There’s an old joke that the definition of a housing development in one of the new suburbs west of here is that it’s a tract of land where they cut down all the trees and then name the streets after them.
Bob Cox organized Forest Park’s first-ever house walk — titled “Carneyville Revisited” — held last Saturday morning, because he much prefers old trees and the old homes they shade to the cookie-cutter dwellings in automobile-dependent suburbs. The house in which he grew up and now lives in, at 419 Marengo, was built in the 1870s.
Cox’s father bought the home from the grandson of Joseph Carney, a native of Ireland who immigrated to this area in the 1850s and farmed the land between what are now Harlem and Marengo avenues and Madison and Jackson streets. The farmland was later turned into a residential area referred to as the Carney Subdivision as the population, of what until 1906 was known as Harlem, grew. Cox invented the name Carneyville to honor the neighborhood in which he grew up.
While Forest Park’s neighbor to the east has made a tourist industry out of its stock of historical homes and frequent housewalks, Forest Park has not, until now, tapped into its treasure of old homes. According to Cox, 70% of homes in Forest Park are over a hundred years old.
The two-hour housewalk which began at 10:30 a.m. visited 12 homes in the neighborhood, spending about five minutes at each, while the tour’s docent, Gary Lorenz, pointed out the unique architectural features of, and told stories about, each residence. For example, all of the homes in the 400 block of Marengo, except for a six-flat are original, being built in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Cox’s home at 419 Marengo, where the tour began, was originally located at 54 Madison and was moved in 1918 on timbers to make room for commercial buildings in the developing business district. The homes at 7310 Adams and 501 Elgin were also moved about the same time.
The 11 people on the tour were treated to some spontaneous commentary by the owners of three of the homes. Tim and Dorothy Gillian told the group that their home, located at 512 Marengo, was built in the late 1800s and eventually occupied by Fredrick Roos, whose family owned the cedar chest factory that used to be located at the corner of Harrison and Circle. Roos was the Harlem village attorney and head of the Harlem Savings Bank. He became a state rep in 1906 and was elected to the state senate in 1914, serving until 1927. The Gillian family purchased the home in 1961.
Ugo Forigoni shared some documents, building plans and pictures of his home at 439 Marengo with the group, then proceeded to walk with them for the rest of the tour.
The one bungalow on the tour is located at 547 Marengo.
“David has owned his place for over 40 years,” said Cox. “Many observers, including myself, say that his home is a pristine example of a Spanish, tiled-roof, American bungalow. You could shoot a movie in that house. Everything inside is authentic stuff.”
He said many people are afraid of buying an old home. He blames part of the fear on what he calls “modernism,” i.e. the attitude he experienced growing up in the 1950s and ’60s that new is somehow better than old, that if you had to buy an older home, the first thing you wanted to do when you got enough cash is remodel it.
That attitude is changing, he said, as evidenced by the fact that many millennials are moving in the opposite direction of their parents — away from the new suburbs and back to the city and to first ring suburbs like Forest Park. The city of Chicago, he pointed out, has grown incrementally each of the last 30 years.
Further evidence of this change in attitude were the 33 people who packed the Austin Room in the Forest Park Public Library last Wednesday evening to participate in a session the library called, “Forest Park Neighborhoods, Then and Now.” Cox led the group in an interactive question-and-answer format, on the one hand responding to questions of owners who are rehabbing their old homes and on the other promoting the virtues of old homes with an almost missionary zeal.
Referring to bungalows built in the 1920s, he declared, “Even with all of the advances in modern technology, you can’t find a home built any better than a bungalow.” As evidence, he held up a hardwood 2 x 4 from an old home in one hand and a new so-called “two by four” in the other to illustrate the quality of materials used in construction a hundred years ago.
Cox responded to over 15 questions from those in attendance, such as “How do you do research on your old home?” and “Didn’t there used to be an orchard on the 800 block of Ferdinand?” and “Where can I get art glass to replace a cracked window in my bathroom?”
Lamenting the fact that many records were destroyed in a flood in the village hall basement sometime in the 1950s, he said a good place to start research is the public library and the local historical society. He himself has been going to the University of Illinois Chicago to do research with fire insurance maps, which are kept there on microfilm.
Regarding the housewalk on Saturday Cox said, “One of our four sponsors is interested in planning another Carneyville Revisted next year. I am happy to assist any group in other neighborhoods in Forest Park interested in organizing this kind of fun community heritage activity,” adding, “Looks like Carneyville is back on the map.”
All proceeds from the walk went to the Forest Park Food Pantry.