On Dec. 7, Oak Park homeowners and business owners came together to celebrate heritage, environment, design, and access with an awards ceremony — sponsored by the Historic Preservation Commission, Environment & Energy Commission, Community Design Commission, and Disability Access Commission to recognize citizens for their commitment to protecting our architectural heritage and keeping the village a vibrant place for both residents and visitors.
The 2016 awards included Preservation awards for homes and local businesses; Green awards for local residents, organizations and businesses; Cavalcade of Pride awards for single- and multifamily homes, businesses, gardens and blocks; and, new to this year’s awards, Disability Access awards for businesses and organizations.
More than 70 individuals, organizations and businesses were recognized for their great efforts to make positive contributions to both the exterior of the Oak Park community and the heart of what Oak Park stands for.
This year’s Preservation awards touted the efforts of local homeowners and businesses to rehabilitate historic structures within Oak Park. The owners of 227 Clinton Ave., with the help of Studio R Architecture, Loop Construction & Remodeling, and Amanda Miller Design, turned a dilapidated house into a stunning single-family showcase. Likewise, at 317 S. Euclid Ave., a home that was down on its luck went through a complete overhaul with the help of architect Technica Design and contractor Wicklow Development Group.
At 421 Clinton, the owners worked with Sherman Construction, Jacknow Construction, and Mullins Painting to turn a pink, sided house into an authentic Victorian stunner. The owner of 810 Clinton, meanwhile, restored her fire-damaged four-square. At 145 S. East Ave., the owners worked with Errol J. Kirsch Architects and Hughes Development to restore their corner-lot beauty, complete with a period-appropriate porch. And the owners of 1031 Home Ave. worked with Architecture & Conservation and contractor McShane Hibbets to remove an unsightly addition and restore their Gunderson home.
Local business Oak Park Brewing Company/Hamburger Mary’s was honored for their rehabilitation of the space at 149-155 S. Oak Park Ave., and Kinslahger Brewing Company received an award for rehabilitating their space at 6806 Roosevelt Road.
Cavalcade of Pride awards
Village Planner Craig Failor noted that the village has been awarding the efforts of resident owners since 1972.
“We are really looking at properties and business owners who have put a little effort into maintaining their properties,” he said. “Every year, each member of our commission gets a zone in the village and walks it, looking at landscaping and exterior improvements. We also give them building permit information so they know how much the owners have invested in their properties.”
For Failor, the awards have a contagious effect in terms of community pride.
“Once people see other people getting awards for their investments, it makes them wonder what they can be doing to their own property. We give [signs to] the block that wins the block award, so people driving by can see it and wonder what they can do on their own blocks.”
In each of the nine zones, commissioners choose a single-family home for an award. Not all of the zones contain multifamily homes, so multiple nominations can be made in that category.
All of the award winners are worthy of recognition, Failor said, but he singled out a few of this year’s highlights, including local businesses and the Park District of Oak Park.
“The park district’s Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center is one of the highlights this year,” Failor said. “For commercial businesses, Citrine’s outdoor seating area (corner of Oak Park Avenue and South Boulevard) and their updating of the façade of the building really stand out. Kinslahger took a building that was really rundown and put a great deal of effort not only into the outside but inside as well. We also recognized 116 S. Grove Ave. for the owners’ efforts in maintaining the building. It was a former single-family home that was turned into a multifamily building, and they did a wonderful job architecturally and with the landscape.”
The Green awards were added to the line-up in 2009 and Karen Rozmus, environmental services manager for the village, said the awards embody much of what has inspired her to work for Oak Park for the past 22 years.
“This community just embraces green issues,” she said, “the things that I care about.”
As she prepares to retire, Rozmus was pleasantly surprised to be nominated for an award for her efforts to bring a composting program to the village. The popular program serves 1,100 households and counting.
Other award winners include Naaman Gambill, who installed bee hives on the Public Works building (South Boulevard and Lombard Avenue). The Brooks Middle School Edible Garden was also honored. Rozmus noted the latter recognizes the efforts of Laura Stamp, Jennifer Harrington, Sue Hoyer, and Heidi Jirka.
“They put real effort into making the garden ADA accessible for some of the students, which was a new twist on a school gardening program.”
Another winner was the Heritage Oak Project, the brainchild of Kathryn Jonas and Julie Samuels. The former members of the Forestry Commission found a pre-settlement map of Oak Park, with the site of the original oak savanna. They collected acorns from trees that have anchored the village for over 150 years and worked with the Morton Arboretum to propagate saplings from those acorns to give to residents to plant.
Disability Access awards
A new category this year, the Disability Access awards, are the only category driven entirely by the public. Steve Cutaia, ADA coordinator and the village’s chief building official said the commission received about 70 nominations. The awards are meant to recognize businesses and organizations that meet three criteria: They are easily accessible to people with disabilities, they provide an inviting physical space, and they are welcoming and helpful to those with disabilities, all displaying a service-oriented attitude.
MOMENTA Dance Company was recognized as an organization that goes to great lengths to provide access to those with disabilities (including dancers). Also recognized were restaurants Lou Malnati’s and Mama Thai.
“After the awards ceremony,” he said, “we got a lot of positive feedback. What sets us apart is that we let the public nominate and then the commission does the field work.”
Cutaia thinks the Disability Access awards will continue to grow as recognition increases.