Howard R. Mohr’s red leather chair from the Illinois Assembly has finally come out of storage. 

The Historical Society of Forest Park has the large chair prominently displayed in its new exhibit space at First United Church, 1000 S. Elgin Ave. The museum space opened Saturday with an exhibit called “Forest Park: A Love Story.”

Mohr was Forest Park’s bigger-than-life, long-serving mayor as well as a state senator during the 1970s. He suffered a fatal heart attack at age 55 at his Springfield retirement breakfast on Jan. 12, 1977. 

Also on display are historic land-office plat-maps of the village from the turn of the last century, as well as photos and artifacts from the past.

“This is our first chance to really take some of these items out of storage and put them on display,” said Executive Director Diane Hansen Grah.

Photos of Forest Park restaurants in bygone eras are displayed. The society has artifacts from Otto’s, an old-style German restaurant on Washington Boulevard, built in the 1890s. Otto’s burned down in the 1980s. The display includes a waiter’s vest and dishes, rescued after the blaze. 

Historic photos of merchants and businesses on Madison Street and Roosevelt Road are displayed. There’s a nose-cone from an Amertorp torpedo, manufactured at the World War II factory where the mall is now located; vintage police badges from the FPPD; and a sign commemorating the WPA mural of Forest Park’s Des Plaines River pleasure boat, the White Fawn.

The village’s grand amusement park, auto racetrack and the Parichy girls professional softball stadium are also documented. 

The society has wandered from location to location after being revitalized in 2011 and losing its storage space at the Forest Park Public Library. Shortly, office space will open up in a village-owned apartment building in the 7600 block of Adams Street for research and the society’s document storage. 

On opening day, 25 guests visited the exhibit, Hansen Grah said. Guests can purchase copies of the award-winning Des Plaines River Anthology and the game of Forestparkopoly at the exhibit space. 

The exhibit space allows the society to apply for grants that are tied to exhibition space, Hansen Grah said. Eventually, the society’s goal is to acquire its own building and a capital fund has been formed for a permanent home, she said.

Starting small, the society will open on Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission is $5


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Historic Roosevelt Road was home to race tracks, torpedoes and the Mob

     A Historical Society of Forest Park walking tour of Roosevelt Road last Saturday evoked the rollicking days of Prohibition and racetrack gambling. 

     Executive Director Diane Hansen Grah led a group west from Harlem to Desplaines Avenue pointing out historic sites such as the Harlem Jockey Club racetrack and McGurn’s gambling house. 

     In the days before the village became Forest Park, the mayor, members of the Harlem Village Council and the police chief were indicted for gambling at the racetrack, which lasted from 1894 to 1904. After village officials were swept up in a police raid, fed-up villagers finally pushed the horses out and the track was used for auto racing until it became a golf course, and eventually the Forest Park Mall.

     The group wandered past Andrea’s restaurant, former home to the Torpedo Tap (later renamed the Armory Lounge), home-away-from-home for Oak Park mobster Sam Giancana. 

     The FBI bugged the joint in the 1960s by arresting a janitor on a trumped-up charge, Hansen Grah said. Emptying his pockets, FBI agents copied the keys to the eatery, entered after hours and placed their hidden wiretap microphones. 

     Miles away from any ocean, the Amertorp torpedo factory on Roosevelt Road pumped out naval ordnance during World War II. 

     “Forest Park was so proud of these distinctive products that the village vehicle stickers were in the shape of a torpedo for several years,” Grah said. 

     The plant closed in the 1970s and was refurbished into the Forest Park Mall.

     The group also got a tour of the Nadeau Ice company offices, which included a historic display of ice picks and vintage ice boxes. The group walked through the company’s frozen party room which includes a roaring fireplace carved from ice as well as a basketball backboard and frozen sushi bar. 

     Hansen Grah was able to answer a question many have asked about Roosevelt Road: Teddy or Franklin? 

     The answer is, it’s named after Teddy. Local authorities changed the name from 12th Street in 1919, the year Teddy Roosevelt died — years before FDR was president.

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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