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By Ken Trainor
Photos courtesy of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest
Late last month our competitors at Oak Leaves packed up their Lake Street offices. Some staff have moved to the Loop offices of their corporate parent at the Chicago Sun-Times. Others will become "mobile journalists" using technology and local coffee shops as a base of operations.
But after either 111 years or 130 years of continuous Oak Park presence – depending on how you trace the paper's lineage, we thought it was worth looking back at the paper's proud history in the village.
Over the decades, Oak Leaves was housed in 14 locations, most of them along the Green Line spine of the village. There was a six-year sojourn to Harrison Street during the 1980s. There were two different stretches – the 1930s and the first decade of this century -- in what has become known as the Oak Leaves building at 1140 Lake St. Then there was the decade starting in 1973 when the paper was headquartered at 137 S. Marion St. Today we'd call that Poor Phil's.
Our favorite Oak Leaves home was at 100 S. Kenilworth. It was a big old barn of a home and it housed the paper from 1943 until 1971, its longest stretch in a single spot. The property was demolished to make way for a 7-Eleven and is now in use as a dry cleaner.
The Oak Leaves continues to publish. We wish them well but will miss having them just down the way.
From our story "136 years of Oak Park newspapers," LifeLines, Sept. 8, 2010:
The Vindicator, a newspaper with a most immodest name, bolted out of the gate on Jan. 13, 1883. The publisher, William Halley, covered the Town of Lake, the general area east of Cicero Township on what is today Chicago's near West Side. Eventually Halley relocated to Steiner's Hall on Marion Street and renamed his feisty little rag the Oak Park Vindicator. And for a number of years, the paper remained aggressive — in a way newspapers today couldn't get away with.
Halley sold The Vindicator in 1897, and the paper, along with the Oak Park Times, formed the antecedents of the Oak Leaves, which listed both papers in the masthead of its first issue on Jan. 24, 1902.
Probably just as well. The Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest has issues of The Vindicator on microfilm from 1899 to 1901. A quick skim reveals that the muckraking aggressor had been considerably tamed by the turn of the century.
Though we love the name, we're forced to admit that when the Oak Leaves took over in 1902, it represented a step forward for local journalism.
In his front-page, two-column "Salutatory," Jan. 24, 1902, Editor and Publisher O.M. Donaldson noted, "With this issue the Oak Park Times and the Oak Park Vindicator, with that part of the Proviso Vindicator circulating in River Forest, are combined in one paper, under new management, in a new form and with a new name. … The two papers form a basis for a new enterprise born of the ambition to produce something different and something better than either the Times or the Vindicator have ever been, even in their palmiest day."
The only news story to share the Oak Leaves' first front page was headlined, "Money Problem – Village Board Thinks it Has Its Appropriation Ordinance Drawn Up Right."
Henry Austin was among the brain trust forming the Oak Leaves Company, which became Pioneer Publishing Company in 1915, just after Telfer MacArthur took over as publisher. MacArthur was the brother of John D. MacArthur of MacArthur Foundation fame and Charles MacArthur, co-author of The Front Page with Ben Hecht.
The Oak Leaves enjoyed a long, largely unchallenged run as the paper of record in Oak Park (adding the River Forest Forest Leaves in the 1940s). The legendary Otto McFeely was the Oak Leaves' editor for 34 of those years.
Based on several sources at the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest — most notably the Historical Survey of Oak Park, Ill., WPA project #9516, edited by Oak Park Public Library Reference Librarian Gertrude Fox Hoaglund (1937) and William Halley's Pictorial History of Oak Park (1898), here is the general line of newspaper succession:
Oak Park Record – 1874 (one issue)
The Weekly Alert – 1882 (Ely and Schroeder)
Along the Line – 1884
Weekly Review – 1885 (purchased by The Vindicator)
Cicero Vindicator – 1885 (started as the Town of Lake Vindicator in 1883, later became the OP Vindicator; the Proviso Vindicator covered River Forest)
Oak Park Reporter – 1887 (absorbed the Oak Park Argus in 1904 and became the Reporter-Argus)
Oak Park News – 1890-91
Oak Park Argus – 1899-1904
Oak Leaves – 1902-present (absorbed the OP Times and the OP Vindicator; later added the Forest Leaves for River Forest)
Oak Park Events – 1909 (formerly the Reporter-Argus)
Oak Parker – 1918 (formerly OP Events; later added the River Forester for River Forest)
Optimist – 1923 (covered south Oak Park)
Village Economist – 1960s and '70s
Oak Park-River Forest World – 1968-1981
OWL Shopping News/Oak Park News – 1968-1982
Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest – 1980-present