Unlike the communities around us, Forest Park does not have a housewalk or a garden walk. So I say let’s start modestly with a garage walk. We have so many interesting examples of architecture along our alleys: garages, coach houses and back-lot houses. I had one buddy who lived in a converted garage that had once been home to a car. We can admire some well-kept structures and see some vintage “leaners.”
I have a selfish motive for this walk. I want to show off my newly-improved garage.
For years, we had been in a shame spiral over the state of our garage. It had once been a solidly-built, two-and-a-half car model. But according to an eyewitness who grew up fixing cars inside it, the structure started deteriorating as soon as it was constructed in the 1970s. The problem was the cheap fiber-board siding that soaked up moisture and began to sag.
It finally got to the point that there were gaping holes in the walls and our kids feared there were critters living inside. Fortunately, the village would not tolerate this urban blight. They first suggested we tear it down. But I found out it’s not cheap to knock down a garage. My son-in-law offered to push it over with a Bobcat but I had another reason for not wrecking it.
You see, my family has a long history of tearing down garages and I wanted to stop the madness. I can still picture my dad knocking down our Brookfield garage with a sledge hammer. Then we had one of those tiny garages in Oak Park that was probably built for a horse and buggy. We couldn’t squeeze a car into it and finally took it down.
Before I could decide what to do, I received a notice of a hearing I had to attend at village hall. On that morning, I was called to the podium in front of the judge’s bench. He had photos of my garage before him and said, “Your garage looks like it was hit by a tornado.” I replied, “Yes, your honor, we did make a claim for storm damage but the insurance company denied it.”
The judge said he was fining me $750. It was literally a jaw-dropping amount, because he told me to close my mouth. He promised to vacate the fine — as long as I got the building permit by a certain date. I thanked him for the second chance.
Since we were definitely going to fix the garage, we decided to go with local talent. We contacted Jim Woods, of JW Home Improvements and he gave us a very affordable estimate to fix the garage. Jim got the permit by the required date but the Groundhog Day Blizzard prevented any work being done until March.
Working with a partner, Jim removed the waterlogged siding and replaced it with inexpensive wood siding. My neighbors started talking to me again. Then our son returned from college to resume his role as our indentured servant. The three of us painted it gray and white to match the new siding on our house.
So on our Garage Walk, I can show you that even a garage on life-support can be saved. It’s true that the overhead door is still on manual and the service entrance has an interior door. This door was pretty far gone from exposure to the elements.
In fact, before I painted it white, it looked like it was hit by a tornado.
John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.