Odds and ends with some a bit odder than others:
A lonely bank: It would be hard to overstate how decrepit and discouraging the southwest corner of North Avenue and Austin Boulevard was 30 years back. A ramshackle strip of marginal businesses in buildings that hadn’t seen any repairs in a long while.
This was the very tough gateway to Oak Park’s northeast corner and it sent only a message of decay and failure. It took the bold leadership of Mike Kelly and his First Bank of Oak Park (later renamed Park National Bank) to clear the corner through demolition and to construct a beyond handsome branch bank there. With its large plaza and pergolas, parking and a drive-thru, actual bankers working in a handsome building, the welcome it presented, the message it sent that Oak Park was strong and on the rise could not have been more powerful.
This history lesson comes as US Bank announced last week that it is permanently closing the North and Austin branch as of year’s end. Like many banks, US Bank is shedding branches rapidly. Previously it had abandoned its not-handsome hold on another Oak Park gateway at Austin and Roosevelt. While no one will be wild about the Taco Bell penciled in there, it may actually improve the aesthetics of the intersection. Two weeks ago we reported in our Forest Park Review that US Bank is pulling out of its branch at Madison and Desplaines. And if plans go forward for a new apartment building on Lake near Grove, US Bank will also lose that drive-thru.
It is a lot of disinvestment from a national entity that made its mark in Oak Park only because Kelly got royally shafted by the federal government in the early days after the financial collapse of 2008. A travesty that robbed both Oak Park and the Greater West Side of a banker who plowed resources into those neighborhoods year after year.
So now we have a handsome branch bank with no apparent adaptive re-use.
New investments: I know nothing about architecture, but in my uneducated opinion the new apartment building going up at Oak Park and Van Buren is sharp. The brick — maybe its brick-like — cladding is handsome and distinctive.
This project, which got a boost from village government’s affordable housing fund, is entirely affordable housing aimed at low-wage workers with some set aside for people with disabilities. There is a fraction of retail on the ground floor.
There was some opposition from locals who never ‘fessed up to their irrational worries about the affordable nature of the project, instead describing it as giant-sized. Fits right in by estimation and looks somewhat better than the long-abandoned BP station it replaces.
Meanwhile on Madison: Actually never thought I’d see the day when Albertson’s, Jewel’s corporate parent, would drop a nickel into its store on Madison Street. Lo and behold, stopped in last week for a few things on my way home from work and this sorry store had been actively “refreshed.” New lighting. Some new fixtures. Some rearranging. The River Forest Jewel it ain’t, but as a reasonable place to do some mid-week filling in, it works just fine.
Always baseball: OK, the White Sox didn’t make it to the World Series. Turns out you need more than two starting pitchers to go deep in the playoffs. But we played one more post-season game than the Cubs. And here’s the thing: The future for the Sox is so much brighter than the aging, almost-ready-for-a-rebuild Cubs.
Finally, the White Sox should not hire AJ Hinch, the disgraced Astros manager, who either knew about the cheating scheme or damn well should have known. Character counts. When will we learn that?