Oh no. There’s a meeting on March 25 at the library that residents of northwest Oak Park cannot afford to miss. The Oak Park Historical Commission wants to extend the boundaries of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District into my neighborhood, as well as stretches of bungalows on Ridgeland near North Avenue, and portions of Lake Street that are currently inhabited by fortune tellers, plumbers and roofing contractors. To my knowledge, none of these streets contain any Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

The commission is seeking comment on whether to extend the Wright district. Here is my comment: Don’t do it.

In my view, the commission has been on the wrong side of many development disputes in
Oak Park over the last 10years. It was partly responsible for the YMCA relocating to Forest Park. Do you remember its conclusion that a modest brick two flat across the street from the Y could not be razed because of its historic nature-notwithstanding that there are 100 similar two flats in Oak Park and tens of thousands in the Chicago area?

The commission has become the “style police” of our town, imposing its judgment on what is historically accurate at the expense (both in dollars and psychologically) of homeowners wanting to improve their homes.

In an expanded historical district, its role will be to dictate what you can and cannot do to the exterior of your house. Think of the poor sap who had the misfortune of buying a dilapidated stucco house in the historic district on a block with many stucco and clapboard houses. The owner wanted to take off the decaying stucco and replace it with historically accurate clapboard. “No, no,” said the commission.

Remember the owners of the four square in the Gunderson Historic District that wanted to redo a crumbling porch? I forget whether they wanted to replace Doric columns with ionic or vice versa. Whichever it was, the commission said, “No, no.”

And so it will go if the historic district is extended into my neck of the woods, which is a mishmash of old wood houses, 1930s-era brick and too many 1950s-style ranch houses. Will the commission declare that blond brick used during the Eisenhower administration is historically significant?

Luckily, I have already destroyed the historic nature of my little worker’s cottage. Those sky lights that bring a little light into my tiny upstairs bedroom? Definitely déclassé and anti-historical. That plastic faux-wood flooring on my front porch? They did not make that back in 1900. But I love it because I do not have to repaint my porch every year and it is made of recycled Coke bottles to boot. “Too bad,” the commission would have told me.

As near as I can tell, the commission will add delay, cost and its particular vision of historical preservation to future home improvements in an expanded historical district.

But I sense the steamroller is coming, so here is my advice to my neighbors: Install the aluminum siding posthaste. Add the dormer now. Redo the porch immediately. And install the
Malibu lights under cover of darkness. This could be your last chance.


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