Inside the Top Notch Beefburgers diner on 95th Street, things haven't changed much for decades. Owner Diran "Speedy" Soulian no longer flips hamburgers with the verve that earned him his nickname, but at age 80 he still runs the show. He still makes the burgers and French fries from scratch. (Note the unbutchered hind quarter in the cooler and the boxes of potatoes awaiting peeling.) Chicago's finest still watch over the lunch crowd from their table in the center. And, the sign on the front door still says "Cash Only."
Outside, Beverly has changed. A little. Down the street from Top Notch are a new Borders, Panera Bread and Potbelly Sandwich Works. Beverly has a new fire station and a new branch of the Chicago Public Library. A coffee shop, art gallery and deli are among the commercial offerings on 103rd Street by the railroad tracks.
But a block off the main streets, the neighborhoods are frozen in time, with modest bungalows and brick Tudors snuggled between oversized Spanish-style and sweeping Prairie Style houses. Beverly is a study in residential architecture from the 1860s to the 1940s. Few new houses have been built since then, save for the occasional 1950s or '60s ranch that grabbed a portion of a former double lot, and a few coach houses that became residences themselves.
"Our home tours are very popular," says Matt Walsh, executive director of the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA), which hosts one annually. "They draw about 1,000 people and help promote the neighborhood."
Beverly's grandest houses line "the ridge," as it is known here, along Longwood Drive. Left behind by a glacier, it was a lofty overview for wealthy Chicagoans to build their post- Great Chicago Fire houses in a rural area.
Century-old churches anchor the neighborhood and add to its architectural diversity. They include the iconic Givens Castle (now a Unitarian church), built in 1886 to mimic an Irish castle.
Now, Beverly boasts three locally designated landmark districts: Longwood Drive District, Walter Burley Griffin Place District and the Beverly/Morgan Railroad District. The Ridge Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. And five houses are Chicago landmarks, including two of Frank Lloyd Wright's American System-Built houses.
Beverly's houses were designed by architects including Wright, Edward Dart, Howard Van Doren Shaw, George Maher and Walter Burley Griffin.
"Many people come here for our historic homes," says real estate agent Bernadette Molloy of Molloy & Associates Inc. in Chicago. "But most just want a quiet residential community that's close to downtown." Recent sales range from a 1923 three-bedroom, fixer-upper bungalow that sold for $140,000 to a 1930 five-bedroom Tudor that went for $955,000, says Molloy.
Beverly's lifeline is the Metra Rock Island, which has five stations here. Thousands of residents head into the Loop by train daily, including many city workers.
Beverly doesn't have the housing turnover that some other Chicago neighborhoods have because families put down roots here. When BAPA asked residents why they bought houses in Beverly, 57 percent responded, "family and friends." Homeowners tend to renovate the old houses, though the area is not without its teardowns.
"We moved here in 1958 and raised our three kids here," says Sue Delves. "My husband was from the city but I was from a small town in southern Illinois, so I wanted that kind of area for my kids." She and her husband, Gene, recently moved into the Smith Village retirement center in Beverly and have put their 1916 Prairie Style house up for sale. They've been active community volunteers, she says, from serving as "kindergarten mom" to president (each of them) of the BAPA.
Unlike some Chicago communities, Beverly is truly integrated, says Delves, with African-Americans and Caucasians living side by side, not at opposite sides of the neighborhood.
"But I like to joke that we've had two integrations—race and religion," says Delves. Although the neighborhood founders were primarily German and Swedish Protestants, it is now home to three Catholic parishes. "Now people tell you which parish they are from instead of which part of town," explains Delves.
Indeed, the opposition to the arrival of African-Americans paled in comparison to the earlier arrival of Catholics. Even the Ku Klux Klan got involved, burning crosses in front of Beverly's first Catholic church in 1924.
You cannot dig too deeply into Beverly's history without encountering a quandary: Is it "Beverly" or " Beverly Hills"? The neighborhood's name is an ongoing debate. Some say it was named "Beverly" by Alice French in the 1800s for her childhood home in Massachusetts. But, somewhere along the line, many residents and organizations, including Metra, adopted "Beverly Hills" perhaps because of its hilly terrain.
Crime in Beverly is lower than in many other Chicago neighborhoods. The police blotter from a local newspaper includes a store robbery and "discharged firearm" along with scratched cars, deflated tires and stolen wallets.
Beverly's public school scores reflect the high level of education of its families. Morgan Park High School, which serves Beverly, ranks 102 in ACT scores among Chicago-area high schools , which is higher than most Chicago public high schools. Beverly has three Catholic schools and is near several other private schools including Morgan Park Academy (preschool-12) and P.L.A.I.D. Academy (K-8).
Home of the South Side Irish Parade, Beverly brings a touch of Ireland to its community with numerous Irish-style pubs. While Beverly lacks the nightlife many North Side neighborhoods have, that suits folks like Tom and Beth Dobry, who bought a 1940s Georgian here recently. "Lots of the young families here are like us; they had condos after college, then bought houses here after they had kids. Many are second- or third-generation," says Tom. "It's the kind of place where you can come home from work and have a beer with your neighbors."