It's half alley, half street, all party on Fern Court.
Some Fern Court residents may bristle if you suggest they live in an alley (they prefer hybrid street). Stroll down this charming, two-block stretch in Old Town and you’ll see why: More than half the houses face the alley, while the rest back up to it. This alley/street crossbreed is a composition of conventional, forward-facing homes mixed with coach houses and former garages converted into homes whose fronts face Hudson Avenue or Sedgwick Street. Maybe it’s the topsy-turvy setup or just Fern Court’s abbreviated length, but everyone knows everybody here, and that’s the way they like it.
Diane Fitzgerald says she’s the unofficial mayor of Fern Court—a result of her enthusiastic neighborhood party planning. Some get-togethers are organized in advance, like a sake-tasting party inspired by a Japanese festival at neighboring Midwest Buddhist Temple (435 W Menomonee St). But it’s the impromptu mingling in the alley that sparks these friendships. Taking out the garbage, Fitzgerald says, can turn into an hourlong minigathering complete with beer, and the annual St. Michael’s Celebration triggers a smattering of house parties that turn the otherwise tranquil atmosphere into a pseudo Bourbon Street, where outdoor decks atop garages become ersatz balconies.
Dan Burdick, who has lived on Fern Court for 12 years with his wife and two kids, says alfresco socializing happens daily among the homeowners. Garage doors are raised, kids have water fights with hoses, and neighbors tend to the moonflowers and burning bush shrubs. “We stand out here 10 to 15 minutes and we’ll see people going to Marge’s Still (1758 N Sedgwick St) to watch the Bears game and hear, “Hey, wanna go with us?”
Fitzgerald says Fern Court residents spend more time together than most people spend with their extended families. “It’s like living on a farm. It’s heaven.”