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Oak Park

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Oak Park, Illinois is a suburb bordering the west side of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States. Oak Park has easy access to downtown Chicago (the Chicago Loop) thanks to public transportation such as the Chicago ‘L’, CTA buses, and Metra commuter rail. As of the 2000 census, the area had a total population of 52,524. A census estimate for 2003 showed that the population had dipped to 50,824.

History

In 1837, Joseph Kettlestrings purchased 172 acres of land just west of Chicago. By 1850, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was constructed as far as Elgin, Illinois, and passed through Oak Park[2]. The population of Oak Park boomed during the 1870s, with Chicago residents resettling in the suburb following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The Village of Oak Park was formally established in 1902, following a referendum.

Oak Park has a history of alcohol prohibition. From the time of its incorporation, no alcohol was allowed to be sold within its village limits. This law was relaxed in 1973, when restaurants and hotels were allowed to serve alcohol. The law was further loosened in 2002, when select grocery stores were given permission to sell packaged liquor.

Philander Barclay was an Oak Park historian, bicycle repairman, and one of the area’s earliest amateur photographers. He lived in Oak Park during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, certainly one of the village’s most exciting eras. The quiet young man was an unlikely contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Humphrey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, businessman Richard Sears and many others. His parents ran a local drug store and beginning early in life, Philander rode his bicycle throughout the area taking photographs of places and people. By the time of his death in 1940, he had amassed an amazing and priceless collection of more than 1,000 photos, which are now curated by the Oak Park and River Forest Historical Society. A selection is available for viewing online.

Throughout recent years, rising taxes have forced hundreds of Oak Parkers to move out, but such losses have also been countered by arrivals of higher income families from around the country and the rehabilitation of many Village properties. Currently, expensive homes, peaceful parks, and an excellent school system characterize Oak Park. However, such benefits will come to contrast with both rising taxes and business vacancy rates. On the other hand, Oak Park is noted as one of the most beautiful suburbs of Chicago and an exceptional place to raise children.

Currently, the populace of the village of Oak Park has found itself divided, as the question of development and rehabilitation for downtown Oak Park comes into play. Many Oak Parkers fear losing what they feel are historic structures as many older buildings are replaced by high priced condos and modern stores. The Marion Street Mall off of Lake Street, for instance, has seen rising vacancy rates and therefore, to increase business, the mall will be opened up to traffic to increase visibility and traffic flow throughout the downtown district. Such development takes away a once peaceful tree-filled area within downtown Oak Park that unfortunately never managed to attract the amount of business and people the village had once hoped when it was built in the late 70s. The village will be placing sculptures, trees, a fountain and arches along with the new brick road and blue stone sidewalks to increase the appeal of the street. This decision has created much debate within the village as many residents do not want to see the mall disappear, while many others look forward to the new business vitality they hope this change will create.

Oak Park has become a popular tourist destination in the Chicago area in the last few decades, as many come to view the beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright buildings which are found throughout the village. In fact, the largest collection of Wright-designed properties in the world is in Oak Park. Tourists also come to enjoy Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace Home and Boyhood home, as well as the Ernest Hemingway Museum, while still others come to view the three Oak Park homes of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. In fact, historic homes are situated throughout the Village.

Oak Park has become famous in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois for its rather impressive Oak Park River Forest High School[3], which is also the public education school for the bordering village of River Forest. The school is known for its large number of successful alumni, honored teachers, and advanced educational programs.

Geography

Oak Park is located immediately west of Chicago. The boundary between the two municipalities is Austin Boulevard on the east side of Oak Park and North Avenue on the village’s north side. Oak Park also borders Cicero along its southern border, Roosevelt Road, from Austin to Lombard; and Berwyn from Lombard to Harlem. Harlem also serves as its western border, where between Roosevelt and South Blvd, it borders Forest Park and between North Blvd and North Ave to the west it borders River Forest.

The entire village of Oak Park lies on the shore of ancient Lake Chicago, which covered most of the city of Chicago during the last Ice Age and is today called Lake Michigan. Ridgeland Avenue in eastern Oak Park marks the shoreline of the lake, and was once an actual ridge. One of North America’s four continental divides runs through Oak Park. This divide, a slight rise running north-south through the village, separates the St. Lawrence River watershed from the Mississippi River watershed, and is marked by a plaque on Lake Street at Forest Avenue.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 12.2 km� (4.7 mi�). None of it is covered by water.

Transportation

Oak Park is accessible from Chicago by both Chicago Transit Authority Green and Blue line trains as well as Metra UP-West Line trains at Oak Park station. Service within Oak Park and to other suburbs is also provided by the suburban bus system Pace. It is also one of over 20 neighborhoods served by I-GO Cars.

The Eisenhower Expressway–formerly the Congress Expressway–is the primary highway between Chicago and Oak Park. Oak Park has its own street numbering system that is similar to, but distinct from, Chicago’s system.

Oak Park has a rich tradition of bicycling. Augusta Boulevard through the village is part of the Grand Illinois Trail; the trailhead of the Illinois Prairie Path is less than a mile from Oak Park. It is considered one of the most progressive bicycle-friendly communities in the Chicago area and has a number of active cycle clubs and groups. Proximity to trails and the historic tree-lined streets of the community attract cyclists from throughout the region, many of whom arrive by the Chicago area’s extensive public transportation system. Oak Park also has a small pedicab business, owned and operated by a local who provides guided tours and a taxi service with his bicycle pedicabs or rickshaws. There is also a free shuttle service which transports riders to most of the tourist attractions in the village.

Neighborhoods

Though located within a small geographical area, the village of Oak Park contains several distinct neighborhoods. Some regions of northern Oak Park, commonly defined as being north of Lake Street, are traditionally the richest region of the community, and contain such areas as the historical Frank Lloyd Wright District. Various mansions are found in northern Oak Park, especially along tree-lined Chicago Avenue and north Oak Park Avenue. The area between Lake Street and Madison Street, or the mid section of Oak Park, is home to various architectural styles and incomes, with 19th-century Victorian mansions located beside smaller homes of the post-World War 2 era. Southern Oak Park, south of Madison Street, contains homes and families of higher income compared to average, with most of the homes less expensive than in the north. This is offset by the homes in the Seward Gunderson Historic District, which contains some of the first homes in the area from the 1900s. As a whole Oak Park can be characterized as both middle-upper and upper class.

In addition, there is a sharp divide between somewhat affordable housing and very pricey housing in north Oak Park between Ridgeland Avenue. To the west of Ridgeland Avenue in north Oak Park the demographics are almost exclusively professionals. In contrast, the housing to the east of Ridgeland Avenue in north Oak Park mainly consists of affordable bungalows bought by working-class families.

Though there are several business districts within Oak Park, such as Harrison Street along the I-290 expressway and Chicago Avenue at Harlem, downtown Oak Park is the main business district, bordered at the west by Harlem Avenue, at the east with Oak Park Avenue/Euclid Avenue, south by South Boulevard/Pleasant Street, and north by Ontario Street. However, due to high taxes, traffic issues etc., there is a growing vacancy rate within downtown Oak Park. Some of the independent, “mom-and-pop” stores have moved out, making room for brand-name chain stores such as Cold Stone Creamery and Starbucks. There has been a great deal of heated discussion and debate within the village as to the cause of these vacancies and the solution to ending this problem.