When the Park District of Forest Park builds a new indoor facility at 7400-7412 Harrison St., the iconic Oak Leaf sign will be put somewhere inside the building – park officials just aren’t sure exactly where yet.
The park district demolished the vacant Oak Leaf Lounge, Pines restaurant and the Forest Park Foreign Car Repair shop last fall to make way for the future facility and avoid liability associated with leaving the buildings standing. The Oak Leaf sign goes back to Oak Leaf Laundry, the business that originally occupied the building at 7412 Harrison St. When the buildings were torn down, the park district preserved the sign, but it left its future open.
The Historical Society of Forest Park expressed interest in the sign, and so did Albert Reda, grandson of the laundry’s original owner. During the April 20 meeting of the park district’s board, John Doss, board president, said the board agreed to incorporate the sign into the new building, where it would be visible to the public – and the historical society was on board with it.
Oak Leaf laundry was founded in 1933 at 716 Desplaines Ave. It moved to Harrison Street five years later as the business grew. The original sign had the “Landerers Cleaners” in smaller neon letters beneath the larger “Oak Leaf” neon letters Forest Parkers are familiar with. In the early 1980s, the family sold the building to the neighboring Pines Lobster and Steak House and agreed to let owner Rich Navratil keep the sign. He converted the laundry into a lounge.
Reda previously told the Review that, when he found out about the building’s impending demolition last fall, he reached out to the park district to ask if he could have the sign. He told the Review that he intended to restore it to its original form and put it in his “mancave.” If the historical society were to get it, he said in an earlier interview, he was willing to trade it for his grandfather’s photo archives and original Oak Leaf Laundry advertisement printing blocks.
The park district hasn’t made any final plans for what the new Harrison Street facility will look like. But during the April 20 meeting, Doss said that “whatever happens to the building, we will put [the sign] into use in the building.”
He said he discussed the issue with other park commissioners, historical society president Mark Boroughf and vice-president Jill Wagner, who serves as the Review’s circulation manager and columnist. Both of them, Doss said, were OK with the park district’s plan, because it would keep the sign in the public eye – which is what they hoped to do if they got it.
Commissioner Tim Gillian said this approach made sense.
“It just seems like a good idea keeping it right on the site [where it’s been] for the past 50 years,” he said.
Commissioner Kristen Lyons agreed
“It’s about preserving history,” she said. “Doesn’t matter who owns [the sign], so long as it can be enjoyed by the public in the future.”
Reda told the Review that he was willing to spend as much as $9,000 to buy the sign for the park district. He said he made an offer in late winter, and he was told that it wasn’t for sale.
Reda said that, while he has some concerns about the sign’s future, he bears no ill will toward the park district.
“I’m okay with [their decision],” he said “I don’t have a problem with it at all. My only thing – what is your intention to use it?”