Rod Nunley’s real estate battle is making him famous, at least in Forest Park. His story is another example of the rights of an individual property owner being pitted against what some think is good for the whole village.
I’m not worried about what the final result will be. I am confident that Mayor Anthony Calderone and his staff will come up with something creative. What I have started to worry about is the bigger picture. I worry that we in Forest Park are trying to become Oak Park.
When I moved to Forest Park 26 years ago to be the pastor of St. Paul’s, I had to live here. The use of the parsonage was part of my compensation. But secretly, I wanted to live in Oak Park. I’d go to Minou’s for coffee and a croissant on my day off. All the cool shops were there and, well, it just felt like a hipper place to live – more progressive.
The only reason people from outside Forest Park came here was to buy something at the hardware store and to drink.
Especially in the first 10 years I lived here, I couldn’t figure out why Art Jones remained a resident in this dumpy, blue-collar town instead of moving to the classier villages in which he worked. And I sure didn’t understand why he took a job at a local bank after “retiring” from the field of education.
But the longer I lived and worked and volunteered here, the more I began to see what Dr. Jones saw all along. Compared to Oak Park, Forest Park has a certain unpretentious, pragmatic way of doing things. For example, Oak Park made the national news in the 1960s by setting up its housing office, which tried to manage the racial mix in town. It was successful.
Forest Park didn’t have much of a plan at all. The reason our village became so diverse is that individual residents, one real estate transfer at a time, decided to judge their neighbors on the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. We didn’t make the national news. Probably didn’t even make the Trib.
What I’ve learned is that blue collar doesn’t always mean redneck. It can mean that while folks are going about their business they aren’t also trying to gauge whether they’re behaving in a politically correct way.
I personally love the fact that the Military and Police Supply is next door to Shanahan’s. I really enjoyed going over to Denny Moran’s Garage – once voted the ugliest property in Forest Park – either to get my car fixed or to have a beer if it was close enough to quitting time.
The town has changed. Some call it a renaissance. We’re no longer known for our bars as much as for our cuisine. Property values have gone up. Developers compete to build here. The Original Pancake House and Thyme and Honey are the latest businesses to move across Harlem Avenue. I saw an ad in the Wednesday Journal a few weeks ago that asked if I’d rather live in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park. We have arrived. Forest Park is no longer the servant’s quarters for our affluent, progressive neighbors. We even have a Starbucks.
I love what has happened to Madison Street, partly because Louie’s and the Military and Police Supply are still there. And, I’m all for the Comprehensive Plan that suggests Nunley’s auto shop shouldn’t occupy real estate in the Harlem Avenue gateway. I was part of the original group that put that plan together.
But I hope Rod Nunley’s shop stays on Harlem Avenue. It might get a facade that blends in with a neighboring developer’s vision for a more attractive streetscape. That’s fine, but somehow I like the idea of an auto repair shop next to a gourmet coffee place. I have a suspicion that Art would agree.