By Dan Haley
We asked, in a delicate way, on OakPark.com which Oak Park elementary school might benefit most from a little external sprucing up. One of the perks of the recently passed referendum is that the schools plan to spend a small pittance on the landscaping around the 10 grade schools. Nothing has been spent in a decade or more, say school officials and things are looking tough.
Plus, they say, and this might just be a little educational mumbo jumbo, you could create outdoor spaces that would be used as "natural classrooms." For instance, this month our young people could sit outside in a natural classroom and study rain and mist and cold.
As of Tuesday a.m., we are up to 73 comments and I think it is fair to say that, were this a plebiscite, Irving School would be winning and its vast expanse of asphalt playground would be moving toward extinction.
So now that we've solved that problem, what else needs sprucing up in Oak Park? The libraries are all glittery now (thanks to taxpayers). The parks are getting overdue facelifts (thanks to taxpayers). North Marion Street now appears in more TV commercials than Eva Longoria, so it is set (thanks to taxpayers). Wednesday Journal World Headquarters on Oak Park Avenue is now elegantly decked out in granite and glass. That's a good thing because in its previous black and red metal cladding I would have had to put the building on the butt-ugly-tilting-toward-decayed list. (And no taxpayer dollars were used in the process, though we did get a nice plaque from OPDC.)
Roosevelt Road is getting a $7-million redo, though once the fanciness is all in place, the buildings facing the fanciness are going to look mighty shabby. And next week the village board is likely to vote to drop beaucoup bucks on the Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street and South Marion Street shopping districts.
So what does that leave that's still ugly?
Harlem Avenue is ugly. Start at Mohr Concrete just south of the Ike and work north. I once said the strip mall at Harlem and Garfield was the ugliest strip mall in the world. I stand by that, though the owner called me after that column and reminded me what really good swearing was like.
Further north and Harlem is lined with the hind ends of all sorts of odd lots. It is like Oak Park is just a half-block too narrow and as they laid out the grid, they ran out of room just as they reached Harlem. So instead of having a stately stand of buildings facing our entry street, we have the garages of Maple sitting there like most alleys sit — looking a little tired and forgotten.
The Harlem underpass at the Green Line is hideous. And all four corners abutting it are hideous. There are plans to make it better. But the plans never go anywhere. Perhaps the planners have decided it is irredeemable.
The Whiteco/Oak Park Apartments on Harlem is a travesty against all that is good about Oak Park. That structure is the symbol of every political, planning and financial failing Oak Park could muster. And there it sits.
The middle schools are ugly. Glad they're almost paid for. But they'll still be boxy and uninteresting even when we own them. Even after we put nice but middle-school-kid-proof landscaping around them.
Do you have a nomination for the "Really Ugly List"? Post it at OakPark.com/UglyList.