Year after year, the Back Lot Association wins top honors for its entry in Evanston’s annual Fourth of July Parade down Central Street. They hope to do it again this year.

You won’t find the Back Lot on a map of Evanston.

It’s a piece of land hidden behind the houses that form its boundary—Colfax Street, Hartrey Avenue, Grant Street, and Pioneer Avenue.

Residents of the houses on both sides of the blocks that make up that northeast Evanston rectangle are the only ones eligible to belong to the Back Lot Association, and the neighbors will tell you that their unique living arrangement qualifies as a premium when their houses go up for sale.

During the winter months, the lot becomes an ice skating rink, and when the ice melts, dozens of kids who live in the 70 or so houses in the Back Lot area gather to play warm-weather sports on that piece of land that was deeded to the association years ago by its owner.

But the one activity that really knits the community together, they will admit, is the construction of the Back Lot float that never fails to bring applause from parade-watchers in the annual Independence Day parade.

David Chungbin applies the finishing touches to the lighthouse replica that will be hoisted atop the float.

The planning begins as soon as the Fourth of July Association announces the theme of the upcoming parade, according to David Chungbin, whose garage houses the float during its construction.

“We’ll get together for a meeting to discuss possible ideas,” he said, “but the real work begins about three weeks before the parade.”

Someone always measures the clearance of the float where it passes under the Metra tracks at Green Bay Road, he says, as the distance will fluctuate from year to year, depending upon the condition of the road beneath the viaduct.

“It’s always greater than it says on the sign,” he admitted, “but we measure it every year because we can’t take the chance that the float won’t make it.”

Neighbors gather in the Back Lot to ponder which side of the sign should face the judging stand.

This year the main piece of the float is a giant birthday cake that commemorates Evanston’s 150th birthday. But atop the cake is a towering replica of the Grosse Pointe Lighthouse, a key Evanston icon.

To ensure that the float will sneak under the viaduct, the Back Lot neighbors have ingeniously designed a pair of hydraulic devices that will enable the crew to lower the lighthouse as it passes beneath the Metra tracks.

Behind the lighthouse will be six to eight “flats” containing other parts of the thematic design. Riding atop and alongside the various elements of the entry will be the Back Lot kids, many of whom have lived in the area all their lives.

Later in the day, when the prizes are announced, the chances are usually good that the Back Lot Association entry will be among the winners.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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  1. 4th of July Parade winners

    Sorry to correct the Back Lot story, but I know that two years ago the Windy City Miata Club's entry took the President's Award as well as First in the Motor Vehicle division. Members worked hard to decorate the little roadsters in the theme of the parade and still show that the "Pursuit of happiness" is still alive in this country.

  2. Backlot and taxes

    Who pays the taxes on that open lot?  Is it city propery? They have signs posted that residents only can use the park.

    1. Back lot

      I saw a real-estate posting for a house that borders the Back Lot, and it says that there is an association fee of $80/year.  So it sounds like this plot belongs to an association, that pays taxes based on dues collected.

      I looked at the map and counted about 30 houses around the lot (maybe I'm off…but whatever…close enough)….that doesn't seem like a lot in taxes.

      Of course, an empty lot surrounded by garages and alleys, where nothing can be built,  is not worth much,so taxes on that lot should not be high. 

      However, if it is true that "  the neighbors will tell you that their unique living arrangement qualifies as a premium when their houses go up for sale"…then I wonder if the Assessor is properly taking this into consideration when appraising houses.  Are houses that are eligible for membership appraised at considerably higher values than comparable houses in the neighborhood that do not border the Back Lot?

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