D90 administration office highlights its Harlem School roots

Building recognized by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest in May

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By Nona Tepper

The River Forest School District 90 administration building has officially been recognized as a historic structure, and will soon receive a plaque from the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest acknowledging its original architect, date of construction and much more. 

"We're excited," said Anthony Cozzi, the school district's director of finance and facilities. "Knowing that Roosevelt [Middle] School and Willard [Elementary] School are all on the River Forest historic landmark list under the historic landmark commission, it felt like this was a natural step."

Cozzi said a bronze plaque will be affixed to the side of old brick schoolhouse at 7776 Lake St. sometime this week, designating the building as the original Harlem School building. 

The schoolhouse was built in 1859 by builder Ashbel Steele, who was coroner and later sheriff of Cook County and who became the first permanent resident of what is now River Forest. 

Cozzi said District 90 Superintendent Ed Condon met with officials from the historical society in March. They told Condon the administration building qualified for recognition. 

As a way to promote the historical society and honor the history of the old Harlem School, the school district decided to apply for the plaque through the historical society's Historic Plaque Program and, in early May, received go-ahead. The district paid about $300 for the black-bronze, oval, 11-by-8.5- inch sign. 

D90's acknowledgment follows a rising movement in River Forest to designate residential and commercial buildings as historic structures. After the demolition of the Mars Mansion in 2015 and a historic home located in the 700 block of William Street in May -- the first and possibly only remaining Prairie School planned development in the U.S. -- neighbors and business owners have begun ordering plaques from the historical society for their homes.

Information on the plaque program can be found at oprfmuseum.org/historic-plaque-program.

The River Forest Historic Preservation Commission has also compiled a list of historic homes, which is posted on the village's website, so homeowners know the history behind their properties. There's also information on how property owners who rehabilitate buildings in accordance with certain preservation standards can apply for tax incentives. 

"I think this is especially important, because it has the backing of the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society," Cozzi said of the school house's historic designation. 

CONTACT: ntepper@wjinc.com 

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