The first time President Barack Obama visited Edison Park he was Illinois Sen. Obama with two preschool children at home. It was an invitation to dine at Zia's Trattoria on "restaurant row" that drew Obama from one end of the city to the other -- from Hyde Park along the lakefront in the southeast section of Chicago to the city limits on the Northwest Side.
Zia's was one of three restaurants that he agreed to visit during a taping for the "Check, Please!" television series. The segment was shelved and never aired until January, following his inauguration.
Did he like it? Enough to return, according to follow-up news coverage.
The idea that Obama would return to Edison Park doesn't surprise Rita McGovern, executive director of the Edison Park Chamber of Commerce. People from all over the city and suburbs often make their way to restaurant row for a night out, or converge in August at the annual Edison Park Festival. After a few visits, they look around and like what they see, she says.
"We are the last little slice of Chicago [before the suburbs]," McGovern adds, referring to Edison Park's location between Howard Street on the north and Kennedy Expressway to the south, Harlem Avenue to the east and Canfield/Ozanam Avenues to the west.
Edison Park residents like the access its location provides to the rest of the city and the suburbs. The chamber office, for example, is in the Metra station, a block from CTA and Pace bus stops. There's a Blue Line station at Harlem Avenue. It's a 10-minute drive to O'Hare International Airport, and Interstate Highways 294, 90/94 are closer still.
City workers and professionals comprise the bulk of the population. "We have a lot of first-, second- and third-generation ethnic groups -- Polish, Irish, Italian, Greek and Germans," says Ald. Brian Doherty (41st). "Edison Park may have the largest or next to the largest population of Irish residents in the city.
"Historically, ethnic groups [in Chicago] have migrated to the Northwest Side. That also has a lot to do with the residency requirement for city workers," he said. "Many stay and purchase a second home, [which gives] people [the opportunity] to know each other's families for generations."
Sitting in her office at the Metra station, McGovern agrees. "There's nothing pretentious or stuffy about Edison Park," she says, adding that Edison Parkers are hard-working, family-oriented and community-minded. Many who move away return to raise their families because of the neighborhood's stable and safe reputation.
It's a big-hearted area, McGovern says, ticking off community events like the Turkey Trot, now in its 13th year. The 5K run/walk is organized by the Edison Park Turkey Trot Committee, which is comprised of businesses and residents. The 2009 event benefits the Spina Bifida Association of Illinois. More than 3,000 participated in 2008; the course covers neighborhood streets, convenient for residents who sit on their porches to cheer the participants.
The housing stock in Edison Park is very similar to Park Ridge, according to Mike Stangel, a broker for the Stangel Group at Keller Williams Realty.
The comparison to adjacent Park Ridge cannot be overlooked, Stangel says. Edison Park has the benefits of living in Chicago, including lower taxes.
"First impression of Edison Park is that it is a neighborhood," he says. There are areas of raised ranches, bungalows, Dutch Colonials and historic Foursquare homes. Property lots are generous; 30 feet wide by 125 feet deep is normal and, in some pockets stretch to 50 feet wide by 150 feet deep. "People do not feel on top of one another in Edison Park."
Stangel has listings for bungalows in the upper-$300,000s. Others kick in at $475,000 because of amenities like dream kitchens. "Today's buyers are picky. They want to see the value of a house," he says, adding that similar homes would be $40,000 higher in Park Ridge.
A 45-unit, mixed-use condo development called Tuscany Terrace opened in 2006 at Northwest Highway and Harlem Avenue. Two-bedroom units are listed between $300,000 and $400,000. Smaller and older condos along Olmsted nearer the Metra station can be found around $200,000.
Jack Guest, an agent at Century 21 McMullen Real Estate since 1991, says that people move to Edison Park and stay for generations. He has a listing on Osceola for a two-bedroom home with an attic at $369,000. It has had the same owner for 35 years. "That's the tale of Edison Park," he says.
His colleague, Mary Beth Balcarcel, agrees. Balcarcel grew up in Andersonville and chose to live in Edison Park as an adult. Much like Andersonville, Edison Park is a neighborhood you can live in without a car, she says -- a feature that lures transplants from other parts of the city.
Balcarcel says other reasons people choose Edison Park include access to four Chicago Park District parks, and the parochial and two public elementary schools. Coupled with more and more shopping and community-wide events, there are less and less reasons to leave the neighborhood.
In the past year, a number of new businesses have opened, including more restaurants, a bakery, retail boutiques and offices. Service-oriented businesses, from a barbershop and bank to a florist and bakeries, are found along the main streets.
Le Flour Bake Shop and Market is one of the newcomers. Owner and manager Nicole Bujewski arrives at the bakery each day at 5 a.m. to ready for the morning rush to the Metra trains. Bujewski doesn't vary the breakfast menu, as her commuter patrons don't have much time to make decisions, she says. Blueberry muffins are at the top of the carryout list with cups of Chicago-roasted Metropolis coffee.
Bujewski decided on Edison Park because of its location and friendly reputation. After the morning rush, regulars pop in and take up their stations in one of the window swivel seats or at a two-seater table. In warm weather, they spill outside to sun as they sip their coffee.
While going out to breakfast is a relatively new phenom in Edison Park, dining out has been legendary for years, as Obama discovered.
There are 12 restaurants along restaurant row, the two-block strip between Olympia and Oshkosh Avenues on Northwest Highway. The tight grouping started more than 20 years ago with Tony's Italian Deli, Don Juan's Restaurante and Mecca Supper Club. Both Emerald Isle and The Curragh Irish Pub offer live entertainment in addition to pub fare.
"It just happened," Doherty said. "One restaurant would open, then another. If a place closed, the new tenant moving in would be another restaurant."
Zia's opened 10 years ago, as did Nonno Pino. In the last two years, six other dining establishments opened their doors in Edison Park, including Café Touché and Caponies Express. Park Place, a full-service restaurant and banquet facility on Olmstead, is on schedule to open this month.
"Most Edison Park residents are dual-income, so there isn't a roast beef in the oven on Friday night when you get home from work," Doherty joked. "Mom and dad go out to dinner. And restaurant row in downtown Edison Park is the place to be."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times