Oak Park denies historic designation for Foley-Rice

Developer vows to attempt to save a portion of building

March 12th, 2019 1:12 PM

File photo

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Following a last-ditch effort to save the historic Foley-Rice building at 644 Madison St., the Oak Park village board unanimously rejected a proposal approved by the Historic Preservation Commission to declare the building an historic landmark.

The structure, built in 1925, has served as a showroom for various car dealerships since its construction and represents a time when that area of Madison Street was known as motor row. It has now been vacant for more than a decade.

Preservation advocates have argued that the building, with its terra cotta features and elaborate decoration, should be preserved and reused, rather than torn down. The building is slated for demolition to make room for a second Oak Park Pete's Fresh Market grocery store.

Last week, the Oak Park Board of Trustees urged the developer, Jupiter Realty, to work with architects and historic preservation experts to find a solution that could save part or all of the building.

Frank Heitzman, an architect and preservationist who is pressing for saving the building, told trustees that the developer promised to work with architects to save the south and east facades of the building.

That restoration could cost the developer somewhere between $1 million and $2 million, Heitzman said.

Trustee Deno Andrews said he was on the fence over whether to support the landmark designation, but added that he believed it would be unfair to the developer, considering that the village already has made an agreement with Jupiter to develop the land.

"We shouldn't go back on a deal like that," he said.

Trustee Jim Taglia said he was concerned about the state of the building, which has long been vacant. During a recent tour of the structure, Taglia said he learned that the basement is flooded up to the ceiling "and has been so for years and is a block of ice."

Taglia encourage developers to "use all the tools and resources they have to save what can be saved."

"We have to watch what we spend and we have to be good fiscal stewards," he said, noting the hefty price tag for restoring or saving the building.

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  • Brian Slowiak (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 15th, 2019 4:55 PM

    Will those of us in favor of saving this historic building pledge, place, commit any of their private funds to the preservation of this historic building, fully knowing that the only return on those funds will probably be just that warm feeling that those of us have in just saving something?

  • Deborah Risteen Mercer from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 15th, 2019 10:18 AM

    Those of us in favor of saving this historic building are hopeful that, in spite of the Village Board's actions, the owners of Pete's, the developer, and the architect will do everything they can to incorporate this building into the new store. Doing so will show that they value Oak Park's architectural heritage and take to heart the opinions of the many taxpayers, whose dollars funded purchase of the site, who want the building to be saved.

  • Josh Vanderberg (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 14th, 2019 4:56 PM

    Commissions make recommendations and can provide guidance. They are not elected, and their decisions are not binding. Boards can and do incorporate their guidance even when they don't follow the suggested route. This is what they are elected to do. I do not want the hands of somebody I voted for tied by the decisions of an unelected commission member.

  • Tom MacMillan from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 14th, 2019 2:58 PM

    Chip the gargoyles out of the exterior walls, put them on display somewhere in town and lets get on with it.

  • Sandy Pedersen from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 14th, 2019 12:43 PM

    For the second time, the village board does not follow the recommendation of its own commissions. Is having commisssions just a pretense so the community feels 'heard'? The board does what they want anyway. What a waste of time and effort for the members of the Plan Commission re: Albion, and Historic Preservation members re: 644 Madison. Surprised they don't all resign.

  • Christine Vernon (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 14th, 2019 12:27 AM

    Brian, like you, I was appalled at that account of the basement being a block of ice from floor to ceiling. The description of the condition of the building is a reminder of abandoned buildings we hear about in the news, places which provide the perfect setting and opportunity for deadly events. Kids often sneak into places like that, too, just for an adventure, and if there was that much water in the basement, before it was frozen someone might have gotten electrocuted. The management of this building was irresponsible and now we are asked to give concessions, rewarding the owner with benefits. That owner drove this building into decay, or at least hastened it. Something's wrong with this picture. This is no way for the Village to conduct the people's business. Salaries are getting paid at Village Hall for the proper employees to inspect places like that and see to it that this kind of thing doesn't happen, aren't they? What went wrong?

  • Ian Liebman from Los Angeles (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 13th, 2019 10:07 AM

    I haven't been following this very closely and although I'm all for historic preservation, I wonder if anyone involved has done anything about the flooded basement. If not, the drive to save the building seems insincere at best.

  • Brian Slowiak (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 13th, 2019 9:40 AM

    @ Christine Vernon: This issue might be worse than we think. If the basement footprint is one block of ice, is the water/ice contaminated from the run off of all the gas,oil,antifreeze from the autos parked in the building? If the ice/water is contaminated how/who disposes and pays for the disposal of the contaminated ice/water. If that basement footprint is a block of ice, how does the ice get thawed? Does the building get torn down, ice exposed to the sun? That could take months. Ice cut from lakes for refrigeration lasted all summer long. To jack hammer the ice block into smaller segments would take building a workable scaffold. If the water/ice is clean the collapsed sewer must be rebuilt for draining.. Heaven forbid there is a human corpse down there. I think the gargoyles might just be laughing at us.

  • Christine Vernon (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: March 13th, 2019 2:36 AM

    The article says "During a recent tour of the structure, Taglia said he learned that the basement is flooded up to the ceiling "and has been so for years and is a block of ice." Taglia encouraged developers to "use all the tools and resources they have to save what can be saved." "We have to watch what we spend and we have to be good fiscal stewards. Three questions 1) Why was the property allowed to deteriorate by the owner "for years" to the point where there is water to the ceiling in the basement.' Owners of houses get tickets for not mowing their lawn in OP. Whose responsibility was it that there were there no building inspections of the property? Don't buildings all have inspections to protect public safety and health. Someone could have drowned there. 2) Taglia gave encouragement "to developers to 'use all the tools and resources they have to save what can be saved.' Oh boy! And Trustee Taglia, you believe they will do that? What? a couple of heads of gargoyles stuck in cement at the corners of the new high-rise? ...Novocaine for people interested in historic preservation, so that the new structure isn't so painful to look at...novocaine wears off. 3) Trustee Taglia said "we have to be good financial stewards". Why start now? The point the Village has arrived at now is a negligent mess. True the negligence began long ago under another administration you all inherited but somehow, if you want to be good stewards make amends now in the planning of whatever this McBuilding is going to be, make it right, stop the arbitrary use of 'special use' permits that are truly ruining the Village little by little' and stop the erosion of the Madison Street Corridor zoned for Business from being shut down and made into Residential because so much more money is made that way by developers. Putting residential projects on Madison is driving out the businesses that can provide services that we need in Oak Park. Stop a fiasco like this from ever happening again!

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