In 1969, newlyweds Jeff and Mary Hindman went in search of an apartment. Jeff Hindman, a 22-year-old medical student, had few expectations for their first home other than it be cheap and close to the train. They settled on a two-bedroom garden apartment at the corner of Harrison Street and Lyman Avenue in Oak Park. The young couple lived in the apartment for three years.
Today that apartment houses Eastgate Café in the Oak Park Arts District. On June 21, the Hindmans, now residents of Alabama, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Eastgate Café surrounded by a small group of friends and family.
“These days it’s not often you have a 50th wedding anniversary, let alone the unique opportunity to celebrate that milestone in your very first home,” said Dr. Jeff Hindman. “What could be better than coming back to the place where you started your life together?”
While the Hindmans’ garden apartment has morphed into a cozy café capable of hosting a private anniversary dinner, they remember it as a bare-bones, quirky, and dusty space.
“My wife had this long beautiful hair,” recalled Hindman, “but there was no water pressure in the place so she had to cup water into her hands to wash her hair.”
The newlyweds paid just $125 a month for the apartment and couldn’t afford to furnish it. In fact, the bulk of Hindman’s medical school studies were done at a desk he built out of cinder blocks. To make matters worse, the space wasn’t air conditioned and the windows didn’t have screens; opening them during hot summer months may have invited in a cool breeze, but street dust and bugs raced in as well.
The Hindmans recollect cooking steaks on their small hibachi grill on Saturday nights, but the go-to meal for the young couple was an economical combination of tuna and noodles; a far cry from the fine meal Eastgate Café owner Olya Dailey provided for the couple’s anniversary party in the same space 50 years later.
Dailey worked closely with the Hindmans to plan a thoughtful menu, including beef tenderloin steaks, spinach lasagna, and New Orleans style fish. A champagne toast and fruit dessert rounded out the nostalgic evening.
The Hindmans remember Harrison Street being under particular pressure in 1969 to fight against white flight to the suburbs. At the time, rents were low on Harrison Street and there were few retail establishments on the strip that now houses a vibrant arts district.
“The pressure this neighborhood was under was very real back then,” said Hindman, “and it’s great to see it has grown into such a unique and special place over the years.”