March 19th, 2019 4:03 PM
By Stephen Kelley
I have followed the issue with the Hill Motor Building and the proposed Pete's Fresh Market with great interest. It seems that we are being given a choice: either save the Hill Motor Building as a priceless artifact of Oak Park history or wipe the site clean in the name of progress and development.
This is a false choice, predicated on reactionary thinking that is firmly founded in the last century. Speaking as one who has evaluated hundreds of existing buildings worldwide during my career, it is my opinion that the Hill Motor Building is sound and viable and large portions could be adaptively reused for a new grocery store facility and address all space requirements — if developers are given the proper guidance.
Such practices are not unprecedented, in fact quite common, and have been successfully implemented just two blocks to the west at the Walgreens store and several blocks to the northeast at Ridgeland Common.
It is time for the Oak Park Board of Trustees to enter the 21st century and consider our environment as any progressive municipality must do. Sustainable development, ignored by our trustees, should become foremost in their deliberations. Sustainability is the ability to endure and maintain over time, increasing the efficiency of a resource, and create minimum impact on health and the environment.
The Hill Motor Building, if adapted for reuse, can be a valuable and durable resource. "The greenest building is the one that already exists." We cannot build our way to sustainability. Demolition and reconstruction are easy but offer only short-term economy and solutions. Our culture is enamored with the new and this can cloud our judgment, causing us to profoundly undervalue existing resources.
Will we continue to stand by as pollution-spouting equipment turns usable buildings to rubble and polluting equipment hauls away discarded building materials — concrete, brick, metal and glass — into a landfill to be abandoned? Will we mine, quarry and harvest more materials — metal ores, clay, gravel, lime, cement, trees, etc. — to be processed and manufactured in polluting factories to make new building materials? Or can we try a new way that is gentler on the environment?
The east and south facades of the Hill Motor Building retain a significant amount of their historic features, including yellow, wire-cut brick; cream-colored terra cotta ornament; and a green, triple-spot glazed terra-cotta base that resembles granite. A terra-cotta cornice with various figures engaged in automobile-related activities extends along the facade. Above the large showroom windows, groups of diamond pane lead glass sash are set deep into terra-cotta surrounds. These materials are lovely, unique to their time period and durable if maintained. Some of them are neither easily recreated in today's market nor will they be in the future.
There is a Native-American proverb: "The earth is not given to us by our parents; it is lent to us by our children." What will we leave our children other than a new grocery store? Let's do better. It is easier to just throw something away and start fresh than to reuse. If we always choose the easy path in our village, Oak Park would not be such a unique and wonderful place. Let's incorporate the Hill Motor Building into the proposed development; respect history, the environment, our children; and create a win-win for our community.
Stephen J. Kelley, FAIA, SE, is an Oak Park resident.