The houses come, the houses go


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Jim Bowman, Columnist

Where Cheney Mansion stands on the 200 North Euclid block was once a beautiful many-porched house, a private residence big enough to be a sanitarium or nursing home. The owner tore it down.

Where there are houses on Ridgeland just south of North Avenue was the cutest brick farm house from the 1860s. Developers flattened it in the 1920s.

The area?#34;hundreds of acres?#34;north of North Avenue was a family farm. The owner, a man named Gale, trashed it for the sake of developing what we know as Galewood. And here's a shocker, he's commemorated in a shingle on the Unity Temple parish house.

No, we Oak Parkers have not always been as respectful of history and the land as we might have been. I'm not making it up. It's in a 1990 Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest calendar that somehow escaped the shredder in our house, with photos of long-ago houses by Philander Barclay, of Philander's Restaurant and Poor Phil's sports bar fame.

Some of the landscape-ravishing was done by or for churches, may the saints preserve us. A big "stick style" house from the early 1870s at Oak Park and Superior got out of the way in 1900 for First Methodist 25 years later. Two years later, in 1927, First Baptist replaced another stick-style house two blocks away, at Oak Park and Ontario.

This was O.W. Herrick's house. He had come from New York as a schoolmaster and had married the daughter of founding father Joseph Kettlestrings, whose name is on a plaque at the southwest corner of Scoville Park. Herrick was Oak Park's first postmaster.

That's not the half of it about the Herricks. Their son James B. Herrick was a trailblazing Rush Medical College medical researcher who described (discovered) sickle-cell anemia and coronary thrombosis. In his memoirs he spoke of watching the Chicago fire in 1871 from his house and later greeting his father returning from the city, where he had gone with food and supplies for homeless and hungry survivors.

To continue. In 1932 houses were torn down for a new post office at Kenilworth and Lake. Across Lake a splendid Italianate house became a tear-down, leaving room for what was to become the graceful Grace Episcopal Church yard. Down the street Henry Austin moved his house in 1936 from Lake Street, where it was obstructing commerce, to what we call Austin Gardens. That lovely house was flattened 25 years or so later?#34;for noble purposes, to make room for grass, trees, and performances of Shakespeare.

Meanwhile, on Lake Street just short of Harlem, an Italianate cottage dating from the 1860s had fallen years earlier to the wrecking ball, crushed by the wheels of commerce. So too a late-1800s stick-style house at Maple and Washington in 1927 lost out to an apartment building marvelously titled "Sulgrave Manor," whose architecture was meant somehow to evoke the tenth, 19th, and 20th centuries!

Apartment buildings?#34;the condos of their day?#34;also had their way with a late 19th-century turreted Queen Anne house at 228 South Oak Park Ave., once called home by the family of Melancthon Smith, a prominent Presbyterian and treasurer of the Oak Park Band Concert. Nothing was sacred.

And around the corner and down a few blocks, at Washington and East, a three-story, multi-chimneyed "imposing colonial revival" house with a high-roofed wrap-around front porch was replaced in 1929 by the equally imposing sandstone of Fenwick High School, home of "Friars, men of steel," according to the school's fight song.

That was a good move, to inject a personal note. It meant I could plunge into the school's pool in 8:30 am. gym class on the coldest days of my freshman year in the winter of '45 and '46. Men of steel indeed.

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