By John Rice
I've long heard that some Forest Parkers are living in garages that have been converted into homes, but I was never sure about that until I finally found one at 7723 Adams.
The property owner, Ralph Romero, said the garage was built in 1923 and converted into a cozy cottage during World War II. There was a housing shortage and homes were especially needed for munitions laborers who worked at the Amertorp ordinance plant on Roosevelt Road (where the mall is now located).
Ralph said the home is all of 400 square feet and every inch is utilized. It still has the old-fashioned folding doors but they are sealed shut. The cottage/garage features oak floors and a small addition was constructed to accommodate a bathroom.
And he pointed out some other alley dwellings on the block. He believed one of them was built to accommodate railroad workers. I checked out the coach house at 7734 Monroe but the current resident didn't know much about its history.
However, when I visited the two-flat fronting the alley at 7742 Monroe, I stumbled on a trove of surprising information. Al and Marge Bucholtz are the longtime owners. Al told me the two-flat was originally a stable.
It was built by his uncle, A.E. Winteroff, who was in the beverage business and used it to house the horses that hauled the beer. Next door he had an ice house, where he stored beer and Canada Dry ginger ale. The ice house was filled with sawdust, which was used as insulation. He recalled there was sawdust everywhere when they tore it down.
Al's father and brother, both plumbers, converted the stable into a two-flat. He recalled it still had grooves in the cement floor to keep the horses from slipping. There are also grooves in Al's driveway leading to the former stable.
There was another structure on the alley where train crews stayed overnight, and also a station, where passengers could board a train to Wisconsin.
Al knows so much about Forest Park history because he's a life-long resident. He was born at 426 Marengo in 1921. He attended St. John Lutheran School before going on to Proviso High School. As a teenager, Al worked at the old post office at 314 Circle. He rode his bike making special deliveries and later landed a job at the Electro Motive plant. During a 42-year career, he worked his way up from file clerk to manager in the parts department.
At Electro Motive, he met Marge, who was a secretary. They married and lived in the two-flat for seven years. Their daughter, Kathleen, was followed by their son, Ken. They later moved to the spacious house on the front of the property and have fond memories of sitting on the porch in the evenings, waiting for the kids to come home when the streetlights came on.
Al and Marge have now been married for almost 70 years. They may have lost some mobility but mentally they're as sharp as ever. Al still drives and Marge says, "He better not stop." They're transitioning from their house to a condo.
At their condo building, they both joined bridge clubs. Marge plays with a group that likes to socialize, while Al competes with more serious players. He talked about how he's learning many new things about the game.
Learning new things. That's what I want to be saying at 97.
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. Jrice1038@aol.com