Damn the bunnies. Demolish 'So-Called Hoppe Building'

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By DAN HALEY

Spent part of Friday afternoon with Tim Connelly, president of Whiteco. He came calling, along with his Oak Parker-of-a-PR-guy. Whiteco now has Oak Park architects, Oak Park advisors. Everything Oak Park.

Could have something to do with his company having had its clock cleaned the first time around in this never ending debate over how high, how wide, how many parking places, how do the shadows fall. The first time around was back when Whiteco assumed Oak Park was a normal place. Now, the quite young, and a bit sad-eyed, Connelly allows that "this is definitely the longest citizen process we've been through."

No kidding.

I asked him about the money his company must already have invested and what would happen if they got turned down a second time by the Plan Commission. "That's the risk," he said. "But let's not dwell on that too much. I want to be able to sleep tonight."

Mr. Connelly's sleeplessness will no doubt shift to chronic insomnia with word, just after he left our offices, that the Oak Park Historic Preservation Committee had lost its collective mind and decided that a hearing should be held to consider the "So-Called Hoppe Building" as a landmark of some sort. This may involve urging the village board to rescind its demolition order.

Here's the background. The "So-Called Hoppe Building" is an oddball leftover of a run-of-the- mill three story red brick apartment building that somehow has escaped demolition over the past 40 years as everything else around it has changed. Reminds me of by favorite childhood book, "The Little House," where the big mean city grew around the little frame house until it was surrounded by skyscrapers, el trains, busses and lots and lots of surly people. You see, they didn't care about the little house anymore. Until one day, someone hoisted it up and moved it out to the middle of nowhere and, in this disturbingly anti-urban book, the house smiled and frolicked once more.

But in Oak Park, where the anti-Whiteco forces will stoop to any tactic, they're now making out like this run-down old building is historic. And if that doesn't tug your strings, they're shamelessly writing letters to the editor about the bunnies in the backyard.

Damn the bunnies. Demolish the building. There are 500 or maybe a thousand other three-story, red brick apartment houses all built in Oak Park in the 1920s. Go look at them if nostalgia demands.

Fact is, I've been asking for years what the Hoppe building was still doing there. And as the whole Whiteco project plopped out of the sky and everyone was complaining about its size and its positioning, I asked again. Finally, the village overpaid for it, as they do everything they buy, and the second coming of Whiteco was notably repositioned closer to downtown.

And it is in the repositioning ?#34;less mass near Ontario, more density near Harlem and Lake?#34; that this project becomes somewhat palatable.

John Hoppe, the now interred but lovingly lamented eccentric real estate appraiser and one-time village trustee, would get a hoot out of having his name attached to this preposterous "So-Called Hoppe Building" charade.

 like old buildings. Oak Park has lost some good ones over the years. This is not one of them.  But the declaration by the historic preservation commission seems certain to layer on another absurd delay on a Whiteco decision. That's too bad. It is way past time to declare Whiteco the winner and get it built or to kill it off and start a better process for development. Whatever happens on the stretch of Harlem, north of Downtown shouldn't include the Hoppe building.

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