Oak Park names preservation award winners

Home and business owners recognized for stewardship efforts

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

Last month, the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission awarded seven historic preservation awards to homeowners and business owners who tackled sizeable projects to improve their homes or businesses. 

Susie Trexler, historic urban planner for the village, said that each year the historic preservation award winners are chosen by a panel of professionals and says that this year's panel was really excited about the nominees. 

"The winners are all examples of homeowners going above and beyond what was required," Trexler said of the property owners who chose to renovate in a manner that upheld the historic character of the buildings.

The award categories for 2019 included adaptive reuse, addition/new construction, rehabilitation and restoration. This year, the panel also included a Stewardship Award for the first time. 

Trexler notes that the Stewardship Award recognizes that there are several worthy projects in the village that were not major in scope, but which still played an important role in the historic preservation conversation. 

"These might not be giant, transformational renovations, but they are putting a lot of effort in over a period of years," Trexler said.

The jury awarded the Stewardship Award to the Linden Apartment Building, designed by John Van Bergen in 1916 at the corner of Linden Avenue and Ontario Street, for noteworthy upkeep efforts. Among other long-term maintenance work, the apartment association completed tuck-pointing work and landscape redesign.

Homeowners Emily and Justin Hartung's project on their home at 819 Woodbine Ave. received an award for rehabilitation. Working with Christopher Bremner of Compass Architecture and Jacknow Construction, the couple reworked their home's front porch. 

Emily Hartung said that when they purchased the home four years ago, they reaped the benefits of a large kitchen and master suite addition completed by previous owners, but the front of the home needed some love.

"The front porch was not original to the house," Hartung said. "At some point before 1930, someone added a porch, and at some point, it had been closed in and finished. It had sloped floors and multiple transitions, and only one window opened. We knew it was going to be a project when we bought the house."

Because their house is in a historic district, they had to seek Historic Preservation Commission approval of plans to alter the front of the home. Although the majority of their home is clapboard, there were two stucco columns at the front of the home. 

They could not determine whether those columns were original, but they did find a permit from 1927 for the porch construction. Hartung says because the stucco columns were added before 1930, they were required to keep them.

During construction, they added two more stucco columns, kept the same footprint for the new porch and added a covered entrance for the main primary door at the side of the home.

Hartung said that, as expected, they found a lot of surprises during the process. 

"With any 1904-era house, there are lots of surprises when you open things up," she said. "We needed to stay really close to the street-facing look. It looks nice now, but it definitely was an adjustment to our original budget and original plans. I think now when you pull up, it looks intentional. It fits into the neighborhood."

Trexler praised the Hartungs' efforts to work with the Historic Preservation Commission throughout the design process. 

"It was great to see that they came to the architectural review because their project was so unique," Trexler said. "They were able to discuss the details with our architectural review committee and ended up with a different design."

Trexler also called out the work of homeowner Steve Dorman, who worked with architect David Walker of Bruce Nagal and Partners and contractor Brett Williams of Elements Worx to transform the façade of his home at 326 N. Cuyler Ave., winning the Restoration Award. 

"They did historic research and found out the house originally had a front porch," Trexler said. 

At some point in time, the porch had been removed, and Trexler says that adding the porch back "made a huge difference."

One Lake Brewing, at the corner of Lake Street and Austin Boulevard, won an award for interior adaptive reuse, and business owner Kristen Alfonsi says converting the former bank into a restaurant and brewery along with building owner Greg Sorg and architect Jim Lencioni of Aria Group Architects was a "huge undertaking."

The building had been a bank from 1919 through 1930, and was later used as a funeral home and credit card processing plant. It had been vacant for 10 years when they took on the project. 

"It had no electric, no plumbing" Alfonsi said. "It was in a sad little state."

After a two-year buildout process, the building at Lake and Austin retains what historic details remained, such as dentil moldings and wainscoting, and adds a style that Alfonsi calls a mix of modern and rustic, with tables and bar tops manufactured from salvaged pine flooring from a Ford motor showroom at Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue in Chicago.

A two-story chandelier made of 324 beer bottles and created by Jeff Filo hangs from the second floor.

"When you're standing in the second floor, you can feel like what it was like to be in the bank building," Alfonsi said.

Trexler said the nomination process for the 2020 awards are rolling in and more information can be found on the village's website oak-park.us/village-services/planning/historic-preservation/preservation-award-winners.

The Historic Preservation Awards are part of the village's annual community award ceremony which in 2019 recognized over 60 individuals, organizations and businesses with awards for Aging in Place, Cavalcade of Pride, Green and Disability Access. For a complete list of winners visit oak-park.us/news/2019-community-awards-celebrate-stewardship.

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