Progressive Preservation – Oak Park

It’s good news that Oak Park now has an activist organization focused on historic preservation. A community with such a deep and changing history as Oak Park’s in terms of its architecture and history needs a strong voice for its preservation and celebration.

That Frank Heitzman, an architect focused on preservation; Frank Lipo, director of the Oak Park River Forest Museum; and Chris Payne, another architect, are at the heart of the new Preservation Oak Park is not surprising and fair.

Heitzman and Lipo have been strong voices for architectural preservation and the truth about local history.

In Stacey Sheridan’s report today on the first meeting of the new group, she quotes Heitzman as saying that the effort will be to become more proactive in defending notable and endangered buildings before decay or development, or a combination of two, make them vulnerable.

The intersection of decadence and development in recent Oak Park history was the former Studebaker car dealership on Madison Street. A beautiful building dating back a century, there was no doubt that it was a building worth preserving. It was also functionally obsolete, had sat vacant and neglected for over a decade, and was right in the middle of the village’s most crucial development site.

After several local entities diligently investigated reuse of the car dealership and found it impossible, the venerable building fell into limbo. At the time, the best-case scenario was a sincere effort to save the facade and build a new Pete’s Fresh Market within its walls.

But the will to do so did not exist. The culture of preservation was not strong enough within Oak Park Village Hall, its economic development team was not fully focused on raising funds to save the facade, and the community, while this critical multi-block development deal was closing, not energized. .

We support a culture of progressive preservation that also celebrates change, accepts that adding density has value on multiple fronts, seeks creative compromises, and outright rejects the kind of NIMBYism that opposes, say, a project of affordable housing at Oak Park Avenue and Van Buren, the site of a long vacant gas station.

This is the kind of activism Oak Park needs.

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