If all goes according to plan and the Deutsche Bank donates the torched apartment building at 512 Desplaines Ave. to the village, Mayor Anthony Calderone said last week that he envisioned offering the space to the currently homeless Historical Society of Forest Park.
Such a gift begs the question, what exactly is the Historical Society of Forest Park?
Founded in 1976, the not-for-profit organization run by volunteers aims to “bring together these people interested in the history” of the village and “discover and collect any material which may help to establish or illustrate the history of the area,” as stated in the organization’s 1975 constitution.
Some people have felt that in recent years, though, the Historical Society has been nonfunctional and in violation of certain parts of its constitution. One of the biggest problems, for example, is that most of the documents and photographs have been in storage in the basement of the group’s president, Rich Vitton, since the society left its small space in the library a few years back.
“We have a hard time trying to get access to the documents,” said Augie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore on Madison Street. “If you don’t have access, you can’t do anything. …You got a building, but a building doesn’t make things happen. You need an organization.”
Vitton said after the society lost that spot in the library, he had no choice for the artifacts but to “store them and keep them safe” somewhere.
“Where else am I going to put it?” he said.
Ultimately, he said he would love for people to see the archives and learn about the town’s rich history, but he needs a place to showcase everything.
Until that day comes, he admits that the organization is stagnant. He doesn’t hold meetings any longer because he says there is nothing to meet about any more – and participation in the past has been lackluster. Instead, he will set up an appointment with anyone wanting to meet.
Governed by a five-person board of directors, the Historical Society is still registered with the Secretary of State’s office and listed as “active and in good standing” – meaning the annual $10 report has been filed.
Patricia Miller, executive director of the Illinois Heritage Association, noted that all historical societies are different and “there’s not any rule that they have to have a headquarters or have to be open to the public for a certain amount of days.”
In planning the future of the Historical Society, Calderone said it is still way too early to work out specifics, considering the deal has not even gone through with the bank yet.
But, if the village does acquire the property and finishes all the renovations, he said: “It would absolutely be my desire, if we get to that point, that we would attach some conditions on the part of the Historical Society in terms of how they could use it and when they could use it. Also on the organization itself: how it’s managed, how it’s organized, and how it’s looking forward.”
“At this point, this is purely a vision that I have,” he said. “Nothing more and nothing less. It is based on my knowledge that they currently don’t have a home and based on my desire to help facilitate the embracing of our history. … We have to find a way to rehabilitate the building first. We have several different milestones to achieve first.”