Local commissions honor worthy designs in Oak Park

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Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Three separate commissions came together for the first time recently to honor the design efforts of homeowners and businesses in Oak Park.

The Historic Preservation Commission, the Environment and Energy Commission and the Community Design Commission held an event at Unity Temple on Nov. 13 to bring together homeowners, business owners, architects and contractors who made contributions to the village. The three commissions had previously issued awards separately.

"We decided to have a more formal event to really celebrate the restoration and maintaining of structures in our village and present these homeowners and business owners as models to the rest of the community," said Cristina Morris, chairperson of the 2012 Historic Preservation Awards.

Outgoing Village President David Pope welcomed the gathering and stressed the importance of celebrating architecture at Unity Temple, considered a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. "If there were only five buildings in the U.S. this should be one of them," said Pope. "This building is the cradle of modern architecture. These awards represent what type of community Oak Park is, what we want to be in the future."

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On behalf of the Historic Preservation Committee, Morris recognized six local buildings chosen by a panel of judges who are experienced preservationists and practitioners in the Chicago area.

"The six winners for historic preservation represent some of the most innovative restoration efforts we've seen," she said.

Among this year's winners were Colleen Maia's restoration of an historic storefront and apartment on east Chicago Avenue, Stephanie Glover and Alex Harris' exterior restoration of their Gunderson Home at 701 S. Elmwood Ave., the Park District of Oak Park's restoration of the fence and foundation surrounding Pleasant Home, and the village's work preserving the terra cotta exterior and updating the interior at 130 S. Oak Park Ave. Two other winners also highlight the importance of exterior details in historic preservation.

The Decker Building, a condominium dwelling located at 200-224 S. Maple Ave., was honored for its historic window restoration. With the help of local preservation architect and resident Doug Gilbert, the Maple Pleasant Condo Association decided to compare the costs associated with repair and replacement of the building's 850 original windows. After determining that it was 19 percent less expensive to maintain the original windows in spite of the need for repair, the association hired Historic Home and Window Restoration of Aurora to help with the project. Morris labeled their efforts "an amazing example of how to restore historic windows."

Colette Morrow and Vivian O'Dell were honored for their work restoring their E.E. Roberts two-flat at 209-211 S. Elmwood Ave. Built in 1905, the two-flat was originally designed to fit in with a neighborhood of single-family homes. Over time, changes to the exterior, including extensive use of aluminum siding, obscured the home's historic features. With the help of Fortune Restoration, Morrow and O'Dell returned the home to its previous glory. Wood and stucco details were added to match what originally existed, making the home a "real showstopper," according to Morris.

Three homes, 241 S. Elmwood, 410 N. Kenilworth and 743 Columbian, were also designated historic landmarks in 2012. Morris stressed the importance of all of the homeowners honored. "The enthusiasm of the homeowners and the care they take on these houses make Oak Park a mecca for architecture."

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Laura Haussmann chaired the awards for the Environment and Energy Commission. The varied group of seven winners included local institutions Beye Elementary School for its zero waste practices and the Park District for its Taylor Park renovation. Homeowners Tim Carey and Lynn Laszewski were honored for building Oak Park's first home to win LEED Platinum certification, and local beekeeper and Wednesday Journal employee Debbie Becker was recognized for taking steps to welcome backyard beekeeping to Oak Park.

Sam and Phyllis Bowen were among the lucky winners of a plaque made of recycled glass for their garden garage project. The couple created a 190-square foot garden on the roof of their garage. They now grow their own vegetables and flowers using a system of rain barrels to provide recycled water.

As the Carey and Laszewski home won recognition for taking LEED certification to a new level in the village, innovation was also rewarded on a smaller scale. According to Haussmann, a grey water system, which is the practice of re-using water from a home's laundry, dishwater or baths for landscaping or other uses, was once illegal under Illinois plumbing code. That didn't stop homeowners Jim Doyle and Ana Garcia-Doyle from installing the first permitted grey water system in their home, a practice which can reduce water consumption by as much as 37 percent.

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Tom Phillion, chair of the Community Design Commission Cavalcade of Pride Awards, presented 21 awards in residential, multi-family, garden, block and commercial categories.

"In preparing for these awards, we hit the streets," he said. "We looked for homes or businesses that have great eye appeal, where owners have invested in maintenance and the quality of their buildings."

Breaking up the village into distinct zones, the commission looked for homes where exteriors added something to the streetscape. Among the homes honored were Lindy and Blake Novotny's residence at 154 N. Lombard Ave., Jennifer Dirkin's home at 1112 Thomas St., Elizabeth Dowell and David Ubogy's home at 533 Wesley Ave., and the garden of Patricia and Thomas Bauhs at 948 Chicago Ave. The block award went to the 600 block of Fair Oaks Avenue.

Morris noted that anyone can nominate a home or business for one of these awards, whether it's an architect, contractor, homeowner, business owner or just a passerby. She also emphasized that the Historic Preservation Commission is available to advise residents on historic home rehabilitation efforts and the tax incentives that can go along with preservation.

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