In its recently-revised survey of Downtown Oak Park and neighboring business districts, the Historic Preservation Commission identified roughly 68 percent of buildings not already within the Ridgeland Historic District as “structures of merit” or as architecturally “significant.”

In addition, the commission has deemed all buildings on Westgate?#34;an area currently being examined for re-development opportunities?#34;as significant or of merit.

Many of the 79 buildings examined that are not in the Ridgeland Historic District sit along Lake and North Marion Streets, the 1000 block of South Boulevard, and Westgate.

The structures already within the bounds of the historic district are mostly along Oak Park Avenue, South Marion and Pleasant Streets, as well as the 700-800 blocks of South Boulevard. Of those 38 buildings surveyed, 32 were classified as contributing to the historic character of the district and one building was listed as a historic landmark.

The commission updated its current architectural survey at the direction of the village board. The previous board pulled the original survey from the public record, saying trustees had not sanctioned the study, which had identified the now-demolished Hoppe Building as a “contributing” structure. The parcel occupied by the Hoppe building was needed to proceed with development of Whiteco’s mixed-use project at Harlem and Ontario.

The classification of “contributing” itself had originally caused confusion, said Commission Chair Doug Gilbert, which led to a decision to develop a new identification system.

“We had used contributing and non-contributing, which referred to buildings [already] in historic districts. Those buildings either contribute [to the historic district] or don’t,” he said. “Outside of that, those terms were kind of confusing, as to what they do or don’t contribute to.”

The new categories are outlined as significant, structure of merit, or no merit. The report defines a “significant” building as one that is “worthy of preservation” and a candidate for receiving local landmark status. A “structure of merit” is one that has “historic or aesthetic character but to a lesser degree, or that has had alterations affecting its integrity.”

Buildings of “no merit” are less than 50-years-old, and do not have enough historic character to necessarily warrant preservation.

Overall, the commission has recommended that “every effort be made to preserve those buildings listed as significant or structures of merit.”

The Colt building, the future development of which is currently being considered by a steering committee, was specifically identified as a structure of merit. That building has frontages at 1125-1135 Lake Street and at 1144-1150 Westgate.

The Lake Street side of the structure, built in 1931, has been altered, but the Westgate faade is “fairly intact historically,” said Gilbert. The building used to feature an arcade that ran through its center, which has since been filled in.

Beyond its review of each building, the commission has stated that designating downtown as a historic district is a possibility, but one the commission has not directly pursued, Gilbert said.

Gilbert also noted that the commission only looked at the architectural integrity and significance of buildings. Some buildings not highly ranked could still be of significance for more culturally historic reasons, such as if a well-known Oak Parker once lived, or worked there, Gilbert said.

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