t told them yet.

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