From the famous Prairie-style architecture to the long list of former celebrity residents, Oak Parkers don’t have to look far to find the rich artistic and cultural history that permeates the village – in some parts of town it’s right under their feet.

That’s because thousands of panels of sandstone sidewalk around Oak Park are the same ones in place when Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway and others strolled the neighborhoods of the village.

Now, after more than a decade of study, Oak Park plans to begin leveling, repairing, and in some spots eventually replacing, the remaining sandstone panels that were first installed more than 120 years ago.

The village recently issued a request for proposals from companies to begin work on the project, which is budgeted for about $25,000 this year.

Doug Kaarre, the village’s urban planner specializing in historic preservation, said the sidewalks are more than just a historic amenity – the sandstone has a monetary value. 

The current value of the roughly 4,000 sidewalk panels could not immediately be learned, but a report on the project, released by the village in 2006, estimated $1.4 million at roughly $400 apiece.

“Sandstone walks and other improvements were installed by developers as early as the 1890s as a modern amenity in the subdividing and selling lots – mainly in the central section of Oak Park and Ridgeland,” according to the report. “Other subdivisions in the village followed the early example of the Fair Oaks subdivision [bounded by Ridgeland, Chicago, Oak Park Avenue and Augusta] and provided sandstone sidewalks as well.”

The report also notes: “A few properties, most notably Cheney Mansion at 220 N. Euclid, have historic slate sidewalks.”

Byron Kutz, assistant village engineer, said the panels were installed between the 1890s and early 1900s, “mainly in the central part of the village.”

The panels weigh roughly 1,000 pounds each and are about three to four inches thick, Kutz said.

The village released a map in 2006 showing the locations of the historic sidewalk panels, and Kutz said that while some have been replaced with concrete because of breakage not much has changed over the past decade.

The recent request for proposals aims to reset about 35 to 50 sandstone panels that are an uneven “trip hazard” for pedestrians. 

Kutz said that over the last century, many of the panels have been replaced with concrete creating a patchwork effect, and village planners would eventually like to fill in the gaps. In the coming years, the village plans to relocate some sandstone panels to create contiguous stretches of sandstone sidewalk, he said.

“Another option is buying new sandstone [panels], but obviously there’s a price point with that,” he said.

The village Historic Preservation Commission began studying the sidewalks in 2000, when planners began questioning whether the panels should be replaced or preserved.

The report issued in 2006 noted that a survey of the village’s sandstone sidewalks identified a total 4,480 historic panels. “Of those, about 3,459 (80%) are in excellent condition with no work necessary except some minor leveling, while some 876 (20%) of the total are broken,” the report states. 

Kutz said the village also has applied for a grant through the Illinois Transportation Enhancement Program to advance the sidewalk rehab in the coming years.

“We’re hoping to hear about the ITEP grant in the next few weeks,” he said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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