Our village president has a menu of issues, plans, visions, and marching orders to select from and develop. I discovered he is a fellow architecture junkie during a tour of his beautifully restored and expanded four-square home on South Humphrey. We talked about the process, history and details of the historic house restoration and how important it is to build with quality regardless of the style.
Architecture is the core of what Oak Park is all about. Regarding our most prized building Unity Temple, Pope’s appreciation and passion was clear, “Whether it is a small or large gathering, it connects everyone in the room. It is really magical.” When in undergraduate school Pope had a couple of roommates that were architecture students. He remembers fondly how he “learned a great deal about architecture by walking around seeing the city threw their trained eyes.”
Are we timid in Oak Park bowing to the master? Are we sure we are getting the quality of architecture we deserve?
“I’m not sure we are,” says Pope. “It is partially a function of market place. We see developers with a short-term perspective. They want to get in and get out. We are here for the long haul. It is our obligation to demand quality architecture whether it is a modern building in steel and glass or a traditional building in brick and stone. We have dropped the ball in the past to demand higher quality.”
Pope and I talked about the CVS and Walgreen stores on Madison as an illustration of how the confidence of the community has improved.
“Although CVS is a fine and solid building it is not setting the world on fire for quality of design,” he remarked. “It was built in 2005 as a stock big-box plan at a time we were begging developers to come into the village.”
In contrast, the Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue’s Walgreens completed last year is a model of the best in Oak Park.
“They came to us with generic plans and we said no. They continued coming back three more times ‘no, no, no’ until realizing they would have to do something more creative and compelling,” explains Pope. “Today we can walk into a model of preservation, contemporary design and sustainability. In the end they did much more than we could imagine, harvesting daylight to light the building, drilling for a geothermal system to heat and cool the store and installing customer electric car docking stations.”
Walgreens now considers this particular store as a national model and a flagship of not only design but good business, marketing and urban design. This is Oak Park at its finest, a strong board led by Pope making waves and creating molds of national interest.
A current project that went through the same scrutiny by the board of trustees and was recently approved is the proposed 20-story high-rise condominium building at Lake and Forest. This project addresses the issue of declining density.
“Oak Park contained 66,000 population at its peak and is now hovering around 58,000 people. With less people our taxes are serviced by fewer people making it harder to afford living in the village,” says Pope. “The project also helps to drive demand for quality retail, professional offices, theaters, health clubs, etc. as it is located adjacent to the heart of the village within steps to an array of public transportation.”
Garret Eakin is an award winning architect, preservation commissioner and an adjunct professor at the School of the Art Institute.