Oak Park is losing its architectural integrity

Opinion: Columns

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By Steve Mann

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My three siblings and I were born and raised in Oak Park. I was extremely thankful to have the experience of growing up in such a historic neighborhood. Our family lived in the Charles Roberts House on North Euclid. It was designed by Daniel Burnham and John Root, whose fame and accomplishments in the world of architecture preceded Frank Lloyd Wright (who redesigned the interior of our house years later) and the work of the other hundred architects whose works are distributed throughout Oak Park. 

Even at a very young age, I really appreciated the architecture of so many houses and businesses that surrounded us. My mother, Elizabeth Lowry, and my grandmother, Helen Cannon, were well known and highly respected individuals in this village in their lifetimes [owners of Cannon's Book Store]. Both of them absolutely loved and appreciated the architecture of this quaint little village. 

And they would turn in their graves if they saw what has happened to it in the past several years.

Very recently, I returned to Oak Park for a brief visit. While looking around the village, I sometimes felt I were in the Twilight Zone. I noticed historical landmarks were missing and ugly buildings had been built. Buildings with the architectural look of any common high-rise one has seen all across the country. 

Oak Park isn't just any town. Oak Park has a historical legacy that warrants being treated with the respect the marvelous architects of the past earned for this village. Doesn't anybody understand that we shall never see the likes of these types of structure designs again?

I understand the need for progress, in terms of building structures to accommodate a growing population, but to raze landmarks in the name of progress is just this side of criminal. And the skyscrapers there now are atrocious. It wouldn't have been that difficult to hire an architect who would design a building to match the charm of an already established, historical theme. Thematic unity should be required for a place like Oak Park. 

The powers that be who OK'd these atrocities have no vision, no style, no soul, no brains. Oh, I forgot … they are devious. A developer will use phrases with hidden meanings to convince an unsuspecting public that what they are doing is good for the economy. It's been my experience that, after all is said and done, everyone's still fighting to make and keep a buck.

The argument that there is a need to tear down historical structures because they are, or were, "aging housing stock" is an out-and-out lie! I grew up in a house that's now well over 100 years old and is every much as integral as it ever was. 

The developers will tell the people that it's in the public's best interest, but the name of this game is "greed," folks, plain and simple: "Let's tear down historical buildings so we can put up cheap-looking high-rises for a profit." I fully support the right of developers to make an income, but they don't have a right to make an income by destroying anything that stands in their way. That, by definition, is greed.

A big problem is that I believe younger adults have never been taught the value of not only tradition, but art itself. They don't realize this type of art will most likely never be seen or heard from again in the future. Which means Oak Park may be doomed to sink into that abyss where inspiration and tradition have been thoughtlessly thrown away these many years. 

Is it too late to fix? I guess it's never too late, but it might take a miracle to get people to open their eyes.

Steven Mann grew up in Oak Park. After high school, he went on to a career as a film sound effects editor in Los Angeles. He now lives in Prescott, Arizona, where he is working on his fifth album. This fall he was named "Artist of the Week" on Big Venture Radio in England.

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