Oak Park and River Forest saw the demolition of two notable structures last week. Different villages, different circumstances. 

In Oak Park’s downtown, the squat and obsolete white box at Lake and Forest has begun to come down. We’ll remember it as Lytton’s Department Store, part of downtown’s long-gone glory days as the shopping destination of the near suburbs. Most, though, will recall it as “the place near the Lake Theatre with the really big Subway.”

Obviously not the highest and best use.

Coming immediately in its wake will be Albion, the newest high-rise in Oak Park’s newly crafted skyline. We see the many upsides of new, more dense residential development in our downtown. Among them are more customers for downtown’s shops and restaurants, and, if taxing bodies aren’t greedy, a major boost to the property tax base. Amid the legitimate angst over unsustainable property taxes, the major organizing should not be against a swimming pool at OPRF; it should be to pressure each taxing body not to suck up this new tax revenue and build it into its spending plan.

In River Forest, meanwhile, a home on the 700 block of William Street was demolished. By itself, it was not a remarkable home, though Frank Lloyd Wright may have had his hand on it. But together with its neighbors, this house was part of a block considered to be the first and maybe only Prairie School planned development.

As always, in these River Forest demo stories, our point is that the village’s preservation ordinances are weak tea. There is no genuine protection here, only ways to nag and nit developers who have already built in the cost of waiting out the annoying delays. 

If River Forest wants to actually preserve its historic architectural heritage, then it ought to build an ordinance that is up to the challenge. Otherwise it will continue to lose its legacy. 

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