Oak Park Avenue in the 1970s
Well I have been back in Oak Park for over half a year now, and it just got listed as the coolest suburb in the Chicago area, in large part for its incredible historic architecture (over two dozen buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright – more than ANYWHERE, and tons more by other Prairie architects) and a rising restaurant and nightlife scene.
But even places that book tens of millions each year on their heritage sometimes forget how they got there, and apparently Oak Park village officials in 2016 have not only memory loss, but a dramatic diminution of executive function.
That is perhaps a harsh analysis, but we have a recently released economic development plan to prove it. The plan covers a two-block stretch of Madison Street, which was once Oak Park’s Motor Row. Among the few remnants of that heritage are this 1948 former automobile showroom,
And this 1923-26 Hill Motors automobile showroom, which I thought was a landmark – we went to a Oak Park Area Arts Council event there some years ago. It has been proposed as a landmark for the last NINE YEARS without Village action (and was on Landmarks Illinois 2007 Watch list).
There is also this 1922 muffler repair building which is remarkably intact.
These last two buildings were designed by Oak Park’s most prolific architect, E.E. Roberts. Roberts had a long and storied history and produced many Village landmarks.
Details. That’s where God is.
Now this new economic development plan proposes demolishing ALL three of these buildings. This despite the fact that they are “Significant” in the Madison Street plan and should require input from the preservation commission. One section of the Hills Motor seems to be preserved, the smaller half.
Which will be enhanced by a BIG OLD PARKING DECK next to it.
Is it 1965 yet?
Now remember how we convinced Walgreen’s to restore this nice little building a decade ago instead of demolishing it? It is only a block away. See the blog here.
Just imagine it in a landfill. We like recycling here.
The Village also knocked another significant E.E. Roberts showroom at 260 Madison Street without ever consulting the Preservation Commission.
Now there are several vacant lots that the plan is addressing, which is good, but for some reason they want remove most of the buildings that are left. Hmmm.
The plan curiously bends Madison Street here. Now, granted the street is wide enough that they added planters in the last attempt to revitalize it. Which kind of worked, because there are several viable businesses here that will vanish if the plan proceeds.
Why bend the street? In part it is traffic calming but the bigger part is advertising. It will add some taxable buildable property on the south side once they knock down the 1948 building, supposedly JUST ENOUGH to attract a major anchor tenant.
Bottom line? It will give the new building on the south side a physical prominence – kind of like a foot sticking out to trip you – thanks to the giveaway of public right-of-way. A billboard without a billboard.
At the end of the day it seems the kind of junior varsity economic development move that a more down-on-its-heels town might scramble after, not a mature community with an international reputation. Especially since under the Village’s OWN PLAN they need to ask the Preservation Commission about the Foley-Rice Building. So, are they going to?
This short-sighted plan needs a tune-up.