Photo by Alexa Rogals

It might still get razed and shipped off to a landfill like everyday garbage, but the historic Foley-Rice car dealership building, slated for demolition on Madison Street, got a second chance this week from the Oak Park Board of Trustees.

The announcement from the board follows a unanimous vote by Oak Park’s citizen-led Historic Preservation Committee to recommend the board of trustees designate the building at 644 Madison St. a historic landmark.

The building, which has been vacant for more than a decade, was designed by E.E. and Elmer Roberts and built in 1925 as a showroom for Hill Motor Sales Company, which originally specialized in Packard model vehicles. It is notable for its terra cotta features and the decorative faces that line the building’s exterior, depicting men driving and/or working on cars.

The effort to declare the building historically significant comes just as development company Jupiter Realty begins plans to demolish the structure to make way for a Pete’s Fresh Market grocery store.

The board of trustees requested that the developer meet with historic preservation advocates Frank Lipo and Frank Heitzman, who submitted the request for the building to be declared historically significant, and thus preventing its demolition.

The board agreed to give Jerry Ong, a principal at Chicago-based Jupiter Realty, and the preservationists about a week to discuss ways the building could be incorporated into the grocery store.

The board was originally scheduled to vote on whether to concur with the Historic Preservation Commission’s decision, which is unlikely without consent from the developer. That’s because the village has been working to lure a tenant like Pete’s to the site for years and just signed an agreement with Jupiter last December to build the grocery store, along with a senior living facility on the other side of Madison.

The village has committed millions in public funds to the project from the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance District (TIF), which expired last year and must be used or returned to the various taxing bodies associated with the TIF.

Lipo told the board that the Historic Preservation Commission has always considered the building historically significant but deferred on moving to landmark the building in the past because it would be against the owner’s consent. He said the plan to use TIF funds for the Jupiter project is reason enough for heightened scrutiny of the project.

Heitzman urged the board to consider saving the building in some way, noting that there are a range of options the developer could choose to reuse the building.

Trustees voiced some reluctance to consider saving the building, although they agreed to give preservationists time to figure out a plan for reuse.

Trustee Simone Boutet called the building “scary,” noting that the condition of the structure makes it appear like it’s already in “demolition by neglect.”

Trustee Deno Andrews said the building should have been declared historic 10 years ago. Sticking Jupiter with a costly adaptive reuse project would amount to “reneging” on the village’s deal with the developer, Andrews said.

Jupiter’s Ong said he was willing to try to find a solution but noted that reusing the facade of the building might require dismantling the exterior, removing it, building the new structure and reassembling the facade.

He did not give an estimate of how much such a project might cost, but Ong said it would be “fairly expensive.”

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