There was a lot less history to account for in the villages of Oak Park and River Forest in 1970 — the year the local historical society set up shop in a single room of the landmark Pleasant Home at 217 Home Ave.

River Forest had incorporated 90 years earlier, and Oak Park (as we know it) was a mere 68 years old at the time the Historical Society of Oak Park-River Forest began occupying the second floor of the Prairie-style mansion once owned by first a wealthy investment banker and then a slot-machine manufacturer.

But over more than four decades, the society’s collection of historic material, including tens of thousands of photos, grew, and the single bedroom expanded to the entire second and third floors of the mansion, explained Frank Lipo, executive director of the Historical Society.

Lipo said that if all goes well, their digs at Pleasant Home will become, well, history when the society relocates to the historic Cicero Firehouse, 129 Lake St., (also known as the pump house) at the corner of Lombard Avenue in Oak Park.

The current collection fills every nook and cranny of the current space and the vast majority of the collection is unavailable for viewing because the Historical Society simply does not have the room.

The Pleasant Home site currently offers about 5,000 square feet for the group, but the fire house location would provide roughly 7,500 square feet, said Lipo, noting that the society also aims to eventually build an addition that would give the group more exhibition space. 

To prime the pump (house), they held an open house of the new location on Saturday and another is planned for Thursday, April 24, from 4 to 7 p.m.

Lipo said the group has raised $500,000 to set up a geothermal heating and cooling system at the new location and to facilitate the demolition and renovation of interior walls and remove drop ceilings.

“[Replacing the old radiator system is] the one big change to make sure it’s climate controlled,” he said.

The geothermal HVAC unit is covered by a $125,000 grant from the Illinois Public Museum Grants Program and $25,000 from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation.

Lipo said completion of the renovations to the firehouse will run and additional $500,000, and the later addition to the building will cost approximately $1.5 million, said Lipo. He’s uncertain exactly when the historical society will be out of Pleasant Home completely, but “I think if things go as we hope, late this year we would be in a position to move part of the operation,” he said.

More information about the Historical Society and its relocation efforts is available at https://www.oprfhistory.org.

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