By Carol Flynn
In honor of the Beverly Area Planning Association’s (BAPA) 75th anniversary, articles about BAPA’s history will be featured in The Villager throughout 2023. This month, BAPA’s role as a change agent for the Beverly Hills/Morgan Park community in the 1970s – 80s is explored.
President John F. Kennedy said in 1963, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future.”
BAPA’s story is a case study on how one of the oldest grassroots organizations in Chicago led its community through a period of change 50 years ago to emerge a diverse neighborhood that continues to thrive today.
The term “grassroots” came into use around 1900 during the Progressive Era to describe the reforms and political movements that came from the ground up, that is, “were grown from the soil of people’s hard necessities,” as one elected official said in 1912.
Grassroot organizations like BAPA are formed by and work through the people of a community, who set their own goals and determine how to achieve them. This is the opposite of the traditional top-down model, where government directives or corporate plans are foisted upon a community.
In 1983, the Chicago Tribune wrote, “BAPA is proof that there is power in the neighborhood. It functions as a mini-city hall, working with all local agencies, from schools and businesses to realtors and transportation authorities. No matter is too trivial for them to oversee.”
The power the article refers to comes directly from the people. BAPA is not, and never was, an agency with formal authority to make and enforce rules. BAPA, an umbrella organization made up of local civic and business groups, residents, and businesses, is the community coming together to solve problems.
BAPA was formed by a group of concerned citizens in 1947 essentially to maintain the status quo of Beverly Hills and Morgan Park as a desirable middle- to upper-income family-oriented neighborhood. During its earliest years, BAPA’s role was more reactive, dealing with zoning changes and other issues that the residents and local businesses considered important.
In 1971, BAPA’s role expanded to become more action oriented in dealing with the complex societal, political, and economic changes affecting the entire country. BAPA became directly involved in the racial integration issues of Chicago’s South Side when the residents of Beverly Hills and Morgan Park, watching the changes taking place in South Shore and other communities to the east, became increasingly concerned about the stability of their own community.
BAPA was already recognizing its need to become more proactive when a proposal titled “Beverly Now” was presented at Christ the King Church in North Beverly by L. Patrick Stanton, a member of the church’s Community Relations Committee.
Beverly Now was a plan to “racially stabilize” the area. Elements included creating a public relations campaign to promote the area to potential home buyers, working with the local public and parochial schools to improve education opportunities, and encouraging new business endeavors. The fourth component, critical to the plan’s success, was working with real estate firms to prevent blockbusting and panic selling.
The proposal advised forming an organization with paid professional staff to plan, coordinate, and oversee these efforts.
The Beverly Now goals were consistent with BAPA’s goals, leading Robert Seward, president of BAPA, to offer that BAPA could reorganize to serve as the coordinating organization with financial and volunteer assistance from the community. This idea was supported by Arthur Baer, the president of Beverly Bank, one of the community’s most prominent business and social leaders. With some exceptions, other groups and the community at large bought into this plan.
Initial funding came from the churches, the banks, the real estate companies, and local businesses, all organizations with vested interests in a community’s stability.
BAPA updated its mission, expanded its Board of Directors and committees, and hired its first executive director, G. Phillip Dolan, Ph.D., a city planning and development expert from Columbus, Ohio. The first women were added as directors, including Sue Delves, active with local schools, who later became the first woman president of BAPA. L. Patrick Stanton also joined the BAPA board.
The next decade saw a whirlwind of activities.
BAPA immediately installed a hotline so residents could report problems and clear up rumors. A monthly newsletter that led to today’s Villager was implemented. Informal “coffees” to introduce new residents to their neighbors were held.
BAPA reached out to all corners of the Ridge communities, and organizations from Beverly Hills and Morgan Park were represented by delegates. However, in 1972, the Mount Greenwood Community Council decided not to join BAPA and be part of the plan.
The advantages of living in Beverly Hills/Morgan Park were advertised far and wide. Tours of the community had been started by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1956; now BAPA joined with the Beverly Art Center and the Ridge Civic Council to conduct tours that continue today as BAPA’s annual Home Tour.
BAPA took on the real estate agencies that used unscrupulous means to scare white homeowners into panic selling, and supported anti-solicitation laws and a city-wide ban on for-sale signs.
In 1983, BAPA joined with the Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities to sue four real estate companies that steered home seekers to communities based on race.
Housing and preventing urban decay remained the highest priorities for BAPA.
In 1977, BAPA led the efforts of residents and local business owners to form the Beverly Area Local Development Company, a not-for-profit set up to receive Small Business Administration and other loans for improvements to business strips. One successful project was the purchase, renovation, and resale of a block of commercial property on 95th Street between Longwood Drive and Prospect Avenue.
Another not-for-profit, the Beverly Hills Morgan Park Housing Development Corporation, was also formed with BAPA’s help, with funding from the Illinois Housing Development Authority. This corporation helped homeowners faced with foreclosures, and acquired, rehabilitated, and resold houses in the neighborhood.
The Beverly Hills/Morgan Park Housing Center, established to “maintain a stable integrated community, discourage resegregation, and attract potential buyers and renters to the community” was located at BAPA. One of the founders was Virginia “Ginger” Rugai, who headed the Center for seven years before moving on to election as the 19th Ward alderperson.
Some of the tactics that BAPA and the Housing Center employed were controversial, although in the 1970s – 80s they were used in many communities and BAPA was transparent about their use.
In 1987, BAPA and the Housing Center were sued by white and black plaintiffs who had sought housing assistance there. The Center’s practice was to promote “nontraditional moves” by providing white home seekers with information on houses only in integrated areas, and providing black home seekers with information on houses in areas still predominantly white. This was done to prevent “tipping” an area into resegregation from all white to all black as was happening in areas like Englewood, creating the hyper-segregated communities that exist today on Chicago’s South Side.
The plaintiffs claimed that this violated the Fair Housing Act of 1968 by denying housing information based on race.
The judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found for BAPA, dismissing the case, stating that BAPA could not adversely affect housing opportunities because BAPA was not a real estate agent and was not involved in the actual sale or rental transactions. Further, BAPA did not deprive anyone of housing information because the information was readily available through commercial channels. Finally, since BAPA fully informed home seekers of its policy to provide only certain information, no one was blindly steered to a particular area.
Working with the local schools was important, and one of the policies that BAPA supported was a quota system at Morgan Park High School (MPHS) to keep the school balanced at 50% white and 50% black.
Many Irish Catholics had moved into the community, and BAPA was concerned because they were sending their children to Catholic high schools and not to MPHS, impacting the racial balance. In 1979, BAPA worked with seven local Catholic parishes to establish a Catholic Youth Ministry Center in the “Blue House” at 1825 W. Monterey Ave., in an attempt to attract Catholic families to the school. BAPA assumed responsibility for the maintenance of the building, which the city had marked for demolition, and worked with Beverly Bank on community support for the Center.
To showcase the community, BAPA sponsored fests and special events. The First Annual Ridge Historic Run was held in April of 1978. It was billed as a “rugged race with heartbreak hills.” BAPA expected 600 participants; 1,300 showed up. The next year the race was switched to Memorial Day when it is held today as an annual event.
Within a few years of the implementation of Beverly Now, the initial panic caused by racial integration subsided, and by the early 1990s, the community considered itself “stabilized.” Those white homeowners who could not adapt to the changes had sold their homes and moved to the suburbs, but many whites who were long-standing members of the community stayed. The area now attracted both white and black homeowners who desired to live in a diverse community.
Dolan, the first BAPA Executive Director, called the results of Beverly Now “one of the greatest urban experiments in the United States.”
In an interview several years ago, Stanton, the originator of Beverly Now, stated, “Beverly Now recognized that change was going to happen, and it could happen in a manageable way if people worked together. What surprised everyone the most was that the people in the community could actually take over an issue, that the people could make plans and could raise money. For the most part in Chicago up to then, politicians and business people managed issues like this, the integration of a neighborhood, but this showed that the people in the community could do it themselves.”
In other words, this was a testament to BAPA as a grassroots community organization committed to dealing with change.
Stanton’s story of how Beverly Now came to be, and BAPA’s restructure to handle the plan, is included on the BAPA website at bapa.org/bapa-history-beverly-now-leads-bapa-reorganization/.
BAPA has been involved in many other issues and events. Some of those, such as establishing the historic districts and dealing with the ban on alcohol sales east of Western Avenue, will be explored in upcoming articles. Readers are invited to send in comments and questions about the history of BAPA and the Beverly Hills/Morgan Park community to email@example.com.