"It's a very sunny, happy place to live," Gail Friedman says of the mango-hued, circa-1888 farmhouse she and husband Jay wake up in each morning. Modest in size but brimming with personality, "It's perfect for us."
But it wasn't always. When the Friedmans purchased the home four years ago‚Ä"a home they were told might have been the first built on the 1100 block of South Wisconsin Avenue‚Ä"they knew they'd need a great deal of vision to make it their own.
After doing some interior renovation, like modernizing the kitchen and baths, Gail and Jay took a long look at their house from the curb. "The exterior was finished with this large, cement block siding," Gail says. "But we found out there was wood underneath, and it was in good condition."
The Friedmans had it stripped and painted, choosing teal and terra cotta shades to accent the mango frame, and soon found that once you get rolling, it's pretty hard to stop.
"As we discovered that the house had some style, we decided to frame out a bay window and put in a door," Gail says. "Then we opened up an enclosed front porch and turned it into a wraparound that could be accessed from the dining room."
Gail says the home's cheerful demeanor is particularly appropriate for them because Jay‚Ä"music director for the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, and principal trombonist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‚Ä"has students coming and going all the time.
"It's really a creative environment," she says. "It gets your juices flowing."
When the Friedmans got a piece of mail from the Village of Oak Park recently, Gail says they were "thrilled" to find out their renovation efforts were being recognized with a Cavalcade of Pride Award in the single-family home category. Bestowed on those who have made special efforts to beautify, maintain and improve their properties while also enhancing the aesthetic quality of life in Oak Park, the award was not something the Friedmans thought would be in their future when they first bought the house, according to Gail.
A few days after the award announcement arrived from the village, the couple received another. They learned that their block‚Ä"the 1100-1150 block of South Wisconsin Avenue‚Ä"was also being honored with a Cavalcade of Pride Award, this time for the collective improvement efforts of a group of residents.
"We have really great neighbors," Gail says, adding that there's a lot of pride in ownership on their street. The houses are generally colorful and well maintained, and the block is blessed with some exceptional gardeners.
"It's wonderful to see what's happening in this part of the village," she adds. "There are homes here that are still affordable and there are more and more people willing to fix them up. It's nice to be acknowledged like this."
Established in 1972 to foster community pride and encourage residents to reinvest in the town during a time of uncertainty, the Cavalcade of Pride Awards currently fall under the charge of the Community Design Commission, a unique assembly of volunteers (mostly architects, landscape designers and creative types) who meet to review aesthetic issues and comment on projects that affect the overall landscape in Oak Park.
According to Commission Chairman Bob Tucker, a property can be nominated for the award either by a commission volunteer or a by a fellow villager. The process for commission nomination, which involves dividing the community into a grid and assigning one volunteer to literally walk the streets looking for potential recipients, ensures that every property in Oak Park gets considered for the award. Nominating a neighbor (or yourself) is as easy as completing a form at the village.
In a ceremony held at village hall, Cavalcade of Pride recipients are given commemorative plaques featuring photos of their award-winning properties, and treated to a small reception afterward. In addition to recognizing the beautification efforts of single-family homeowners in Oak Park, the village also awards Cavalcade of Pride honors in nine other categories.
Signs of the times
"Signage has always been a major concern for the commission," Tucker says. "Having signs that serve the purpose of attracting business while at the same time fitting in with the look of the community, that's a difficult balance to maintain."
Created to acknowledge business owners who "go the extra mile to achieve a certain level of class," according to Tucker, the Best Sign Award was given to St. Edmund Catholic Church, 188 S. Oak Park Ave., and Danza Viva Dance Studio, 46 Lake St., this year.
"St. Edmund's is not your typical church sign," Tucker says of the tasteful identifier, constructed to complement the building's gothic architectural style. "And Danza Viva's canopy sign is really original and colorful, yet not screaming for attention. Either could have put up a big glaring sign but that would not be in the best interest of the community."
Jim and Ann August, owners of Caf√© Le Coq, 734 Lake St., received a Best Commercial Property Award for similar reasons, according to Tucker. "Subtle touches on the windows and the canopy give it an understated dignity," he says. "This award is all about how the property fits in with and stands apart from those surrounding it."
Because the look and feel of a community doesn't end at its borders, the commission presents a Good Neighbor Award each year to a property that can be seen from Oak Park. Caf√© La Guardia, 6818 North Ave., is a restaurant in neighboring Chicago that's been given a Cavalcade of Pride Award for its fa√ßade renovation, which includes new signage, window canopies and storefront lighting.
"When a neighbor makes a positive aesthetic contribution to Oak Park," says Tucker, "it adds value to the community. We want to acknowledge that."
"We always wanted a Victorian," says Bill Bango, who won a Best Transformed Property designation for the E.E. Roberts home he and wife Lori Malinski bought eight years ago. "We're very into history and preservation." But owning and reviving an old frame house, they soon discovered, would require a lot of their time and money.
Bango says their first priority, after taking ownership of their turn-of-the-century, cross gable Queen Anne at 643 N. Oak Park Ave., was resurrecting the front porch. "At first we were thinking we'd just repair it," he says, but ultimately they'd find out they needed to completely rebuild it.
"Next we had the roof done in cedar," Bango says, "but then the rest of the house looked really bad." A chemical stripping process took the frame back to bare wood and then Bango and Malinski had the exterior repainted in various shades of olive.
In the end, the Cavalcade of Pride Award would let the couple know their years of hard work had not gone unnoticed. And for that, Bango says, they're thankful.
Also winners in the Best Transformed Property category, Andrew and Laura Maychruk, co-owners of the Buzz Caf√© on South Lombard Avenue, received great kudos from the Community Design Commissioners for restoring the commercial building next door to its original condition.
"Basically we took it down to the brick shell," Laura says of the 1,000 square foot, three storefront property they purchased last March. After replacing the lintel beam, which is the major roof support and something the couple learned way more about than they ever wanted to, the building's original bricks were taken out, cleaned and put back in their original pattern. Then, the building was fitted with new copper-clad windows, copper lighting and copper window boxes. Art glass address markers, restored front doors and mosaic tile entryways topped off the effort.
Although a fa√ßade grant offered by the Oak Park Development Corporation allowed them to go further than they probably would have gone, Laura says the effort cost them a lot more than they'd expected. And while the Cavalcade of Pride Award is appreciated and something they believe is important to encouraging village improvement, that's not why they went to all the trouble.
"We wanted to attract good tenants," she says. "And it's next to us, so we have an interest in making the block look better. I hope we've raised the bar for storefront renovation and inspired others."
Single Family Property
1110 N. Grove Ave.
213 N. Taylor Ave.
Chet & Linda Stewart
703 N. East Ave.
Jay & Gail Friedman
1109 S. Wisconsin Ave.
David & Nancy Phelps
600 N. Ridgeland Ave.
James Babe &
800 S. Elmwood Ave.
Robert & Lisa Youman
210 S. Home Ave.
John & Jessica Cinelli
801 S. Cuyler Ave.
Mark & Cindy Grotefeld
401 N. Linden Ave.
Multi Family Property
322-330 Washington Blvd.
Fox Partners LP
37-39 Washington Blvd.
Caf√© Le Coq
734 Lake St.
Owners: Jim & Ann August
1100 Madison St.
Owner: Bill Loutos
1100-1150 S. Wisconsin Ave.
Ascension Catholic Church
815 S. East Ave.
Dole Learning Center
255 Augusta St.
Jim & Debbie Rand
420 N. Kenilworth Ave.
Billy & Jill Wirka
Best Transformed Property
907-911 S. Lombard
Owners: Andrew & Laura
643 N. Oak Park Ave.
Owners: Lori Malinski &
Danza Viva Dance Studio
46 Lake Street
Director: Rebecca Huntman
St. Edmund Catholic Parish
188 S. Oak Park Ave.
Best Parking Lot Beautification
Rush-Oak Park Hospital
Harlem Avenue parking lot
Caf√© La Guardia
6818 North Ave., Chicago