Satellite image courtesy Google Earth

Drechsler Brown & Williams funeral home, 203 S. Marion St., has been serving families for over 139 years. Now with the funeral industry rapidly changing, owners Charles and Lynne Williams are planning to sell the 34,000 square foot property and move toward retirement.

What comes next for the prime property just south of downtown Oak Park and walkable to Metra and the Green Line is not certain though some sort of residential development is anticipated.

John Lynch, head of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, said his agency has been working with the property brokers hired by the Williams. He said there has been genuine interest in the property but that it remains a completely private business deal.

The Williams decided to sell based on changes in the funeral industry. “For several years there has been a steady increase in families selecting services that do not require the use of our facility. We have, therefore, listed our property and anticipate retiring,” they wrote in a statement to Wednesday Journal. “We will continue to serve our community until the final closing of this transaction.” 

The property is currently zoned in DT-3 Pleasant Sub-District, the area adjacent to the heart of downtown Oak Park. According to Craig Failor, Oak Park’s village planner, that zoning “allows for pretty much the same thing as downtown Oak Park,” meaning that, if a new building were to be built on that lot, it could not exceed 60 feet in height, roughly around five stories. Should an apartment complex be built, the first floor would be designated for commercial use, with apartments on floors above. 

Variances to current zoning could be applied for subject to approval of the Oak Park village board.

As the property is in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District, the Historic Preservation Commission would have to review any plans to demolish the building and how demolition would impact the district’s character. 

Matthew Ishikawa and Tom Svoboda, of real estate firm CBRE Group, are representing the property, marketed as “a mixed-use development opportunity” within walking distance of public transportation. The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation (OPEDC) is assisting the brokers.

“We’ve been working pretty closely with the broker team for a little bit now to bolster their marketing efforts,” said Lynch, OPEDC executive director. 

According to Lynch, OPEDC has brought forward qualified developers to Ishikawa and Svoboda. OPEDC has also met and toured with several prospective buyers, educating them on development policies and opportunities in Oak Park. 

  Lynch doesn’t know if the two brokers have fielded any offers yet. “It is still a private transaction, so Tom and Matt are running that process,” Lynch said.
“All offers would go directly to them and they’ll be ultimately responsible for vetting them.”

Lynch hopes OPEDC will be included in some discussions as the brokers narrow down their list of potential buyers. He said it’s possible, but unlikely that the property will be bought for funeral home usage. 

“My understanding of the [funeral home] business is that it’s become more challenging to operate those kinds of facilities,” Lynch said. “We certainly haven’t heard from any other operators. I would be a little bit surprised if that’s the direction it ends up going in.”

He thinks it’s likely that the site, which he described as “interesting,” will become a residential complex, saying, “It’s an opportunity to add additional residents to our downtown core to support our businesses, to support our restaurants and retailers downtown.”

From 9 funeral homes to none

Seventy years ago, Oak Park was home to nine funeral homes. If Dreschler Brown & Williams Funeral Home closes, it will be the last in the village.

Here, courtesy of the Oak Park River Forest Museum, is a list of the eight funeral homes advertising in the 1951 Yellow Pages.

Drechsler Funeral Home, 203 S. Marion 

Emmering Funeral Home, 6126 Roosevelt 

Grahl Funeral Home, 6748 Roosevelt 

Haggard Funeral Homes, 124 Madison

P.M. Smith and Sons Funeral Home, 17 Madison 

Village Chapel (owned by Postlewait, formerly Osgood Funeral Chapel) 523 Lake 

Postlewait Funeral Co., 720 Lake 

Williams Funeral Home, 412 N. Austin

Williams Kampp Funeral Home, 14 Lake

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