Grove Apartments opens with full occupancy

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By Garret Eakin


Oak Park did the right thing — something to be proud of — and addressed an acute need. Affordable housing for single tenants is less than sexy. It is not an issue we like to face, much less have to fight with the some of the neighbors who cried out, "Not in my backyard!" 

In December of 2011 when I wrote an article of support, it was the hot topic of the village. A proposed 51-unit apartment building built on top of, and within, a historic building designed by internationally known Detroit architect, Albert Kahn, who is best recognized for his austere concrete modernist-style architecture. The original two-story concrete-and-brick portion was built for the local Cadillac dealership as a showroom and maintenance facility. It is a rare surviving example of this master architect's work in the Chicago area. 

Dennis Langley, of Weese Langley Weese Architects Ltd., was the architect of this adaptive reuse, and Perry Vietti of Interfaith Housing Development Corporation was the developer. They took on the challenge of integrating 51 small apartments and a retail space on Madison within a historic building. The completed project is a handsome combination of Kahn's two-story façade, an urban building built to the sidewalk and a solid sympathetic L-shaped addition.

The long-empty building was previously owned and occupied by Comcast. The media company "modernized" the façade in 1981 by covering the brick and concrete with EIFS, or Dryvit, cladding. 

The repurposing of the building involved restoring the façade and creating a mixed-use combination of supportive housing and retail space. "Supportive housing" is defined as a combination of housing and social services, intended as a cost-effective way to help people live more stable and productive lives. 

The apartments are small one-bedroom units (425 to 475 square feet), 12 of which have accessible baths and kitchens. The plans are designed for flexibility and durability — nothing fancy but way better than the alternatives. 

The design strategy removed the interior (car ramp and elevator shaft) while restoring the façade. Two stories have been added that match the brick and concrete patterns to form an L-shaped footprint. The residential entrance is placed on the quiet west elevation, oriented to the parking lot across the street. 

On the south side, a landscaped courtyard is inserted as a buffer between the homes on Grove and providing for geo-thermal systems for 100% heating and cooling of the building. The project is planned to be LEEDs Certified, employing sustainable elements: permeable pavers, a live green roof, adapted native planting, recycled construction waste, bike racks and a central heat pump. 

Logically arranged off the lobby is a building office, a community room, a kitchen, men and women's toilets, Catholic Charities offices and various rooms serving the building and tenants. 

This no-nonsense planning is bright and open, anticipating the needs of the occupants. 

The interior contains an L-shaped corridor with new fire stairs at each end and a large elevator and laundry centrally located to create a bit of a social node. Windows at the ends of the corridor brighten the long narrow spaces reduced the light requirements while framing the view outdoors. 

Small details can greatly improve the quality of life in a project, such as dark wood cabinets, patterned vinyl floors, and tall ceilings (11 feet and higher, with an abundance of proportionate windows). 

"The choice of materials and colors," Langley explains, "make every attempt to avoid an institutional image." 

This unique project is good for the tenants, for Oak Park and for our planet. The single residents are working poor for minimum wage, may have lived at home with their parents, or may be wheelchair bound. They want to be independent and remain in the village yet cannot afford the market-rate housing in the community and therefore may be pushed out. 

The complex (at $690 per month) targeted this community and is fully occupied, proving the demand for this living style. The village contains a sizable inventory of apartments; unfortunately it is rare to find an accessible unit at an affordable rate. 

Oak Park will benefit by returning the property to a fully taxable property. It will also retain these less fortunate residents within the community — close to their jobs, friends and relatives. 

It is good for our planet because of all the sustainable elements and the retention of the historic structure. The Madison and Grove redevelopment along with the Walgreens store across the street serve as creative demonstrations of how historic preservation, new technology and architecture can be visionary by "doing the right thing." 

Garret Eakin is a practicing architect, preservation commissioner, and an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute. 

Reader Comments

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Diane Kristy from OP  

Posted: February 25th, 2014 4:09 PM

GREAT new about Sugar Beet. We'll be watching for the opening. Thx!


Posted: January 28th, 2014 1:06 PM

FYI--Wig stores are very expensive. They are a high margin business. Not so sure that they target low income folks.


Posted: January 21st, 2014 10:34 PM

C Stewart, What we really need are a few pawn stores, so Madison can mimc North Ave, and we can finally put the last few nails in the coffin. Maybe if we work REALLY hard in the name of progress, we can even get some liquor stores there to round out the feel.

C Stewart  

Posted: January 21st, 2014 10:28 PM

@ Chris from Oak Park. When you say you "hope it fills its storefront space and attracts more development" you mean like more hair braid and nail shops with all of their tacky, tasteless, ginormous posters filling every window? I mean, why not put a few dozen more on Madison Street. Or how about more currency exchanges and pawn shops and tattoo parlors? It already looks like the east side of Chicago. Real class stores we have here in upscale Oak Park. Funny, don't see them in River Forest. Hmmm.

Chris from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2014 9:48 PM

A great addition to the area and to OP. I understand that there might be some concerns from folks who live nearby, but face it, developers and tenants aren't knocking down doors to build anything along Madison and certainly not upscale. It is a now a beautiful building which you couldn't say before and along with the new Walgreen's and renovated building on the SE corner of OP & Mad. is really improving the feel of the area. I hope it fills its storefront space and attracts more development.


Posted: January 21st, 2014 12:26 PM

Sugar Beet looking to sign 10 Yr lease for the commercial space here. Winning.

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: January 21st, 2014 11:40 AM

@No Better....what are you talking about? Invoking the usual OP tripe about Fox News is completely irrelevant here, as it is most other times. As if there is now, or ever really was, any such thing as "objective" journalism. ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN/NPR/MSNBC...all bastions of objectivity? No, not at all, now or ever. More important, have a point when you troll. Peace & Happy New Year, friend.


Posted: January 21st, 2014 9:53 AM

Welcome, Oak Park's first concentrated low income building. I hope to be proved wrong, but every other "concentrated" low income build in Chicago has failed with horrific consequences. Oak Park's winning combo of the past was mixed income housing, but the new government obviously doesn't believe in the statement "if it isn't broke, don't fix it". Looks like they'd rather change the winning combo for the solution that shown historical failure, so go ahead and prove history wrong.

No better than FOX News  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 4:51 PM

This newspaper has more opinions represented as news than Fox News does. And I trust what is said here just about as much as I trust Fox. No renewal on the subscription next time. I've had enough of Oak Park's version of "Fair and Balanced".

Still Waiting  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 4:49 PM

Still waiting to hear if the people that were trotted out during the hearings in the "HOUSE THESE PEOPLE!!" category actually received housing in this building. I really hope so.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 4:05 PM

High horse?

EL' Negra... from oak park  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 3:58 PM

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity


Posted: January 20th, 2014 3:58 PM

Oh gosh op transplant, get off your high horse. Peace brother and happy mlk day.

Give us, us Free from oak perk  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 3:56 PM

"Martin Luther King's Last speech" on YouTube

Bootstraps from Oak Park  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 12:49 PM

I am a south OPer who is glad this place was built. Good luck to the residents. Congratulations on your hard work. May your dreams for the future come true. Be proud of what you are working for and don't let the bitter people bring you down.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 11:59 AM

Lower-income communities have more crime, fewer successful businesses, and lower educational achievement. Decades of data support this, but if it didn't, anyone who has ever driven through both Austin and Hinsdale would know it. In a relatively affluent community, "economic diversity" means reduced median household income. Nothing good comes with reducing median household income.

from OP  

Posted: January 20th, 2014 6:51 AM

@Shief: Not to open up the whole issue again (there's no point since reasonable objections were deemed racism and ignored), but neighbors were not concerned with providing low income housing -- which has been going on successfully in OP for years with Section 8 vouchers which help ensure mixed income dwellings -- but that concentrating it into a single building (e.g., housing projects) is a failed model that has been shown to have negative effects including increased crime. But never mind that.

Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 11:04 PM

D97 take note. You too can update an old building with a facade and make it attractive and nice to work it. Right down to the practical linoleum floors! Bet it is greener to rehab as opposed to building a Taj Mahal that few students will ever set foot in.


Posted: January 19th, 2014 10:10 PM

Since when does low income automatically translate into criminals? Get real people. These are for WORKING folks who GO TO A JOB and make a paycheck. Jeez. I think its fantastic that Oak Park finally can talk what we preach in terms of low income housing.

Jim Bowman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 9:14 PM

Jn Butch M, re yr: "Based on the Eakin's article, it is apparent that the real estate section of the paper is outside editorial control" -- It could be argued that the entire newspaper is outside editorial control. It's the secret of its success.

Diane Kristy from OP  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 8:44 PM

Correction: Comcast moved in 30+ years ago, not 20. The point remains. Oak Parkers are always looking for something to debate about. Even better if they can do it anonymously. (booo,..!) :( Congratulations to the new residents. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Diane Kristy from OP  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 8:29 PM

Congratulations on the beautiful 'new' building! Looks like an attractive, safe and very comfortable place to live. Retailers, don't be discouraged by the pessimistic comments on this story. Oak Parkers just LOVE to complain and they CAN'T RESIST the fact that they can say ANYTHING in print on these pages and they don't even have to reveal their true identities. They also complained about the (award winning) renovations to Marion Street. They even whined 20 years ago when comcast moved in!


Posted: January 19th, 2014 4:08 PM

A nice job was done on the building. I'd still prefer a mixed income building but that's the way it goes. The rest of the area looks horrendous! Empty lot on the NE corner of OP & Madison, empty lot west of building, no businesses in the building or Walgreens, vacant lot where gas station was, wig shop, rib joint, etc. I hope it gets better but I still don't see how a low income housing project will help attract businesses to the area!

OP looks better, but is actually a little worse now from OP  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 4:05 PM

@Hayes: I have no idea the race of the occupants of the building, so I can't really be a racist. Perhaps a class-ist, or maybe someone who knows that low income housing projects are a proven bad idea. No surprise, your ilk call anyone racists who disagree with you. So, I won't be judged by the likes of you and your politics?btw, my pastor thinks that vigorous, reasoned debate helps us all understand each other better and get to better solutions. Perhaps you should try it? Your dogma is tired


Posted: January 19th, 2014 3:05 PM

I'm just hoping that the accessible units are occupied by people with disabilities who need that accessibility.

Adam Smith  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 1:28 PM

The building wasn't worth saving in the first place; very little of the facade and building is original. At $400,000 per unit we could have used that money to subsidize the residents in the apartment vacancies throughout the Village. Overpriced feel good project that makes no business or humanitarian sense.

Purple Hayes your facts are foggy from Oak Park  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 12:36 PM

@ Hayes - What supporters say is, and has been, deceiving (or they/you don't understand the tax receipts) This building was never off the tax roll. And this new, re-purposed building is not producing more taxes than the vacant comcast site. A fully occupied commercial building's tax rate is about 2.5x compared to a residential building. The partially occupied Comcast site with a lower assessment, still produced about the same as the new low-income project. Stop pretending tax receipts went up

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 12:18 PM

James - Checking out the amount of Grove Apartment lights that are on at night is not the best way to determine occupancy, but observation has value when it is the only way to gain insight. I am willing to apologize when the village, the Oak Park Housing Authority, the Wednesday Journal, or the developers prove that 75% of the Grove Apartments are "Occupied". Until then, I stand behind my observational estimate of 15-20%.


Posted: January 19th, 2014 9:56 AM

Ya I have to agree with Hayes there John, you can't write a comment bemoaning lack of facts and then come out and say your assessment of occupancy is based solely on a drive by and counting lights. What if someone wasn't home? What if someone was sleeping? You're usually tighter than that on your posts.

Hayes from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 1:34 AM

OP Looks Better ....actually I like your reference to crime statistics -- at least that is some data to base a conclusion on. We will see where they are at in a year. It's the rest of your comments I disagree with. I'll take my "Liberal Tripe" any day -- I'd be super pleased if it was being dished out to a greater extent than your closet racism. As far as faith? Run your xenophobic rant past your pastor ....and see what he or she thinks "Jesus would do"....

Hayes From Oak Park from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 19th, 2014 1:21 AM

No John you got it wrong. First your assessment of occupancy is based on driving by at night and counting the lights...really? You "research techniques" leave me speechless. Your Mumbo Jumbo about the tax roles is so close to incomprehensible that it would be laughable if some folks won't think it was accurate! In YOUR Opinion this column has "no Positive Value" because you don't agree with it!! You want the GAAs to fail so badly you fail to see the good news right in front of your face

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 18th, 2014 2:28 PM

The Grove Apartment "String", which now has 20 posters, started with an article from Garret Michael Eakin, an architect. His specialty is restoration of historic and design of new luxury residential. His article was not a Wednesday Journal news story or a Letter to the Editor. It was a column written in the WJ real estate advertising section. Eakin writes columns on real estate development regularly in the WJ. Based on the Eakin's article, it is apparent that the real estate section of the paper is outside editorial control. Eakin's article was light on information and weak on facts. It contained serious errors ("Grove Apartments opens with full occupancy", "??returning the property to a fully taxable property."). Finding out that it is not fully occupied is easy. Drive by at night and count the number of lights that are on in the apartment. Occupancy is at 15-20% at best. The "fully taxable property" statement is accurate, but duplicitous. All OP buildings, occupied or not, are on the village tax rolls. During the Plan Commission Hearings on the project, it was determined that the real estate tax revenues for the non-retail portion of the Grove Apartments would be in the range of Comcast tax liability. That is; the Grove Apartments would generate the same amount of village property tax revenue as an empty building that was frequently referred to as an eyesore. It is beyond me why Eakin submitted the letter at all. The letter is a near copy of the support letter he wrote in 2010. The only new material is incorrect and misleading. I hope the Grove Apartments is a great success. A failure would be extremely painful to the village; particularly the southwest businesses and residents. Eakin's effort to give rebirth to the cry of Nimby has no positive value. It is a hindrance, at best. The rebirth of development on Madison is definitely not enhanced by a rehash of the political issues of 2010.

OP looks better, but is actually a little worse now from OP  

Posted: January 18th, 2014 8:57 AM

@Hayes: Sorry you don't like my legitimate concerns over what a low income housing project will do to the neighborhood I live in. Just watch the crime statistics over the next 12 mos. and tell me if my concerns are justified. Embarrassments to OP are apparently anyone who disagrees with the constant liberal tripe dished out around here. btw, my faith is just fine, thanks.

Hayes from Oak Park from Oak Park  

Posted: January 18th, 2014 8:42 AM

To "OP Looks better..." your post is an embarrassment to Oak Park. At least it took you three sentences to reach your racist bottom line. Do you have a faith? Go to church this Sunday ask for forgiveness and ask your pastor,or priest, or Rabbi "Why this was so important?'

Hayes from Oak Park   

Posted: January 18th, 2014 8:37 AM

Just so that hysteria doesn't overwhelm facts -- 75% of the Grove Ave Apartment residents either lived and/or worked in Oak Park prior to residency. And Yes JM the building will pay taxes. The retail space on the first floor will be problematic to fill but the developers and planners were forced into that by the village. Can't you nay-sayers wait at least a year before you lift an incident out of context and declare the GAA a failure? The project is proving you all wrong with it!

OP looks better, but is actually a little worse now from OP  

Posted: January 18th, 2014 7:10 AM

Well, so Oak Park's housing project looks nice. Lovely. What percent of occupants lived in Oak Park previously? How long do you think the first floor retail will remain vacant (I bet it never has a tenant?ever). Oh, and those of us that live in the 'hood are bracing ourselves for increases in crime. ( I'll never shop that Walgreen's again?it was bad enough before the project opened). Why was this so important? What a terrible idea brought to life.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 3:15 PM

Continued from below - I promise you that the police are not hoping for more low-income residents. The schools are not clamoring for more low-income students. The business community is not wishing for more low-income consumers. There's more to this than just what makes Rick feel good about himself.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 3:12 PM

Rick, spare me the self-righteous crap about "low income folks." I've been low income, and spent much of my life living among "low income folks." Trust me when I say that it's not where you want to live. If you do, Austin very close and affordable. A community that makes it a goal to lower its median income is a community of idiots.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 3:05 PM

"It's ALWAYS better and more cost effective to provide for people, rather than look down your nose at them." I'm getting tired of providing for people - and I'm not the only one. I'm having a helluva time providing for my own family much less making sure "those who need help" have a place to live, food on the table, and a cellphone in their pocket. Madison Ave. will never amount to anything until OP starts looking forward to help OP before making it Austin West.

Not Rick from Reality  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 2:02 PM

Rick, great job of business development by adding a residential building filled with low income tenants on a business thoroughfare. That will liven up Madison redevelopment? Madison already looks too much like Madison east of Austin. This does nothing to help. Let's face it, quite a few people in the Charity-NGO Complex made some good coin off of this development. You should be more disgusted with how people profit off the backs of the poor while claiming to "help them."

rick from oak park  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 11:51 AM

Yeah, we should probably let that building sit there, doing nothing. We should probably ride low income folks out of town on a rail, because, lets face it, we're better than they are. Clearly. I mean, we make more money, and we're probably white. It's a good thing you naysayers weren't around OP in the 60's. Your white flight mentality would have left the community a wasteland. It's ALWAYS better and more cost effective to provide for people, rather than look down your nose at them.

gg from Let's see the RE Tax Bill  

Posted: January 17th, 2014 7:48 AM

Murtaugh is correct. This is lipstick on a pig. Next ghetto housing North of Lake Street please.


Posted: January 17th, 2014 1:04 AM

I have to congratulate Murtagh for never letting the facts discourage him from being wrong.

john butch murtagh from oak park  

Posted: January 16th, 2014 1:57 PM

JIm - I think What was being sarcastic. Your post is on the mark. 60304 is OPV's hidden gem!

Jim from South Oak Park  

Posted: January 16th, 2014 1:36 PM

@ What ... talking about? South Oak Park is affluent and educated, says the Washington Post. An analysis of income and education puts zip code 60304 in the top 10% in the country. The north boundary in that analysis is roughly Madison St.; One reason for South Oak Park's stature is a limited number of apartments. Thank you Seward Gunderson for your disdain of apartments and the dearth of them south of Madison.

john butch murtagh from Oak Park  

Posted: January 16th, 2014 11:31 AM

I'll accept the Executive Director of the Oak Park Housing Authority, and the co-developer of the Grove Apartments correction of my statement that No Tax Revenue will be received from the non-retail portion of the apartments, when the OPHA and or Village of Oak Park provide a projection of the tax revenue. Being on the tax rolls and actually paying taxes are two different things.

Edward Solan from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 16th, 2014 8:23 AM

As the Executive Director of the Oak Park Housing Authority, the co-developer of the Grove Apartments along with Interfaith Housing, I must correct Mr. Murtagh. The entire building, including the residential component, will be on the tax rolls.

What are you talking about?  

Posted: January 15th, 2014 5:12 PM

The author is a practicing architect, preservation commission and a professor! You fools dare mention facts contrary to the author's feel good narrative? Who wants to let facts get in the way here? Maybe a Dollar Store will open on the first floor. It is South Oak Park, after all, the elitists in charge do not care about Madison west of Village Hall.

OP Transplant  

Posted: January 15th, 2014 10:09 AM

Good looking building, but still a bad idea. Any community that strives to increase its number of low-income residents is, at the same time, decreasing its ability to attract upscale retail. The pawn shops and wig stores that everyone complains about tend to be patronized by lower-income customers, the same people we are trying to attract by offering more low-income housing. Now we can feel better about ourselves as we drive to Oak Brook to shop!

Bravo! from Oak Park  

Posted: January 15th, 2014 8:09 AM

The ugly old Comcast building has been turned into something lovely. It really is a remarkable transformation.

wiat just a second:  

Posted: January 15th, 2014 6:25 AM

Full occupancy? the first floor space is not occupied! What was final building cost? It was going to be up to $20million at one point. How many Oak Parker's got an apartment? The plan was Oak Park residents were to be first on the list. success in my eyes will be living up to the promises in the start...

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: January 14th, 2014 10:31 PM

The only part of the Grove Apartments that will generate property or sales taxes is the first floor retail.

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