August 30, 2013 by
Photography by Keith Binder

The buttery smell of popcorn hits the same time a wave of warm air does. Coaches, players, and spectators shuffle down tiled stairs to the semi-subterranean gym. It’s the same oversized subway tile that lines the wall and floors of most schools built earlier in the last century. A few worn bills are exchanged for entrance into the gym. Pony-tailed girls in (often ill-fitted) basketball uniforms shout and shoot hoops, laughing and screeching to their teammates. Volunteers troll the bleachers selling raffle tickets for the “Shoot for the Loot” halftime free throw contest. Younger siblings hover around the makeshift snack bar, like bees to honey, while Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT” blares over the P.A. system. It’s the annual Holy Cross Girls Basketball Tournament in all its glory—an ongoing tradition steeped in history. Just like its neighborhood.

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Holy Cross Catholic Church and school, along with Mercy High School, Beals Elementary, and Bethel Lutheran Church, are anchors of the Morton Meadows neighborhood. These strong neighborhood institutions, along with its housing stock, are what drew Amy Haase, her husband, Dan, and their two children to the area. Haase, who serves as the neighborhood association’s president, says that Morton Meadows’ tree-lined streets, wide boulevards, and varied architectural styles imbue the area with old-time charm.

The neighborhood was founded in the 1920s as a “western suburb” by Robert Messersmith with development beginning in 1922 and ending in 1945. Thoroughfares 42nd Street and 48th Street serve as its eastern and western borders, respectively, and it extends to Leavenworth Street to the north and Center Street to the south.

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Morton Meadows was fashioned according to the garden city movement of urban development. Originating in Great Britain in 1898, garden city developments were communities incorporating “greenbelts,” or tracks of land designated as wilderness areas. These tended to be linear in nature and essentially served as mini-wildlife sanctuaries in otherwise urban areas. Following the heels of the Industrial Revolution, disciples of the garden city movement sought to infuse a little bucolic bliss into the lives of city dwellers, improving air quality in urban areas and affording residents access to nature.

That was Messersmith’s intent nearly 100 years ago. Flash-forward to today, and the greenbelts are still one of Morton Meadows’ most attractive features. Three separate gardens areas add color and charm along Twinridge Boulevard. Barb Wilson, a Morton Meadows resident since 1982, volunteers with the neighborhood association’s beautification committee. The committee maintains these Twinridge gardens. Volunteers plant annuals every spring at the Identity Garden at 44th and Woolworth Avenue. Several years ago, grant monies funded the planter containing perennials situated at Twinridge and Pine. Neighbors wishing to spruce up the island at 45th and Center donated several bushes, perennials, and grasses.

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This level of involvement is typical of Morton Meadows residents, says Wilson. “We know our neighbors and watch out for each other. Whenever there is a storm that leaves tree debris in our streets and yards, everyone comes out to help with the cleanup. The same with large snowstorms. Neighbors help neighbors get the driveways and sidewalks cleared,” Wilson attests.

Morton Meadows is “small-town” living in the city, or as Haase puts it, Morton Meadows has “a Norman Rockwell sense to it.” New neighbors are greeted with plates of chocolate chip cookies and loaves of pumpkin bread. Buckets of tomatoes and zucchini from kitchen gardens are shared during the summer months. Retired neighbors are surrogate grandparents to children across the street, offering baskets of goodies at Easter and specially reserved treats at Halloween.

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“I think a good descriptor of our neighborhood is its friendliness,” and sense of community, says Haase. Individually, blocks host their own parties, closing off streets and stoking up grills for a night of barbeque. Residents along Morton Avenue host a small 4th of July parade. But Morton Meadows’ big blowout is its annual picnic. Originally held in the summer, last year the Boulevard Bash was moved to the more temperate September to accommodate older neighbors who remained at home because of the heat. It featured live music along with picnic fare and family-friendly fun.

Morton Meadows’ prime midtown location is attractive to home buyers, says Suzan Downing, an agent with Keller Williams Real Estate. And so are the homes’ architectural styles, which range from Tudor Revival, bungalow, and Colonial Revival. Home values have remained strong in the recently depreciated market. The average square footage of Morton Meadows homes is 1,850 square feet. Twenty-nine homes have sold in the neighborhood since January of this year, with the average price at $152,010 (as of mid-July).

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“In Morton Meadows, you can really appreciate the scenery, especially from the half-story window as you look out over the multitude of age-old trees rustling in the wind,” adds Downing.

Morton Meadows’ beauty caught Patrick and Megan Falke’s attention when they were looking for a home in Midtown a year ago. “We weren’t terribly familiar with the neighborhood but immediately appreciated the personal feel of the area, punctuated by green space, active neighbors, and lots of small touches like the classic-style street lights,” states Patrick Falke. This “personal feel” stems from committed neighbors. “They are actively involved in making the neighborhood glow,” Falke has observed. “When you have actively engaged members of a community neighborhood, it becomes contagious.”