A piece of Forest Park history, restored

Wolf Bros. stained glass sign will be displayed at the Historical Society

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Thanks to the generosity of a business owner and the hard work of volunteers, a well-known shard of Forest Park history has been preserved and restored. In October 2015, Mark Hosty, owner of Healy's Westside, donated the Wolf Bros. stained glass window to the Historical Society of Forest Park. The fragile window used to occupy the west wall of the longtime furniture store. 

Diane Grah, the Historical Society's executive director said the creative collaboration started with "a post on Facebook about the window and how it would be nice if it was donated to the society. Mark Hosty saw the post and agreed to do it. It was a piece that we had always envied." Hosty helped load the window and used his truck to transport the piece to the society's new home at 1000 S. Elgin Ave.

To keep it safe, volunteers Mark Rogovin and Alexis Ellers rode in back holding onto the window. Ellers also documented the move with her camera. 

"I was thrilled that the stained glass was donated," said Rogovin, noting that the sign can be readily seen in historic photographs of Circle and Madison, like the one that graces the cover of Ken Knack's book about the village. 

However, the piece was in very poor condition and needed to be restored. Rogovin helped recruit Steve Backman, who had lent his services to the society with other artifacts.

"Steve has a lot of experience discovering, cleaning and displaying stained glass, so I thought he would be ideal," Rogovin said. Backman had previously helped the society rescue an old trolley rail and a very heavy horse water trough. When he set to work on the stained glass, it had some broken panes, some missing grout and was covered in six or seven layers of paint.

Backman's background made him well-prepared to undertake the task. Growing up in Oak Park, he took vocational classes at OPRF High School, graduating with a diploma in Industrial Arts. He later earned degrees in Industrial Design and Fine Arts Sculptures and used those credentials to become a professor at the UIC College of Art and Architecture. From 1999 to 2012, he taught students hands-on techniques for working with art pieces. 

But stained glass was particularly close to his heart. He has several pieces hanging in his home and also makes his own art pieces. With the Wolf Bros. sign, the first problem was how to move it around safely. He attached shackles to the top and made a wooden hanger to carry it. 

"It wasn't very heavy," he recalled, "only 70-80 pounds. It was very fragile. The grout was coming out of the front, and the back was covered in lead-based paint. There were a dozen broken pieces of glass and the window was starting to sag." Before beginning his work, Backman did some research and watched a lot of YouTube videos.

"I first made a tool for scraping the grout out," he said. After removing the grout, he began the long process of scraping off the paint. "I started scraping with my pocket knife, then I switched to a pick and finished with a wire brush." 

It was a painstaking process. Backman would go to the historical society on weekday mornings, turn on his music and start to scraping. 

"I could do a square foot every 90 minutes," he recalled. "The glass was very hard. I appreciated the workmanship. The lettering was fascinating; it was genius."

It took Backman 30-40 hours over several months to remove the last trace of yellow paint. 

"I had never had this much interaction with stained glass," he said. "It was exciting to get instant results, very satisfying. It was also very calming. Now with the shackles on top, it can be hung anywhere."

Grah filled in a little history about the furniture store. Wolf Bros., she said, bought the Lande Bros. furniture store at Circle and Madison. In 1960, Alfred Krader purchased the store but kept Wolf Bros in the name. Krader-Wolf finally closed in 1989, after 107 years in the furniture business.

"More work needs to be done on the window," Grah noted. "The broken pieces need to be replaced. I've sent photos to appraisers to see what conservation needs to be done. We'd love to frame it and hang it in a window for natural light. It's a rare and important piece of history. A lot of people recognize it. They remember the store and buying furniture there."

There is a remaining section of the advertising window at Healy's Westside, which the society also covets. It says "Furniture." Grah noted that this window is protected from the elements and is not in the precarious state of the other piece. 

"The Wolf Bros. window was sliding out of its frame but the other window is secure. Of course, we would love to have it if Mark wants to donate it."

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Barbara J Plona from Sun City Az  

Posted: March 15th, 2016 7:41 PM

Great to see so many people working together to preserve something so important from Forest Park's history. (I have a foot stool purchased there and it's used every day)

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