Much to the dismay of local architecture and history aficionados, a new amendment to the redevelopment agreement between Pete’s Fresh Market and the village of Oak Park allows the grocery store chain to demolish a nearly century old auto dealership  at 644 Madison St. The village board passed the amendment during its Nov. 23 meeting.

The amendment allows Pete’s to make adjustments to the project schedule due to COVID-19, as well as includes changes to the concept plan that does not involve retention of what was last used years back as a Foley-Rice Cadillac showroom.

“We were hopeful that we’d be able to do everything to preserve the building,” said Pete’s executive officer Stephanie Dremonas. 

Pete’s purchased the historic building to build its second Oak Park location, which will encompass the 600 and 700 blocks of Madison Street, between Oak Park and Wesley Avenues. 

Known as the Hill Motor Sales Building, it was built in 1925 and served as an automobile showroom for a Packard dealership. Its final use was as part of the Foley-Rice dealership which had locations on both sides of Madison Street. The building on the south side of Madison will be demolished to make way for senior housing.

The grocery store’s effort to retain the building’s façade were ultimately not possible, said Dremonas, due to the placement of the planned store’s loading dock on the easternmost edge of the property and the difficulties of configuring the plans to fit into two city blocks. 

“That wall – it has to come down,” said Dremonas.

Retaining the façade would also present considerable financial costs for the grocery store chain – roughly $2.5 million, according to Pete’s developer Eugene Grzynkowicz, who stated the building would have to be completely disassembled and then put back together. 

Pete’s plans to preserve perhaps the building’s most recognizable feature – its grotesques, which will be incorporated into the new grocery store’s design.

The community has made multiple attempts to save the building from demolition.  Last year, the village rejected a proposal to declare the Foley-Rice building a landmark. Landmark Illinois, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving historic places, placed the structure on its list of Illinois’s most endangered places in 2019. 

Most recently, the “Save the Hill Coalition” community group submitted the maximum allowed three public comments to the village board Nov. 24 advocating for the building’s preservation. The coalition developed alternative architecture plans that would incorporate a portion of the Foley-Rice and provide construction cost savings, according to the group. 

Notable members of the coalition include Frank Lipo of the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation’s Heidi Reuhle and local architect Frank Heitzman.

“We met with Heidi and Frank and Frank and I commend their persistence and their passion,” said Dremonas during the Nov. 23 meeting. “If I had it my way and I had an open checkbook, to make this happen, we could do it.”

In a 5-to-2 vote, the village board accepted the second amendment, which also allows Pete’s to adjust certain dates to the project schedule. Trustees Simone Boutet and Arti Walker-Peddakotla cast the dissenting votes.

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