Drechsler Brown & Williams Funeral Home site for sale

Mixed-use development seen as likely for 34,000-square-foot property

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

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."

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Reader Comments

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Anna Dooley  

Posted: November 15th, 2019 5:38 PM

Charlie and Lynne are incredibly kind, helpful and knowledgeable people. They were so supportive for our family in our times of profound grief over the past 15 months. They work so hard--they'll be missed in that capacity, but they certain deserve to spend time relaxing and with their family. Thank you, Lynne and Charlie!

Christine Vernon  

Posted: November 14th, 2019 10:08 PM

Last part of my post below... You are so happy to see them socially, but you really don't want to have to see them professionally...but when you do need them in a professional capacity, it is an incredibly comforting experience when they stand by you and guide you at their best. Thank you so much Charlie, for your and your families lifetimes of service.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: November 14th, 2019 10:05 PM

Charlie Williams is a most wonderful man. I hate to see him retire, but God knows he deserves the rest from serving his clients for so many years, with incredibly respectful and competent service in the most vulnerable days of their lives. He was not only competent in his role as a funeral director, as he aged, having his counsel was as good as having clergy there to guide a person. I say this from personal experience over the years. His father, Tom, went all through St. Catherine's with my father, Bernard B. Gawne "Duke". They both went to Quigley for high school with the intent to become priests. If you don't know anyone who did this, then you won't know that so many of these men who left carried with them a very strong characteristic to be in public service. When WWII broke out, Tom Williams went into the Army Air Corps and my father did, too. Both had distinguished careers. Lifelong, they were good friends, wonderful men and good husbands and fathers. When my siblings and I attended St. Catherine's for grammar school, as our father and his brothers did, Tom Williams daughter, Patty was my classmate, and other people in our families were in school at the same time. I have missed them being in the area for many years. But Charlie, his wife, and family remained. As in many cultures, in my family's case being mostly Irish, giving people a good sendoff after they have lived long and good lives is hugely important to us, and Charlie was a professional at this. In the cases where the loss is a tragedy, he stood by, guided and helped a family skillfully. I say this from personal experience, too. Having Charlie close-up shop is a tremendous loss to the community, and having a long personal family history with such people as the Williams family makes the loss all the more acute. Having a funeral director as a friend is a privilege like having a surgeon or a great law enforcement friend. You are so happy to see them socially, but you really don't want to have to see them

Susan Montgomery from CHICAGO  

Posted: November 14th, 2019 10:22 AM

Many thanks to Dreschler-Brown-Williams Funeral Home over the years. Their service has been caring and compassionate. Best wishes.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 10:32 PM

Dave Slade maybe lowering taxes will not happen although this is a terrific opportunity to build housing for lower income people and add diversity to the area. There has been so much talk about how to bring in equity and this is the opportunity and if it does not happen now, then when is it suppose to happen. This is the time Oak Park can really make a difference and with the access to public transportation this makes an ideal location instead of keeping lower income people in only designated areas. It is time to stop with the profits and do good for people so all people have a fair opportunity

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 9:53 PM

Relief from taxes? Not a chance. This is Oak Park, not unlike any other municipality, where there is never enough tax revenue. Maybe with all this extra money, the village can pay the unfunded portion of their pensions.

Mindy Setzler Kolodziej  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 5:55 PM

The Williams were so supportive and helpful to me when I lost my husband and then again when I lost my mother. I hope they enjoy retirement - their services will be sorely missed

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 5:45 PM

This could be an excellent opportunity for a low income apartment building where people who can not afford car's would have access to the area's offerings and also open up public transportation which means more job opportunities. I really hope that Oak Park will seriously consider making this a fine example of what Oak Park believes in and not just another expensive high rise or apartment building. The time is now to make a change. It is in reach for the Village to make it happen

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: November 13th, 2019 4:11 PM

Marty, We remember both Ahern and Columbian. But the ask we made of the Oak Park-River Forest Museum was to give us a list of all the funeral homes in Oak Park in the 1950 Yellow Pages. We had to pick a date and we chose that year. But the names you add reinforce our reason for running the list. Locally, typically family-owned, funeral homes were once about as numerous as corner pharmacies. Big change in the local landscape.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 4:01 PM

Brian Slowiak You make a good point to always build sub level floors especially if they are more expensive and the idea that the heating and cooling would be less expensive could be a great selling point. Send a private message and we can discuss this further

J.Martin Konecki  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 3:16 PM

In your list of Funeral Homes you forgot about Ahern and Columbian.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 2:30 PM

All jokes aside I think we all know that a larger multi story building is going up here. The zoning variance has been proven to be of little consequence. I am not against it but I would really like to start to understand how these larger buildings are impacting taxes. If we are getting no tax relief from these buildings then it's hard to see how putting more up benefits the community. It would also be interesting to understand how this is impacting local merchants. My hope is that there are more people in downtown OP and therefore the stores are seeing higher sales from this. There's certainly more traffic.

Gary Ghertner from Forest Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 12:47 PM

I will be sad to see this business go. The Willaim's were so kind when they worked with my family in our time of loss.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 11:03 AM

@ Tommy "Real'' McCoy and Wadhorn: Guys, get your Oak Park thinking straight. Not only should there be 30 stories above ground, there should be 30 stories below ground because underground building is 4 times as expensive as above ground building and the Village should pay some developer for all of the expense. So we can get taxes lowered. Please guys, get on board.

Debbie Becker  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 8:34 AM

Besides being the long-term site of the funeral home, this parcel of land holds another significant place in Oak Park's history. Starting in 1871, it was home to Unity church, a building with a tall spire - which was struck by lightning the morning of June 5, 1905. The building burned to the ground. The congregation chose to rebuild in a new location at Lake and Kenilworth, and to rename the building "Unity Temple."

Sheryl Oder  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 6:48 PM

Oh, wow! I appreciated the consideration of Mr. Williams after my mother's death. It is sad to see them go, but I understand the desire for retirement.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 6:02 PM

The Village should buy the property at what ever the price is and bring in another high rise so we can get the taxes lowered

Waldhorn Fafner from Oak Park   

Posted: November 12th, 2019 5:42 PM

Please nothing less than 20 stories. It should be at least 30 as we move forward.

Richard Fischer from Oak Park  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 4:16 PM

It's a shame Oak Park will lose such an outstanding business. The Williams' have provided the community with unequaled service to the community for years. They will be missed but I hope they enjoy their retirement.

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