Along with numerous other Oak Parkers, I attended the Golub presentation on the proposed 28-story building that would be constructed on the US Bank drive-thru on the same block as Unity Temple and across the street from Scoville Park. The representative from Golub said he “loved Oak Park” but later added that the building needed to be 28 stories to make it a “viable investment.”
The Golub representative apparently does not love Oak Park in the same way that I do. It is easy to measure things in terms of their economic value. Placing a 28-story building on this spot would certainly seem to be a moneymaker. Measuring value in terms of financial gain, however, should not be our parameter. We should be looking at other values that are just as important: architectural, cultural and social values.
Do we want to radically alter the scale of our village? It is without argument that this building, almost 10 stories taller than anything built in the village, will dwarf the neighborhood. A local architect opined that to be even discussing such a tall building in the heart of the historic district and in the shadow of Unity Temple was “surreal.”
But it will be Unity Temple in the shadow of this building as revealed by their shading studies. Those of you who have visited Unity Temple know that the sanctuary is a dynamic composition of natural light with the lay light ceiling and clerestory windows on all four sides. The proposed high-rise will wreck this composition every morning for the tourists and for the congregation during Sunday worship.
One villager compared this building to a bully, and I think the metaphor is apt. Unfortunately, this bully would be permanent and invite other bullies onto the block. The Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District is a Supreme Court-affirmed appropriate use of our municipality’s power to save districts which reflect elements of the community’s cultural, social, spiritual, economic, and architectural history. The goal is to retain the architectural and aesthetic character of the community while forming a strong communal sense of place. Historic landscapes such as Scoville Park create a shared identity and joint community memory.
Our historic district should prevent the destruction of the community’s heritage and unique identity. This proposed development is a bridge too far. It is wholly out of scale for this neighborhood and our village. This development is anti-Oak Park and would cast a shadow on Unity Temple, Scoville Park and the entire Historic District. I strongly urge the Oak Park Board of Trustees to kill this proposal.
Stephen J. Kelley, FAIA, SE