Oak Park, Illinois

Oak Park, Illinois
Oak Park
Country United States
State Illinois
County Cook
Municipality Village
Coordinates 41°53′N 87°48′W / 41.883°N 87.8°W / 41.883; -87.8
Area 4.7 sq mi (12 km2)
 - land 4.7 sq mi (12 km2)
Density 11,173.4 / sq mi (4,314 / km2)
Timezone CST (UTC-6)
 - summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
Postal code 60301 to 60304
Area code 708
Location of Oak Park within Illinois
Location of Oak Park within Illinois
Wikimedia Commons: Oak Park, Illinois
Lake Theater and shops along Lake Street.

Oak Park, Illinois is a suburb bordering the west side of the city of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, United States. It is the twenty-fifth largest municipality in Illinois. Oak Park has easy access to downtown Chicago (the Chicago Loop) due to public transportation such as the Chicago 'L' Blue and Green lines, CTA buses, and Metra commuter rail. The 2000 census showed that the area had a total population of 52,524. As of the 2010 census, the population had dropped by 1.2 percent to 51,878.



In 1837, Joseph Kettlestrings purchased 172 acres[1] of land just west of Chicago. By 1850, the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad was constructed as far as Elgin, Illinois, and passed through what would later become Oak Park.[2] In the 1850s the land on which Oak Park sits was part of the new Chicago suburb of Cicero, Illinois. The population of the area boomed during the 1870s, with Chicago residents resettling in Cicero following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The Village of Oak Park was formally established in 1902, disengaging from Cicero following a referendum.

Oak Park has a history of alcohol prohibition. When the village was incorporated, 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, and was further loosened in 2002, when select grocery stores received governmental permission to sell packaged liquor.

Oak Park's enviable location as the closest suburb to downtown Chicago, the availability of multiple modes of high-speed transportation to downtown Chicago, 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 aging housing stock.

Wright's home in Oak Park.

Oak Park attracts architecture buffs and others to view the many Frank Lloyd Wright buildings found in the village. The largest collection of Wright-designed residential properties in the world is in Oak Park[citation needed]. Other attractions include Ernest Hemingway's birthplace home and his boyhood home, the Ernest Hemingway Museum, and the three Oak Park homes of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Oak Park is home to the well-regarded Oak Park and River Forest High School,[3] which is also the public high school for the bordering village of River Forest. A comprehensive college preparatory school, Oak Park-River Forest High School has had a long history of not only turning out alumni who have made contributions in a wide variety of fields, but have been notable in their fields. Among these are Pulitizer Prize winning author Ernest Hemingway, football hall-of-famer George Trafton, McDonalds founder Ray Kroc, city planner Walter Burley Griffin, comedian Kathy Griffin, and the voice of iconic cartoon character Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta.


Oak Park is located immediately west of the city 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 4.7 square miles (12 km2). None of it is covered by water.


Harlem Station on the Chicago 'L' Green Line

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 (Interstate-290)--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, due to the fact that Oak Park is in the Chicago grid system of streets.

Lake Street

Although Oak Park has been fully developed for more than sixty years and possesses no nature trails, hills, prairie, bodies of water, which would also be conducive to bike paths, or forests or wooded areas, it is home to numerous bicyclists. 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. With several cycle clubs and groups, Oak Park is considered a bicycle-friendly community and the tree-lined streets of the community as well as its proximity to trails in nearly communities attract cyclists to Oak Park, easily accessed by the Green Line, Blue Line, or Metra. 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.


Unity Temple, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

As of the census of 2010, there were 51,878 people, 22,670 households, and 13,037 families residing in the village. The population density was 11,037.9 people per square mile. The racial makeup of the village was 67.7% White American, 21.7% African American, 0.2% American Indian, 4.8% Asian, 2.0% from other races, and 3.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.8% of the population. 12.7% spoke a language other than English at home. [4]

According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the village was $74,614, and the median income for a family was $103,840.[5] Males had a median income of $51,807 versus $40,847 for females. The per capita income for the village was $36,340. About 3.6% of families and 5.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.8% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.

In the 1960s Oak Parkers began a concerted effort to avoid the destructive racial housing practices occurring in nearby communities. Steering and block-by-block panic peddling caused rapid racial change on Chicago’s west side, including the Austin Community Area adjacent to Oak Park. Whites fled west side neighborhoods based on bogus concerns of property value losses and crime increases. Businesses fled as well. The Village of Oak Park passed a fair housing ordinance in 1968 (in the same year as the federal Fair Housing Act) to ensure equal access to housing in the community. In 1972,the Oak Park Housing Center was founded by Roberta (Bobbie) Raymond to promote integration in the community by ensuring equal access and discouraging white flight.[6]

Ever since, Oak Park has encouraged integrated racial and ethnic diversity. The village operates a Diversity Assurance Program within its housing programs department to ensure a stable, diverse, and integrated population. Years ago, Oak Park eliminated the use of "For Sale" signs in front of houses, widely considered one of the keys of success to maintaining the high diversity. This law was declared unconstitutional, being overturned by the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in the Linmark Associates, Inc. v. Willingboro case, but is still widely observed by local realtors.

Oak Park public officials publicize the village as an integrated community, but de facto integration has been difficult to achieve. Although African-Americans live in neighborhoods throughout the village, most in the community live either in apartment buildings, notably along the Washington Blvd. corridor, or in homes on the east side of the village near the Austin neighborhood of Chicago.

Combating crime and providing safety programs in the community, Oak Park's police department is the third largest in the state. In 2011, crime had dropped 16 percent on average in Oak Park, according to data released at a community forum.[7]



Oak Park since 1951 has been organized under the village manager form of municipal government. Coterminous with the Village of Oak Park are five additional governments each of which levy real estate taxes. These include the Oak Park Township, the high school district, the elementary school district, a library district, and a park district. Periodically, each unit of government presents to the residents tax-increase referenda or fee increases. The passing of such, along with the lack of any significant tax-generating industry, has led to Oak Park being one of the most highly taxed municipalities in the state of Illinois.

The United States Postal Service operates the Oak Park Post Office at 901 Lake Street and the Oak Park South Post Office at 1116 Garfield Street[8] .[9]

The village government comprises an elected village board who hires a village manager to conduct the day-to-day affairs of the village administration.

School districts

Oak Park Public Library

The public primary schools (Lincoln, Mann, Longfellow, Beye, Holmes, Whittier, Irving, and Hatch) and the middle schools, Percy Julian Middle School (formerly Nathaniel Hawthorne), and Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School (formerly Ralph Waldo Emerson), are operated by the Oak Park Elementary School District. These schools are part of elementary school District 97, which regularly adopts medium-term strategic plans.[10]

The renaming of the two junior high schools, now middle schools, after prominent African-Americans rather than giant American literary figures was motivated in part by the desire to motivate minority students in their educational pursuits. A severe grade gap, referred to as “this intolerable and persistent inequity,” [11] however, remains.[12] [13]

Oak Park is the home of two high schools: Oak Park and River Forest High School, the sole school in educational District 200, and Fenwick High School. Oak Park and River Forest High School is a public school which is jointly run by Oak Park and neighboring village River Forest, and Fenwick High School is a Catholic college preparatory school run by the Dominicans. Both high schools have a long history of high academic standards. Oak Park and River Forest High School bestows the Tradition of Excellence Award to distinguished alumni, including Ernest Hemingway, Ray Kroc, Dan Castellaneta, football Hall-of-Famer George Trafton, actress Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, astronomer Chad Trujillo, and geochemist Wally Broecker. Oak Park and River Forest High School is one of seven in Illinois with the ability to induct students into the Cum Laude Society. Fenwick's notable alumni include Heisman winner Johnny Lattner, Pulitzer winner Philip Caputo, former Sears CEO Edward Brennan, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, Sun-Times general manager John Barron, Procter & Gamble CEO A. G. Lafley and notable professionals in the NBA, such as Corey Maggette, as well as NFL and NHL players.

Park district

Oak Park is home to a park district, first organized in 1912 as the Recreation Department of the Village of Oak Park. Under the direction of Josephine Blackstock and her successor Lilly Ruth Hanson, it embarked on a vigorous program of recreation for villagers. The playgrounds were named by Blackstock after famous children’s writers.

In the late 1980s the Recreation Department was dissolved and the Oak Park Park District, a separate tax-levying body, was created. It comprises thirteen parks scattered throughout the village, for a total of 80 acres (320,000 m2) of parkland, two historic houses, the Oak Park Conservatory, two outdoor pools, a gymnastics center, and a seasonal ice rink. These facilities as well as climate-controlled buildings, or "centers," at many of the parks host programs and events for all ages. The Park District also operates a dog park, where dog owners, with a paid permit, may bring their pets to play off-leash.


The Oak Park public library has its main branch in the Oak Park Avenue-Lake Street central district as well as two small branch libraries.

Arts and culture

Oak Park has an active arts community, the result of its favorable location as the closest suburb to Chicago, leading to it being the home of numerous theater, music, dance, and fine arts professionals. The fledgling arts district on Harrison, bounded by Austin Avenue to the east and Ridgeland Avenue to the west, is currently experiencing a revival with boutique galleries, shops and two restaurants providing shopping and nightlife. Oak Park is home to several professional dance and theatre companies, including Circle Theater, Oak Park Festival Theatre, and Momenta. Oak Park, with neighboring River Forest, also plays host to the Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2009. Oak Park is also home to WPNA, broadcasting from the former Oak Park Arms Hotel at 1490 on the AM dial since 1951. Run by the Polish National Alliance, the station's programming serves the diverse linguistic and cultural communities in the Chicago metropolitan area (in the late-1960s WPNA had the only "underground" disc jockey in Chicago, Scorpio). There is also the Oak Park Art League (OPAL), which is a nonprofit community-based visual arts center providing classes, workshops, lectures, demonstrations, and exhibitions.[14] Since 1921, OPAL has been providing innovative opportunities for arts engagement and cultural enrichment. Over 4,500 artists participate in OPAL’s events each year.

Oak Park has been home to numerous festivals and holiday observances. The July 4th celebration featuring fireworks draws thousands from not only Oak Park but also neighboring communities to the Oak Park-River Forest High School football stadium. A Day in Our Village held in June allows local groups to set up tables to seek members.


The Arthur Huertley House on Forest Avenue

Frank Lloyd Wright spent the first 20 years of his 70-year career in Oak Park, building numerous homes in the community, including his own. He lived and worked in the area between 1889 and 1909. One can find Wright's earliest work here, like the Winslow House in neighboring River Forest, Illinois. There are also examples of the first prairie-style houses in Oak Park. He also designed Unity Temple, a Unitarian-Universalist church, which was built between 1905 and 1908. There were several well-known architects and artists that worked in Wright's Oak Park Studio, including Richard Bock, William Eugene Drummond, Marion Mahony Griffin, and Walter Burley Griffin. Many buildings in Oak Park were built by other Prairie School architects such as George W. Maher, John Van Bergen, and E.E. Roberts. Additionally, there are various architectural styles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries located throughout the town, including the Seward Gunderson Historic District.

Points of interest

Notable people


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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