Village and Pete's can do better at Oak Park and Madison


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Who wouldn't want immediate access to a reputable and well-managed grocery store literally one block away from their home? As a direct neighbor to the proposed Pete's grocery site, I am looking forward to this extreme convenience and addition to the much-needed revitalization of this portion of the Madison Street corridor.

I believe that good development is crucial for this community to continue to thrive and sometimes insignificant, poorly designed existing structures must be removed to make way for economic growth.

That said, I am shocked by the current plan for the complete demolition of 644 Madison St., also known as the Foley-Rice or Hill Motor Co. building, to make way for this new construction (minus the token gesture of the awkward replacement of a few stone grotesques on an otherwise static, blank wall).

The current plan is not only in direct violation of Oak Park's zoning ordinance design standards, the lackluster design screams of indifference to Oak Park's longstanding tradition of design excellence. 

Of important note, the Hill Motor Co. building was also included on the 2019 Most Endangered list by Landmarks Illinois, a revered organization that provides expertise to hundreds of communities across Illinois. 

Oak Park is home to countless housewalks, 64 local landmarks, four National Historic Landmarks, and even a UNESCO World Heritage site all because of their outstanding architectural value. Pete's has a golden opportunity to embrace their commitment to our community's values by salvaging at least the south and east facades of the Hill Motor Co building, maintaining the history and character of the area. There are several design solutions that would accommodate the preservation of a small portion of this building without sacrificing the new construction's structural integrity or the store's necessary space requirements.

Oak Park is primarily recognized internationally for two reasons: Ernest Hemingway and great architecture. The impact that architecture has made on Oak Park is undeniable. We have the honor and responsibility of protecting the legacy of the most influential architect in the world, Frank Lloyd Wright, and his contemporaries (including the renowned Hill Motor Co. architect, E.E. Roberts) who have contributed mightily to the cultural and economic success of our village. 

Imagine an Oak Park without Pleasant Home, which narrowly escaped demolition in the 1960s. Imagine an Oak Park without our adored Conservatory, set for demolition in 1970 until a group of concerned citizens organized to save it. Imagine if the 299-foot high-rise proposal in the Hemingway District came to be, towering over its neighboring buildings and trees while casting intrusive shadows over Unity Temple which is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site (there are only 24 in the entire country!) and located a mere six blocks from the proposed Pete's site.

It is disheartening that in 2020, over 40 years after the restoration efforts of Frank Lloyd Wright's Home & Studio began, the potential for the complete demolition of this 1924 building is even on the table. I challenge the elected officials, staff and developer to embrace the rich history and architecture of this building and provide a revised proposal that successfully integrates the new building within the historic facade, setting a positive precedent for the future.

Heidi Ruehle is executive director of Unity Temple Restoration Foundation, 875 Lake St. (708-260-6661, She works in the historic preservation field and has been an Oak Park resident since 1997. Unity Temple is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Reader Comments

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Tommy McCoy  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 10:24 PM

William Dwyer Jr. It would be nice to keep the facade although people will adapt and will not even recall what was there. You probably recall what the reasoning why Daley, got rid of Meig's field. That was a nice field to fly in and out of. It is nice that Walgreen's did keep part of the building on Madison street. This building would be very nice to keep although it seem's that the people who are changing Madison street do not have the same interest

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 8:51 PM

The literature trove on facade preservation is large and growing larger (see Indianapolis, Chicago, and two blocks Weston Madison in Oak Park). Keeping the historic facade is well within the capabilities of this development's designers and would be a smart nod by the business to the preservationist sensibilities of many Oak Parkers, without tying their hands architecturally, Seems like a no-brainer.

James McKay from Chicago  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 7:15 PM

This about money, right? Saving the facade would generate much more value for Pete's and Oak Park, rather than just a few saved sculptures. Pete's and Oak Park officials should look at "the Eagle Building" at 3845 N Broadway at the southeast corner of West Sheridan and Broadway in Chicago. They did a fantastic job (aesthetically and economically) in saving the Eagle building's entire facade--not just a few eagles--and have made the new mid-rise that was built behind it so much more valuable as a piece of real estate. Everybody would win of the entire facade of Foley-Rice/Hill Motor was saved.

Bob Larson  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 4:40 PM

I think the design is fine. It is modern but things change. You can't live in the past and it is a lot better than what is there now!

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 12:28 PM

@Bruce Kline: Apart from the Soviet-style architecture being used by the private sector, (and allowed by the Village) local governments are also tramplers of the Oak Park architectural tradition. The two middle schools look like prisons -- all they need are guard towers, which might come in handy with all the out-of-control discipline problems. The Village Hall looks like the above ground entrance to the Fuehrer Bunker. One small gem: the apartment building that replaced the old Village Hall at Lake & Euclid is very tasteful, and even in the Prairie Style. Take a page out of Columbus, Indiana's book. Its locally-based company Cummins Engine pays the architectural fees for world-class government buildings. It is then the local authorities responsibility to pay for the construction. It puts a small Indiana town on the map. Our local philanthropist family might better serve Oak Park by doing that, rather than give land for a recreation center that will compete with private entities with our tax dollars, or by subsidizing an unnecessarily large pool at OPRFHS and using scarce space that could serve other purposes in the building. Few of the many comprehensive studies and plans are honored by adhering to them. I'm reminded of the Marc Stopeck cartoon about the Village Hall getting an interior re-do. The was a small Dumpster full of old furniture and file cabinets. Next to it was a much larger Roll-off labeled "Plans, Studies & Consultant Reports"

Elizabeth Titus Rexford from OakPark  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 9:21 AM

(Wrong place to comment, sorry) But I agree about maintaining high architectural standards in Oak Park. That structure should not be torn down. And, by the way, I think the design for the District 97 Administration Building is very ugly . . red bricks with a stark white surface with holes punched into it? I can barely look at that thing. Architecture matters to Oak Parkers!

Elizabeth Titus Rexford from OakPark  

Posted: January 29th, 2020 9:18 AM

I'm also another senior citizen who walks just about every day. The ice and snow make it treacherous, especially on the cross walks.. If an elderly person falls, it can be serious. If the Village can't clean the crosswalks, then maybe able-boded neighbors could clear a path.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 8:09 PM

"... the lackluster design screams of indifference to Oak Park's longstanding tradition of design excellence." Really? That train left the station with the construction of the building formerly known as Whiteco. Have you checked out some of our more recent architectural gems? Like the "Brick" on South and Harlem? We seem to be accumulating a notable cohort of buildings whose historical roots lie in the grand Soviet eastern block style of architecture. Soon I am sure the Village leaders will encourage tours of these Eastern block gems to compete with their better known (but not for long I suspect) FLW brethren. So let Pete's continue on in this new tradition: demolish Foley-Rice and build a Block ... a big glorious Block.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 8:03 PM

When the Walgreen's started building at Oak Park and Madison street, it took some time before the project was completed and to keep the original part of the building. It is more profitable to just bulldoze a building and start from new. Also, leaving the front and the side of the existing building does remove the footage for a new building. What the Village and Pete's know is business and they also know that the patron's of the store and those wanting to save part of Oak Park's history will forget all about it in less than a year. In the 1960's, not many people cared about other historic buildings in Oak Park. If you look at the current rendering's of Pete's, the surrounding area is not even that of Oak Park. They are not what rendering's use to be because that cost's money. Maybe once Pete's gets this project completed, there will be an aisle wide enough that 2 people can pass each other without turning to the side

Pam Niesluchowski  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 6:45 PM

I completely agree with Heidi. This, and other buildings, make Oak Park what it is. What a great-looking and unique Pete's it would be with that facade.

Steve Kelley from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 6:13 PM

Heidi hits the nail on the head!

Christopher Goode  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 5:16 PM

I am in full agreement! Sometimes, I don't think people realize how special this town is, and not just because it has a significant number of famous buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie Style architects, but because it has so much excellent, not famous, everyday architecture. I think we take it too much for granted. Because a building isn't a World Heritage site then it isn't worth saving. The truth is that it is these many beautiful, but less famous buildings that make Oak Park such a pleasant place to live, and the loss of even one of them is a great loss.

Nell McNamara from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 4:52 PM

Thank you! I agree and I hope this doesn't happen.

Laura K. Stamp  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 4:45 PM

Agree 100%

Richard Katz from Oak Park  

Posted: January 28th, 2020 3:31 PM

Well-written piece with several salient points, not the least of which is the value of historic architecture, and its preservation, to Oak Park. The structure in question was part of Oak Park's Motor Row and recommended for national historic landmark status by Wiss Jenney in their historic survey of Oak Park back in 2002.

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