Staff at the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest are still hoping to relocate to a village-owned former firehouse on Lake Street once their lease extension at Pleasant Home runs out in two years.
Executive Director Frank Lipo said they are now in the silent phase of raising the necessary funds to move to the vacant building at 129 Lake St. They have been talking to donors privately, but will move into a more public phase early next year to get support from the community.
“We think we’ll make some substantial progress this next year,” Lipo said.
The plan would be to sign a 50-year lease, and the organization would bring in private money to invest in the public building, which would provide 7,500 square feet and allow more room for larger exhibits than the organization can display in its present quarters. Currently, they have about 5,000 square feet to work with. Lipo said that, with adequate funding, they could have an addition put on the Lake Street location for a total of 14,000 square feet.
The historical society just extended its lease at Pleasant Home, where it occupies the second and third floors, through the Park District of Oak Park at a recent park board meeting. The lease was scheduled to expire at the end of December. There have been discussions about moving out since the early ’90s, “not so much that we’ve got to get out,” Lipo said, but because they have acquired so many artifacts and don’t have room to display them all.
When they moved into the building in 1970, the entire collection took up one bedroom. Lipo said they were able to expand around 1990 when the senior center left the building. Because Pleasant Home is a national historic landmark, however, they’re limited with what they can do with their space.
Lipo said it’s pretty common for any museum to have more than it can display within a few years of operation. A larger space would give the organization flexibility to put out information about prominent people besides the well-known ones like Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright. Lipo mentioned Percy Julian as someone whose story should be told.
The Lake Street facility was built in 1898 and used as a firehouse when Oak Park was part of Cicero Township, Lipo said. In addition to more space, a move there would be a great chance to get feedback from the community about other historical people and events that should be featured, he said.