My family bought our house in 1925. At the time the address was 1207 West Grand Avenue South. During World War II the street name was changed to MacArthur Boulevard. Now, 90 years later, we are getting it ready to be sold.
I have lived in the house for 70 years. People express surprise saying they never expected that we would move. When they ask why, I tell them this anecdote.
There was an old prostitute who trolled for customers in a seedy little bar. When a deal was struck she would take the customer to a fleabag hotel on the second floor.
One night she told the bartender that she was quitting. He asked why and she replied “It isn’t the work that gets you, it’s the stairs.”
Well, the stairs have gotten to me and, like many of our peers, we are downsizing and clearing things out and moving south. Not that far south, just to Chatham where we are building a new house.
We currently live in an area that was named Orendorff Place when it was developed early in the 20th century.
A booklet published by the developer described the area as having “wide winding drives...well-planted shrubbery...a correct system of lighting designed to meet the needs of heavily shaded roads...all protected from deteriorating influences by rigidly maintained restrictions....”
The booklet went on to say “that this attempt has been successful is evidenced by the class of homes which have been erected...No better group of varied, worthy types of architecture has ever been built in Springfield...”
The sales brochure touted the place as ideal for raising children because of its closeness to Washington Park, its pure fresh air and sunshine and its lack of congestion. Only 100 single-family homes would be built in the subdivision’s 40 acres.
The brochure ended with an invitation to come out and visit, telling the prospective buyer that the street car service was excellent and the ride on the South Second Street car was short.
We have a picture taken of 1207 when it was a spec house for the subdivision. There is our house with nothing but trees behind it. In those days this was the west edge of Springfield. South of South Grand was all fields. My grandparents had a large garden there.
The original buyers who came responded to the sales pitch and did, indeed, raise families here.
And over the years many of the houses passed from one generation of a family to another. That has changed as descendants have moved out of Springfield or as families have died out.
I have now lived in Orendorff Place longer than any other current resident. Back in the day I knew who lived in every house. I no longer can name all the families that make up the neighborhood.
In preparation for our move, there has been much discarding of clutter and many trips to Goodwill, with many more to come. As a longtime collector of things like model trains, toy soldiers, political posters and books, I feel some post partem depression.
But we are also leaving ghosts behind. Overall I find the process liberating. And when we are gone the kids will appreciate not having all this stuff to deal with.
In some ways I have already checked out. But I still care about the neighborhood.
I have seen it age. Seen the old oaks grow big. Seen some of the trees lost in storms. But the houses and the trees are still inviting.
And there is new life and vigor in Orendorff Place. I am seeing young families move into the neighborhood.
Many houses are being restored. There is a new interest in gracious old houses. Our closeness to the park is a draw, as it was when Orendorff Place was first marketed. And the efforts of Alderman Cory Jobe and the city, coupled with the advocacy of the MacArthur Boulevard Association, will bear fruit in the coming years.
The HyVee store has shown how a neighborhood can be reinvigorated by a combination of public and private commitment. I think the future for the neighborhood looks good.
And our future in the new house looks good too. It has features that we old folks need, like grab bars in the bathroom.
And best of all, there won’t be a single step. The retired lady of the night would not have any stairs to worry about.
And neither will I.