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Hidden treasure

Sweet-talk your way into secluded Gaslight Court to find a century-old former hippie haven.

A SLIVER RUNS THROUGH IT Gaslight Court has evolved from hippie housing to condos mixed with an accounting firm and a lingerie store.
By Jason A. Heidemann. Photos by Andy Barnes. |

You may need to purchase panties to get into one of Chicago’s best alleys, but don’t let that stop you from sneaking into this Old Town gem. Gaslight Court is a gated brick alley on Wells Street just north of Schiller Street between Old Jerusalem restaurant (1411 N Wells St, 312-944-0459) and a framing shop. Passersby will notice the abundance of brick both lining the alley and covering adjacent buildings, but if you press your face against the gate’s bars, you’ll see potted plants, a lone tree, a bistro table and a lingerie shop named Wildflowers (1407 N Wells St, 312-654-0482), which opens into the alleyway. Buzz 0012 and a shopkeeper will let you in.

But the best way in is to make nice with one of the 19 residents who live in the adjoining buildings, which spill out into the alley. In the ’60s, it was home to hippies and artisans who took up residence in the then-low-rent Old Town area and made candles and visual art, says resident Jennifer Jones. She points out a running fountain built into one of two small stairwells leading down from one building, balconies filled with flowers and a hidden set of steps leading to an accounting firm.

Sal Sciacca, president of Chicago Property Services (the management company that oversees Gaslight Court), confirms the structures are nearly 100 years old and the brick pavers are all original. Sciacca guesses the developer gave the area its name because gas lanterns once lined the alleyway. The lanterns have since been replaced by electric ones, but this slice of Chicago history lives on—even if you have to nab something slinky to get to it.

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