You don't have to walk far to find architectural gems in Oak Park. With its patchwork of stucco, frame and brick homes punctuated by Victorian and Prairie Style structures, the community is an architecture geek's dream. "Oak Park is an outdoor museum of architectural history," says Adam Ross, spokesman for the Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. "Wright's local designs continue to attract visitors to Chicagoland from around the world."
But living in this cozy community 10 miles west of the Loop is more than just walking tours of historic districts. The population—and spirit—of this compact suburb is as unique and diverse as its housing stock. Indeed, such notables as Wright, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Newhart, Percy Julian and Edgar Rice Burroughs once called Oak Park home.
A Bit of 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 and passed through what would later become Oak Park. In the 1850s the land on which Oak Park sits was part of the new Chicago suburb of Cicero. Oak Park grew dramatically after the Great Fire of 1871. Originally part of Cicero, it seceded from the township and incorporated as a separate municipality in 1902. Its population grew steadily and topped 40,000 by 1920.
In the decades following World War II, Oak Park's demographics started to shift. By the 1960s, a firm commitment to reform and social welfare had germinated in the area. “Oak Parkers” witnessed rapid racial re-segregation in Austin, their eastern neighbor. To counter this, Oak Park embarked on an aggressive policy of integration, and in 1968 approved one of the nation's first local Fair Housing Ordinances outlawing discrimination. The village board created a commission charged with preventing discrimination and encouraged African American families to settle throughout the village. Among many measures implemented, the use of "for-sale" signs by real estate agents was banned and remains so today.
Accessibility & Architecture
Oak Park's enviable location as one of the closest suburbs to downtown Chicago, the availability of multiple modes of high-speed transportation, and its location between the Loyola Medical Center to the west and the University of Illinois at Chicago and multiple medical centers to the east attract university, legal, and health-care professionals to its gracefully aging housing stock.