Category: Architecture

Build Them A Home And They’ll Come

Tuesday, February 13, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews 

Featured image: A screenshot of an image within Maya Bird-Murphy’s master of architecture theses book. 

Maya Bird-Murphy knows intimately the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. As a young child growing up in Oak Park, she toured the famous architect’s home and studio, and marveled over the maple wood Froebel building blocks that are an intricate part of Wright’s style. She often walked among the skyscrapers downtown, where her father worked.

Continue reading “Build Them A Home And They’ll Come”

District 209 Approves Facilities Master Plan

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An aerial view of the Proviso East High School campus in Maywood. | Google Earth

Tuesday, June 27, 2017 || By Thomas Vogel/Forest Park Review || @maywoodnews

The Proviso District 209 Board of Education unanimously approved a contract with Chicago-based architecture firm Perkins and Will to draft a Facilities Master Plan and a Health Life Safety Survey at its June 13 meeting.

Work is set to begin this summer while school is not in session. The contract approval is the latest step in moving the district toward a more holistic vision for its campus facilities. For the last several years, D209 has been using a capital and construction list. A Facilities Master Plan, however, fuses curriculum needs, technological upgrades, current facility conditions, and enrollment projections into one document that is used for long-term planning.

“Our district spent many years not addressing the capital needs of our buildings. We are starting the process,” D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez told the Review in March after the board selected Perkins and Will. “There’s a lot to be done.”

The Health and Life Safety Plan will cost $179,900 and the Facilities Master Plan will be $139,900, according to district spokesperson Cynthia Moreno.

Drafting a facilities plan is also a necessary step toward dissolving the state-mandated Financial Oversight Panel. Such panels, according to Illinois law, are a way for the state to offer emergency financial management assistance to local school districts. D209 has had a FOP since 2008, although the panel was reorganized in 2012, expanding its powers and adding more members.

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An aerial view of the Proviso West High School campus in Hillside. | Google Earth

“That’s the number one thing that has to happen,” Craig Shilling, the panel’s chairman, told the Review in March. “It is primarily getting the facilities piece into something that is sustainable.”

The project has several phases, beginning with a demographic survey to examine birth rates, enrollment trends and population change. Then Perkins and Will plans to audit the district’s buildings to ensure mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection components for compliance and identify any necessary upgrades.

The next step includes an “educational assessment” and “capacity analysis.” The Perkins and Will team will observe Proviso students during school hours in the fall to determine how the existing facilities at PMSA, Proviso East and Proviso West meet current educational needs. This includes examining classroom sizes, security features and student traffic flow during class breaks.

An oversight committee will be formed as well and will include district administrators, parents, faculty, staff, community members, and board of education members. The committee, which will meet bi-weekly throughout the process, will be a “sounding board as issues arise, meeting agendas are developed, [and] planning ideas/solution are generated,” according to the proposal submitted by Perkins and Will.

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An aerial view of the PMSA campus in Forest Park. | Google Earth

There will be at least four bilingual community engagement meetings, too.

“The general intent of these community engagement sessions is to review the established vision driving the facilities master plan, highlight findings and issues at each campus, and thoughtfully articulate a range of possible solutions,” the proposal says.

Once final options are identified, with the help of the oversight committee, the school board will assess and, if necessary, get clarifications and feedback, before voting to approve the plan.

If all goes well, the process will be completed by spring 2018. VFP

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D209 Board Chooses Perkins+Will for Architectural Plan

perkins will.jpgTuesday, March 21, 2017 || By Thomas Vogel for Forest Park Review || @maywoodnews

The Proviso District 209 Board of Education, on March 14, approved the architectural firm Perkins+Will as its top choice to draft a master facilities plan for the three-school system.

With D209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez set to begin negotiations on an agreement with the Chicago-based firm, the district is one step closer to dissolving the state-mandated Financial Oversight Panel. Developing a long-term facilities plan and a viable way to pay for necessary upkeep to the district’s buildings is the most significant remaining hurdle toward the FOP’s exit.

“That’s the number one thing that has to happen,” Craig Shilling, the panel’s chairman, said March 14. “It is primarily getting the facilities piece into something that is sustainable.”

Completing a master facilities plan, however, could take several months to finish. Firms audit current facilities, conduct demographic surveys, and look at enrollment projections, among other things. And after a plan is presented, there will be discussions by Rodriguez, the FOP and the high school board to find a way to pay for the plan. So even with this latest board approval, a possible FOP exit is still many months away.

The board first appealed to the Illinois State Board of Education in December 2008 for the creation of a Financial Oversight Panel. At the time, D209 was running a large budget deficit. The district has since improved its financial situation. For the last few years, the State Board of Education has given Proviso 209 “financial recognition,” the highest available designation the state has for rating the financial health of school districts.

Still, Schilling demurred on setting a timeline for an FOP exit, saying the last time he tried, he was wrong. In summer 2014, there were discussions of ending the panel’s oversight by June 2016. However, with the significant leadership change — Dr. Rodriguez began his tenure on July 1, 2016 — along with the continued absence of a long-term, comprehensive facilities plan, those discussions did not lead anywhere.

“We felt it would be helpful for us to be there as someone transitioned in,” Shilling said, referring to the panel. “We thought we could be of assistance.”

Rodriguez told the Review on March 3 that he appreciates the panel’s help in getting acquainted with both D209 and the state of Illinois. Rodriguez previously worked in Wisconsin. But he is now ready for his office and the board of education to have full autonomy.

“I believe in local decision making and local authority,” Rodriguez said. “Having a financial oversight panel helped Proviso in a time when Proviso needed it. I don’t see the need for the FOP [now]. The board of education and the superintendent, we are ready to do the work.”

Schilling was careful to credit the district for its progress and called the FOP just “a mentor, a coach.” He also noted the FOP cannot place items on the board’s agendas. FOPs do sometimes draw criticism from community members who see panels as outside influence by experts with no ties to the local district. But the FOP only provides financial oversight and guidance to issues the board of education brings to it, Schilling said.

Even as the district’s financial health has improved, however, academic achievement on a variety of metrics is still less-than-stellar. The district’s 2016 four-year graduation rate was 74 percent, well below the state’s 86 percent average, according to the Illinois Report Card, the state’s official source. And in 2016, half of the district’s students did not meet Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) benchmarks.

The FOP’s focus is financial health, but Schilling did say it’s important for district officials to get the most “bang for their dollar” and ensure they are delivering a proper education to all students.

“There are only so many resources,” Schilling said. “It’s about effectiveness and efficiency.”

In 2012, after a change to Illinois law regarding FOPs, the panel was reorganized and granted additional powers. The panel also expanded from three educational finance experts, including Schilling, to include two local community members. At the time, some board members, including then-board president Chris Welch lobbied for the panel’s termination.

Financial oversight panels, according to Illinois law, are a way for the state to offer emergency financial services to local school districts and “promote sound financial management to assure the continued availability of educational opportunities.”

The state superintendent of education appoints members — who are volunteers — to the panel. Members cannot be school board members, employed by the district or have a financial stake in the district.

There are currently three active financial oversight panels in Illinois, including D209. The other two are East St. Louis School District 189 and North Chicago School District 187. Both the East St. Louis and North Chicago panels have existed since 2012.

If Rodriguez and Perkins Will cannot reach an agreement, the district can reach out to its two other top choices: Fanning Howey and ARCON Associates.

Shilling also said the district’s new leadership, including Rodriguez, is an encouraging sign. But with the April 4 school board race — four of the board’s seven seats are up for election — more leadership turnover is possible. But, Shilling said, that possibility will not significantly affect the drafting of the plan and a possible FOP exit. VFP

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District 209 to Undertake Master Facilities Plan, Will Select an Architect Soon

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The image of Proviso East High School as it appears on a postcard published by Al’s Service | 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017 || By Thomas Vogel for Forest Park Review || @maywoodnews

The Proviso School District 209 Board of Education will select an architecture firm at its March 14 meeting to draft a “Master Facilities Plan” for the entire three-school district.

The project, which could cost up to $80,000 and take about six months to complete, will be well worth the investment, District Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said March 3. Right now, the district does not have a comprehensive long-term roadmap for its facilities. Instead, D209 uses a “Capital Construction List.”

The motivation for commissioning a Master Facilities Plan, Rodriguez said, is to give the district a better, more holistic vision for the next 5-10 years and integrate space utilization, curriculum needs, new technological integration, enrollment projections and necessary facility upgrades into one comprehensive document.

“Our district spent many years not addressing the capital needs of our buildings. We are starting the process,” Rodriguez said. “There’s a lot to be done.”

The school board will decide between three firms: Fanning Howey, Perkins+Will, and ARCON. Each firm made their pitch at a special meeting on Feb 21. The presentations, Rodriguez said, were graded by board members on a matrix, using several categories, including architectural project history, educational recommendations for Proviso, and even company culture.

It is unclear how the board will vote. Rodriguez said March 3 it is a “very hard decision.”

But one board member, Forest Parker Ned Wagner, said on Feb. 25 that he favored Perkins+Will, which scored highest on the matrix.

“They had a fabulous presentation,” Wagner said. “They have the clearest vision.”

When reached by phone March 7, Wagner said that having a Master Facilities Plan is one of the conditions for the state-mandated Financial Oversight Panel to leave the district and concurred with Rodriguez about the positive return on investment.

Requests for comment from board members Claudia Medina, Teresa McKelvy and Brian Cross were not returned by press time.

For now, exact terms of the any agreement remain unsettled.

Perkins+Will has offices across the United States, but the firm was founded in Chicago in the 1930s, according to its website. Perkins+Will did not return a request for comment by press time.

Fanning Howey has several offices across the Midwest, including Oak Brook, and has completed projects in several Chicago-area schools in Deerfield and Waukegan. Fanning Howey did not return a request for comment by press time.

Lombard-based ARCON has worked in several suburbs, too, including Evanston and Hanover Park. An ARCON spokesperson, Richard Cozzi, said he wasn’t briefed on the details of the on the Proviso presentation and declined comment. VFP


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Residents Outraged Over Proposed Landmark Removal Ordinance


Maywood Home for Soldiers’ Widows | Landmarks Illinois 

Friday, October 21, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

An attempt by several Maywood trustees to change the village’s local landmark designation process has generated backlash among their board colleagues and community members.

During an Oct. 12 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee (LLOC) meeting, Trustees Ron Rivers, Melvin Lightford and Antonette Dorris voiced their support for an ordinance that would allow property owners in the village to withdraw their properties from landmark designation.

Rivers said he approached the village’s attorneys suggesting they draw up the draft ordinance, because the current historic preservation ordinance doesn’t have a specific procedure for “withdrawing a landmark designation once given,” according to an Oct. 5 memo by attorney Michael A. Marrs, an attorney with the village’s contracted law firm, Klein, Thorpe & Jenkins.

Rivers and Dorris explicitly referenced the Maywood Soldiers Widows Home, the village-owned property located at 224 N. 1st Avenue. The historic structure, which was granted local landmark status in August, is considered ripe for potential development.

The two trustees said that they were worried that the landmark designation would hamper would-be developers seeking to revitalize the corner of Lake St. and 1st Ave. on which the building is located.

Although local landmark status doesn’t necessarily protect buildings from demolition, there are certain restrictions to what property owners can and can’t do to the historical integrity of buildings granted local landmark status.

For instance, anyone seeking permits “relating to alterations, construction, removal or demolition” of the landmark structures will need to obtain what’s called a certificate of appropriateness (COA) from the Historic Preservation Commission.

“A COA is required if the building, structure or site will be altered, extended, or repaired in such a manner as to produce a major change in the exterior appearance of such building or structure,” the village’s ordinances state.

An exception to the COA requirement is allowed if the permit applicant demonstrates to the commission that “a failure to grant the permit will cause an imminent threat to life, health or property.”

The draft ordinance supported by Rivers, Dorris and Lightford would allow property owners seeking to remove landmark status to file an application for withdrawal with the village’s community development department.

The completed application would then go directly to the Board of Trustees for consideration. A four-vote majority among trustees would be required to withdraw an official landmark designation or historic area designation.

Critics of the proposed ordinance argued that it effectively neuters the Historic Preservation Commission, while Rivers said all the measure does is empower the Board of Trustees to make it easier for developers to operate.

“I applaud your commission for what you do,” Rivers said, “but I’m also not in favor of giving up village property to any commission and we have no say-so.”

“This new amendment essentially neuters the Historic Preservation Commission as it’s written,” said Tom Kus, the commission’s chairman, during public comments at the Oct. 12 LLOC meeting. “What’s the point of having commissions if we’re just going to pull something out like that? That’s unheard of.”

“It’s preposterous that you would even consider gutting the [Historic Preservation Commission],” said Maywood resident Gordon Hanson, adding that the tax credits granted to homeowners whose properties are given local landmark status are what, in part, attract people to Maywood.

“It would be disrespectful, shortsighted and ignorant if you were to get rid of your historic designations on any of the buildings,” said Maywood resident Alise Buchmeier, who owns a home with local landmark status. She said she uses the tax credits for repairs.

“I find this proposal completely offensive,” said Heather Stelnicki, a planning and zoning commissioner. “One of the main things we have in this community is our housing stock.”

Maywood resident Larice Davis pushed back against some residents who were lauding the tax credits.

“There are those of us who grew up in Maywood, who do not have the tax credit that everybody is talking about,” Davis said. “[Those tax credits] are not the only good thing in Maywood.”

Trustee Michael Rogers said the proposed ordinance undermines the expertise of members on the historic preservation commission, all of whom are volunteers.

He also argued, as he has done in the past, that local landmark status doesn’t hamper prospective development; rather, it protects the historical integrity of the village’s architecture.

Trustee Isiah Brandon argued that the proposed ordinance shouldn’t even have been drafted without the collective deliberation of the full board.

“I’m trying to understand the process by which this came about,” said Brandon. “By having an attorney draw this up, it cost us and it cost the village […] Before we [got] to this point, this board [should’ve had] a collective conversation regarding this matter.”

Attorney Michael Jurusik said that, after he was contacted by “several trustees,” he “circled back with the manager to move forward with this process.”

Jurusik argued that the proposed ordinance doesn’t “gut” historic landmark designation process; rather, he said, “it just allows somebody to remove themselves from the process just like it allows someone to apply for the process.”

He also noted that the proposed ordinance wouldn’t just apply to the Widows Home. It has an “even, equal application for all properties across the town,” he said.

But Dorris noted that her interest in the proposed ordinance specifically stemmed from her concern that landmark status might hamper the development of the Widows Home.

“Whatever needs to be done to get that property developed to lower taxes for the community,” Dorris said, “let’s make that happen.

Rogers aggressively pushed back against Dorris’ assumption that the historic building’s landmark designation presents a particular obstacle to development.

“There just seems to be a refusal to understand something that’s been talked about time and time again,” he said. “There is nothing about historic preservation that hampers development. It’s a standard.

“It just means you can’t come do whatever you want — just like zoning and all the rest of that stuff. You have a town with no standards and all heck breaks loose. You have to have standards!”

The board voted 4-3 to table discussion of the proposed ordinance until the next LLOC meeting on Oct. 26, with Mayor Edwenna Perkins and Trustees Brandon and Rogers voting against the motion. VFP

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How Prefab Homes Built in Maywood and Melrose Park Influenced Chicago’s Marina City

Marina City_Melrose Park Standard Houses

Photos of Standard Houses (insets) built by architect Bertrand Goldberg in Melrose Park. The homes, which were also sold in Maywood and other suburbs across the country, inspired the design of Goldberg’s most famous work — Marina City in Chicago (also below). | Wikipedia || Further below, a Standard House under construction in Maywood. House photos from

Marina City Chicago.JPGFriday, August 26, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

The Chicago River has been a trending topic for the last several days, notably because city planners have announced that, among other river improvements, they want to make the notoriously toxic waterway clean enough to swim in by 2030.

That ambition has drawn the attention of local media, including Chicago Magazine’s Whet Mozer who, in an interesting read published online Wednesday, traces the city’s “desire to hurry along the Chicago River’s transformation from an industrial corridor to a recreation hub” back at least to the 1964 completion of Bertrand Goldberg’s iconic corncob on the riverfront.

Marina City is the first building in the country to be made with tower cranes and it represented quite a radical shift in thinking when it came to housing, which was something developers connected primarily to postwar suburbs and “nuclear families with young children,” Mozer writes.

Goldberg, who apprenticed for Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, envisioned Marina City as a housing development that also contained businesses that would support the development’s residents. It would be sort of a self-contained suburb, or a village, within the city.

But the federal government wasn’t going to insure a mortgage for housing constructed downtown and in a high-rise no less. Goldberg, according to Mozer, had to convince the federal powers that be that his transformational idea of urban living could work.

The concept, Mozer writes, “wasn’t alien to Goldberg; after all, much of his work to that point had been prefab housing in places like Melrose Park and Maywood. But he believed that the same principle would work in a city, vertically stacking inexpensive housing into a preplanned community in the midst of downtown.”

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In Melrose Park and Maywood, Goldberg’s Standard Houses, according to the architect’s website, “were simple single story structures with a gabled roof providing attic storage. Each house had two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, and living room. Standard Houses also manufactured wardrobes and cabinets.”

The mortgages on the homes were insured by the Federal Housing Authority and the small prefabricated structures sold for around $3,000. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, residents in Maywood, Melrose Park and other suburbs bought the homes feverishly.

In a single day in 1939, according to Architectural Forum, 3,000 people toured one of the five homes that were on sale in Melrose Park. And in that day, all five homes were sold. VFP

Read the full Chicago Magazine article here. Read more about Bertrand Goldberg and his Standard Houses here. And write us at if you have stories about living in one of them. 

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Two Maywood Architectural Gems Are Now Local Landmarks

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The Maywood Soldiers Widows Home, 224 N. 1st Ave., which was recently granted local landmark status along with the George F. Stahmer House, 704 N. 4th Ave, below. | Courtesy Trustee Michael Rogers and 

Stahmer House.jpgThursday, August 4, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || @village_free  

Victoria Haas, the vice chairman of the Maywood Historic Preservation Commission, could hardly contain her excitement at a July 26 regular meeting, where two of the most historically significant properties in Maywood — the George F. Stahmer House at 704 N. 4th Ave. and the Maywood Soldiers Widows Home at 224 N. 1st Ave. — received local landmark designations by the village’s Board of Trustees. 

Built in 1913, the Stahmer House is one of three examples of a high style Prairie Home in Maywood, according to a memo drafted by the Historic Preservation Commission, which unanimously recommended both buildings for landmark status. The Stahmer House was designed by William Drummond, a student of world-famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Soldiers Widows Home, a colonial revival building, was designed by local architect Frances E. Dunlap. Built in 1924 to house “wounded men returning from war,” according to a social history of the building included in its landmark application, the building represents a direct link to the modern social welfare reforms and institutions pioneered by Dr. Benjamin Stephenson, a surgeon and Civil War veteran. The building has been vacant since 2003.

“This is a huge building for us at a gateway intersection,” said Haas at a meeting earlier this month, before touching on the larger societal significance of historical preservation.

“The development of expressways and regional shopping (has) created a culture of cars and sprawls,” she said, referencing a book, For the Love of Cities, she’d recently read on the matter. “That’s made our communities lose our strong sense of identity as our suburbs became generic at best and shockingly dull at worst.”

Now that the two properties are designated local landmarks, anyone seeking permits “relating to alterations, construction, removal or demolition” of the structures will need to obtain what’s called a certificate of appropriateness (COA) from the Historic Preservation Commission, according to Chapter 158 of Maywood’s village code of ordinances.

“A COA is required if the building, structure or site wilt be altered, extended, or repaired in such a manner as to produce a major change in the exterior appearance of such building or structure,” the ordinance states.

An exception to the COA requirement is allowed if the permit applicant demonstrates to the commission that “a failure to grant the permit will cause an imminent threat to life, health or property.”

Some trustees were concerned that the new requirements might restrict the development of the Soldiers Home, which is located on prime commercial real estate at the busy intersection of Lake Street and 1st Avenue.

During a July 20 Legal, License and Ordinance Committee meeting where the issue was discussed, Trustee Antoinette Dorris asked how granting the Soldiers Home landmark status would affect a prospective developer’s ability to build on the site.

“I am proud of the history in this building (but) moving forward will definitely mean we’ll have to recognize this building in a different fashion,” Dorris said. “What if we get a developer who wants to pay $1.5 million for that entire corner at 1st and Lake St. and we’ve done all this to the building? What do we do? We’ve already had investors come here who aren’t interested in building around (the Soldiers Home).”

Maywood attorney Michael Jurusik said that potential development of the site would present a challenge, but noted that there are examples of developers working around the construction restrictions introduced by landmark status.

Some of those restrictions include ensuring that certain design elements, such as the proportion of windows and doors, the roof shape and other significant architectural details are compatible with the structure’s “original architectural style and character,” the ordinance notes.

Jurusik and others brought up the Walgreens located at the intersection of Madison Street and Oak Park Avenue in nearby Oak Park as an example of how developers worked creatively within those guidelines. 

Developers of that Oak Park Walgreens preserved the facade of the 1920s-era building that houses the national pharmaceutical chain.

Tom Kus, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, noted that the Soldiers Home, which is also eligible to be put on the National Register of Historic Places, might be developed in a similar way.

And both the local and national designations would be major “economic drivers,” Kus said, since any developer seeking to revitalize the commercial property in a way that also preserves its architectural integrity would qualify for numerous local and federal tax breaks relating to the designations.

At the July 26 meeting where the board approved the landmark status, Trustee Michael Rogers said that economic development and architectural integrity aren’t mutually exclusive.

“Developers need to respect our history, culture and our town — all of them and all of the time,” Rogers said, adding that landmark status “isn’t something that handicaps a developer. It’s something that makes a developer care about Maywood.” VFP

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