Owning Chicago Real Estate the Theme of Plays

June 16, 2012

Chicago real estate has indirectly captured a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award.

“Clybourne Park” is a story about race and real estate. Chicago real estate. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2011 and last week won the Tony Award for best play.

Northwestern grad Bruce Norris wrote the play, which was inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun,” another story that covers race and Chicago real estate. The latter ends with an African-American family escaping their dilapidated apartment on the South Side to buy a house amid racial tension in an all-white Chicago neighborhood called Clybourne Park.

Norris’ play opens in 1959 with a couple selling their Chicago home in the white, middle-class neighborhood of Clybourne Park. Their buyers: The African-American family from “A Raisin in the Sun.” The sellers are advised not to sell to a “colored” family or property values will drop.

The Hansberry home in Chicago

Act Two of “Clybourne Park” takes place in the same home in 2009, only now the home is in bad shape and the neighborhood is all-black and gentrifying. A white family attempts to buy the home and racial issues arise again.

Hansberry’s story was written close to home. Her African-American parents bought a house in 1937 in a Chicago neighborhood that had a restrictive covenant banning African Americans from living there. The neighbors attempted to get the sale rescinded and a lawsuit ensued. Hansberry v. Lee went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was ruled that whites can’t bar African Americans from white neighborhoods.

The Lorraine Hansberry House, which was built in 1909 by Albert G. Ferree at 6140 S. Rhodes in the Woodlawn neighborhood, was designated a Chicago Landmark in February 2010.

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