House of the Day #67: 5621 S. Blackstone

This house on Blackstone in Hyde Park is a lovely Victorian from 1886, designed by the architectural firm of Flanders & Zimmerman. It is a private home now, but some quick research in the Tribune archives reveals an interesting past. While I didn’t unearth much about the early days of the house, it was the residence of one Oliver F. Smith until his passing in 1940, at which time an estate auction was held in the house. It was home to the Holtzman family in the late 1940s; two sons of the family attended the University of Chicago in those days, when receiving a scholarship or earning a BA merited you a mention in the paper.

By 1951, the house had become the Crossroads Student Center. Crossroads was a program of the Catholic Lay Auxilliary of Missions, specifically employing American and European social workers “to convey the meaning and hope of American democracy thru the plain and simple medium of kindness.” Offering language classes, cultural enrichment, student groups, and informal support of various kinds, this little house served thousands of foreign college students each year, of all races and religions. It was bursting at the seams, and plans were announced in 1961 to build a new building. Nothing seems to have come from the plan, but Crossroads soldiered on in this house through at least 1972. After that, I can’t figure out what happened, or how the home came back into use as a private residence. One can only imagine the fascinating and important people who passed through that distinctive recessed porch over the years.

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