It’s fine to offer a gift. But there has to be someone to receive it.
So we honor the impulse of Mayor Anthony Calderone to potentially donate a piece of property to the Forest Park Historical Society as a permanent home. But we ask this question sincerely: What exactly is the Forest Park Historical Society these days?
It seems to be a collection of boxes in one person’s basement. The group does not meet. It no longer collects dues or publishes a newsletter. It has no permanent or temporary exhibits. And it — it being the president, Rich Vitton — actively blows off sincere expressions of interest by credible local folks who seek to be involved in the effort to respect and promote Forest Park’s wonderful history.
Vitton, who we are sure has fine qualities, has somehow hijacked both the organization and the artifacts and put them into storage. This is an absurd situation that must be resolved irrespective of offers of a permanent facility. Perhaps the promise of a home will put in such sharp relief the current underground status of the group that progress can be made.
Clearly it makes no sense for the village to accept a bank’s self-interested offer to dump a burned out two-flat in its lap, to invest significant funds on massive rehab and then to hand it over to a non-functional group.
The Historical Society is peculiarly Forest Park. For decades it was run with enthusiasm, sincerity and an iron fist by Dr. Frank Orland. We loved Dr. Orland (he actually was one of many small investors in our company for a time). But outreach was not his strength and keeping control narrowly focused was his approach. With his passing, we had hoped that new life and vital ideas would breath energy into the group and that the village’s truly remarkable history would be celebrated and preserved.
Somehow that opportunity got squelched and the society has receded more fully than ever into one person’s narrow vision and interests. This is just unacceptable. Now with the tantalizing prospect of a real, permanent home, it is time for the mayor to use his influence to wrest Forest Park’s history from its literal and figurative cellar. It is also time for the locals who have a strong interest in local history but who have given up on the historical society to get feisty and demand a role in making this group vital and essential.
All this said, all this revving up sincerely stated, we urge considerable caution by the village as it moves forward with the possible donation of the two-flat by Deutsche Bank. The bank’s only interest is in getting a bum asset off its books as cheaply as possible. If there isn’t a secure source of grant funding for restoration, the best use of this parcel might be expanded parking across from village hall. This is not the economic moment for taking flyers.