It’s now official: The 700 block of William Street has been recognized for its unique role in River Forest architectural history.

Trustees on June 27 passed a resolution and offered up honorary street signs marking the centenary of the first planned tract of Prairie-style homes built in the U.S. The signs were installed at the intersections of William and Chicago and at William and Oak. 

Residents, who wanted to elevate the profile of the block asked the Historic Preservation Commission in March how that could be accomplished. The board’s actions were the result.

The homes, constructed between 1913 and 1915, are within the community’s lone National Register Historic District. At the time the historic preservation ordinance was up for debate, village officials said River Forest did not have neighborhoods, that it was not that kind of community. At that time, Laurel McMahon, a proponent of historic preservation, disputed officials’ sentiments. 

“And certainly the 700 block of William leaps to mind as first and foremost,” McMahon said. “It’s wonderful we can identify special areas so everyone can join in the appreciation of how very special River Forest is.”

All of the homes are by the same architect, but the designer is a mystery: Some say it was Frank Lloyd Wright; others speculate it was Harry Robinson. 

The recognition was valued by residents of the block, who now will figure out if there will be some other form of distinction to assign to the homes. Mark Witt, who is passionate about the Prairie style and is spearheading the effort, said some ideas have been brought broached, but nothing firm yet.

— Deborah Kadin

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