By Jean Lotus
The Historical Society of Forest Park is once again looking for a more permanent home, said board members and its director.
"I tell everyone we're the wandering historical society," said Director Diane Hansen Grah.
The society has been itinerant since losing its space at the Forest Park Public Library, moving into the basement bedroom of then-president Rich Vitton. As the board reconstituted itself in May 2011 and embarked on a series of events and activities, the society's collection was moved twice.
The first move was to an upstairs office space at 7415 Madison St. in early 2012. There, with the help of Dominican University's Cecilia Salvatore's cataloging graduate students, the collection was organized. This work was built on the longtime organizational work of the late Cora Sallee, a volunteer who clipped, filed and indexed Forest Park Review articles for decades.
In May 2012, the group lost its free space in the Madison Street building but were in talks with the congregation at St. Peter's Church, 500 Hannah Ave.
After moving the collection to St. Peter's, the society researched a way to acquire the church property for a permanent home, but with only $18,000 in the bank and 65 members, the group could not figure out how to swing the deal.
St. Peter's was sold to Mt. Moriah Baptist Church of Christ in June 2013. Since then, the collection has been split up.
"We are limited right now to one classroom and that's where the research archives are," said Grah. Other artifacts are now in storage next door to Schauer's Hardware on Madison.
The church made it clear that closet space and other rooms used by the society to house large items would have to be cleared out.
"The purpose of our purchasing the church was to utilize the property for worship," said Mt. Moriah pastor Maurice Streeter. "We didn't realize [the historical society] had as much office space as they did, so we were living out of boxes," he said.
According to a real estate purchase contract rider, acquired by the Forest Park Review, St. Peter's allowed Mt. Moriah to defer $70,000 of the church's purchase price for one year if the congregation allowed several organizations to "non-exculsive use … in a manner consistent with how these organizations used the real estate prior to closing, including the right to store personal belongings."
According to the rider, the historical society may store items and equipment in "one classroom" and conduct business in the fellowship hall for 10 years. Other groups include Overeaters Anonymous, A.A., two al-anon groups and the Chicago Modern Quality Guild, Kingdom Connection Church and the St. Peter's congregation.
Now the church wants to use the space they paid for, Streeter said.
"[The historical society is] a large group and they need much more space; at the same time we require much more space also, and we're paying the mortgage," Streeter said.
"We've been in compliance with everything, whatever the rider said when we purchased the property," he added. "We don't want to be painted as negative people who can't get along. That's far from the truth. If they want to do a fundraiser at the church to try to raise money, we're willing to do that."
Other locations have been floated as a home for the society.
In 2012, when the U.S. Postal Service put the Forest Park Post Office on the market, the society approached U.S. Congressman Danny Davis (7th District) to ask about acquiring the building, perhaps as a gift or tax write-off. The U.S.P.S. pulled the building back off the market to wait out the real estate dip and made it clear they wanted to sell, not give away, the property.
Other possibilities have included the American Wilber Vault Company lot in the 1000 block of Troost Avenue. Mayor Anthony Calderone even offered the historical society the burned-out 512 Desplaines Ave. building, now demolished, which they declined.
The historical society hopes they can get villagers to agree to envision gallery space in the new park district facilities that will be built where the Roos building is being removed. But that could take years.
Recently the mayor offered space in a village-owned apartment building at 7608 Adams St. The one-bedroom unit is on the second floor and has a kitchen, living room and single bedroom, Grah said.
"It doesn't currently have heat or air or working plumbing," she added. "And it's not ADA-accessible." That's a problem for some volunteers who have a harder time getting around.
The society will discuss their options at their September board meeting, Grah said.
"We have to be careful what we wish for," said board President Aleksy. "If we get a building, can we maintain it?"
This article has been updated to correct the address of the village-owned apartment offered to the Historical Society of Forest Park.