I read a quote from my friend Perry Vietti, about the Comcast building project, I think in an Oak Leaves story. Our firm, Robert A. Bell Architects, was the architect for the remodeling of the Ford dealership to accommodate Cablevision in 1982. The project included creating a second-floor TV studio, as well as other major changes. We suggested that Cablevision restore the original exterior design, which was done in about 1929 by the Detroit architectural firm, Albert Kahn, for the Cadillac Motor Co. But Cablevision wanted a more "up-to-date," clean look and that lead to the new Exterior Insulation Finish System known as "Drivit," which has lasted quite well since it was installed in 1982 (28 years ago).
Drivit is a material that looks so much like stucco, one of F. L. Wright's favorite materials, that it is hard to tell the difference. Perry Vietti described it as a "nasty" material, which I think is quite unfair and misleading. When the remodeling was done, the building was viewed as attractive, even though personally I would have preferred the restoration of the original design.
I just read a Wednesday Journal article by talented Oak Park architect Garret Eakin, describing the proposed redesign of the building by Vietti's firm, praising the addition of two additional floors designed to "match" the original Albert Kahn design [The housing of Cadillac may go green, WednesdayJournalHomes.com, Jan. 12]. Eakins described the existing Drivit as "ghastly," if I remember correctly. If these comments were coming from "the public," they might be understandable, but when the project developer and an architect member of the historic preservation commission characterize Drivit in such a derogatory way, it seems suspect. What are their motives? It is also insulting to all who had a hand in the Cablevision project.
I do support the reuse of the building for affordable housing. Our firm was involved in remodeling the building at Madison and Elgin in Forest Park, a few blocks from the Comcast building, upgrading the existing modest studio apartments on the two upper floors as affordable housing. Another building in the neighborhood recently renovated is the affordable Bon Villa Apartments on Wisconsin in Oak Park. Also nearby are the single rooms available to rent at the Oak Park YMCA, which have provided affordable housing since the 1950s. Like the proposed Comcast project, none of these buildings provide significant numbers of parking spaces. The idea that the neighborhood will be negatively affected by the affordable housing proposed at the Comcast building seems to be refuted by the longtime presence of nearby affordable housing.
Robert Bell is an Oak Park resident and president of Robert A. Bell Architects.