The Forest Park post office building, 417 Des Plaines Ave., is off the market – for now – and the Historical Society of Forest Park has asked U.S. Congressman Danny Davis to assist them with possibly acquiring the building.
The U.S. Postal Service has received no offers for the property, which was listed for sale at $590,000 in August 2010, says Marla Larsen-Williams, real estate specialist with the USPS in Bloomington, Ill. The federal agency put several Illinois post office buildings on the market in 2010 including buildings in Lake Forest, Geneva, Naperville and Lake Zurich. The USPS removed a “for sale” sign in the front of the building last month.
The Historical Society wrote to Davis on Nov. 2, asking for “support and assistance in obtaining” the post office building. The Historical Society is currently housed in donated space at 7415 Madison St.
Only retail operations remain in the building now, including access to P.O. boxes and the sale of stamps, money orders, overnight, express and priority mail. Nineteen letter carriers who deliver to Forest Park’s 60130 ZIP code moved operations to Oak Park’s South substation at 1116 Garfield St. last year. “There was overcrowding in [the 417 Des Plaines] building anyway,” said Larsen-Williams. She said the USPS planned to downsize and move retail operations in Forest Park to a 2,000 square foot space to be determined within the village.
Other historical societies have purchased post office buildings, says Larsen-Williams, but the process is complicated. A historical society in Washington, Mo., bought the local post office for $1,000, but the building needed half-a-million dollars-worth of structural work and the Postal Service had another branch in town to which it could relocate. The deal took three years, she said. She said the Forest Park building is “in good shape” and the cost of leasing/buying and remodeling a retail space would need to be considered.
The red brick and grey granite building was constructed in 1937. The overall property is 17,000 square feet, with a 4,000 square foot first floor and an equal-sized basement. It is zoned for commercial use within the Central Business District. But the building is not eligible for historic landmark status, says Anne Haaker, from the Illinois State Historic Preservation Agency. The agency reviewed the building in September, 2010 under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and found it didn’t qualify. “A developer would be under no [historic preservation] constraints whatsoever,” she said.
Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone blamed the poor commercial real estate market for the building’s failure to sell. He also hypothesized the building might be difficult to convert to another use.
“A buyer would need to make significant renovations to use that building for something other than a post office, although there are a lot of creative architectural minds out there,” he said. Another possible headache for a potential buyer is a side loading dock on the west side of the property the “consumes [much of] the surface parking lot,” said Calderone.
Mark Rogovin of the Historical Society says he is hopeful that Davis, who clerked for the U.S. Post Office in his younger days, and who serves on the U.S. Subcommittee on Federal Work Force, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Committee, is a good contact to help the society obtain the building, if it’s feasible. He says the society is looking for a permanent home and losing the post office would be a shame. “The village has lost too many of its hallmark structures.”
Also significant is the building’s 1940 mural, painted by Miriam McKinnie called “The White Fawn.” The mural depicts a historic pleasure boat that took visitors up and down the Des Plaines River during the 1880s. The mural was discovered by postal employees wrapped up in the building and was restored over 10 years. Larsen-Williams said if the USPS sold the building, the mural will be either displayed in the new post office location, or the agency would work with the village to display it in a public space, such as the library or village hall. “It remains the property of the Postal Service,” she clarified, “but the mural would stay within the community.”
The Historical Society of Forest Park was reborn late last year when new board members were elected and the collection was moved to the Madison Street location. However, the society has very little money. “Davis might be able to make a straight line item appropriation,” said Vince Michael, a local preservationist and board member of the National Trust. “Or they might be able to swap it or sell it to some other local entity and lease it back.”
“I don’t know if [the post office building] has any architectural significance, but it would be missed,” said Calderone.