Frank Muriello, 84, is a dedicated family man who loves his hometown — a “dooper” (dear old Oak Parker) and proud of it.
But for many folks, Muriello is also the indefatigable “doer” who fearlessly and creatively blazed a trail to reinvigorating and rebuilding a deteriorating rental landscape at a time in Oak Park’s history when the possibility of “white flight” was real.
He is also the forward thinking businessman, who, during his long tenure in top spots with the Oak Park Residence Corporation and its affiliate the Oak Park Housing Authority, helped reform the village’s definition of diversity to encompass not only individuals of race ethnicity, but also the elderly and those who were physically challenged.
“The three big things I have lived through, really, is the Ryan Farrelly Apartments [21 units for the mobility impaired], the Oaks [79 senior/handicapped units] and Mills Park Tower [199 senior units],” said Muriello in a recent sit down at Poor Phil’s in Oak Park. “But, the things we did every day, like dealing with the private sector who owned apartment buildings in Oak Park; that was the hardest part.”
Fighting the good fight
Nearly 50 years ago, 45 multiple family properties were identified as being in severe disrepair and “totally re-segregated or nearly so,” says Muriello.
His response was to galvanize a coalition of civic and business leaders who, with the assistance of the local banks, reassembled 25 of those buildings.
“Because of how we did it, the other 20 were gobbled up by an expanding rental market,” Muriello says.
Earlier this month, in recognition of his lifetime of achievements, Muriello’s signature accomplishment, the Ryan Farrelly Apartments at 435 S. Humphrey Ave., was re-dedicated to honor the man who championed the first affordable housing option for individuals with disabilities in the village.
Born at Oak Park Hospital, Muriello is the third child in a line of four kids who grew up in an apartment over their father Joe’s independent grocery store at 703 Madison St. in Oak Park.
Early on, he matriculated through Ascension Catholic School, Fenwick High School and Loyola University in Chicago, where he earned a degree in commerce.
By1950 he married Eileen, who he met on a blind date.
“My father taught me to always find the good things about people, and try not to overlook things about them,” says the father of seven children, and the grandfather and great grandfather of many more. “The real strength of Oak Park is the melding of every nationality into being Oak Parkers, and that is very nice.”
Muriello’s résumé is lengthy. It kicks off with him being a cashier in Muriello Grocery Store, and later leaps to him being a banker, an Illinois licensed real estate broker and appraiser, and entrepreneur. In 1973, he co-founded his first appraisal business, Muriello/Meyer and Associates, reorganizing it to Muriello Appraisal and Consulting in the late 1980s.
Currently he is semi-retired, but with his sons still manages their offices in Elk Grove Village and Oak Park.
Around Oak Park, Muriello might be best known as the passionate and visionary civic leader who has served as a village trustee, and been a multiple decade appointee to the board of directors of the housing authority.
In 1966, during that tenure, he became one of the organizing directors of the Oak Park Residence Corporation, and from its start it became the center of interagency collaboration between the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, the Village of Oak Park Community Relations Department, and the Village of Oak Park Building and Housing Divisions. Muriello held the title of executive director from 1986 to1998.
“Frank was part of the creative think-tank which instead of saying that ‘these are old buildings and there is not much we can do about them,’ he took, particularly the buildings along Austin Boulevard and Washington Boulevard — the ones that in a sense were the most threatened with deterioration and racial re-segregation — and decided to make those some of the best apartment buildings in Oak Park,” says Bobbi Raymond, founder of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
Sherlynn Reid, the village’s director of community relations from 1973 to 1999, collaborated with Muriello on condo and apartment rental issues, the nuances of tenant-landlord relationships, and the “enforcement of the fair housing law,” she says.
“Frank has had a profound impact on Oak Park in terms of setting an example of how a manager/owner could keep good buildings, keep them racially diverse, and well maintained and serviced,” she says.
Standing up for those who could not
His hallmark achievement, The Ryan Farrelly Apartment project, came about in the usual way, says Muriello.
“I was casually talking to the Residence Corporation board one day about my grandson, Ryan [who was enduring cerebral palsy], and Ed Solan, who was always our group’s problem solver says, ‘do we have a facility for the Ryan Farrellys of Oak Park?'”
The answer was no, so Muriello, threw a Hail Mary pass, hoping key players in town would help him quarterback the project.
So, Muriello searched Oak Park for suitable sites and found three adjacent lots. It was Mike Kelly, former president of First Bank of Oak Park, who sold Muriello the first two lots for $1 each.
Acquiring the third lot wasn’t as easy, so they punted. Fortuitously for the group, however, was a new village ordinance that banned rooming houses in Oak Park had been en-acted. It opened up that adjacent lot as a possibility.
“This was one of three rooming houses left in Oak Park, and it was in an historic district and was a contributing structure to the neighborhood,” Muriello says. “So, we had to physically jack it up and move it down the street.”
The touchdown came when Muriello and Oak Parker Dirk Danker, of Nagle Hartray Architecture, obtained funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Renaming this building to Ryan Farrelly Muriello Apartments seemed to be a fitting memorial to Frank’s years of service to Residence Corporation, plus we also like the fact that it joins his grandson’s name with his own, so now the name on the building will reflect that and his efforts,” says Solan. “Through his participation with Residence Corporation, and what that has meant to the village in terms of affordable housing, housing for persons with disabilities, and housing for seniors, Frank was instrumental in helping the community achieve those goals.”