Hemingway Museum to leave Oak Park Arts Center

Foundation to digitize collection, plans writing center at Hemingway birthplace

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

For the last 27 years, the Hemingway Museum has been housed on the ground floor of the Oak Park Arts Center at 200 N. Oak Park Ave.

But the board of the Hemingway Foundation voted last week to leave the location by the end of the year, digitize much of the collection and house the most valuable artifacts in the foundation archive at the Oak Park Public Library, according to John Berry, Ernest Hemingway Foundation chairman.

Berry said in a telephone interview that the foundation also is working to establish an Ernest Hemingway Writing Center on the property of the Hemingway Birthplace house at 339 N. Oak Park Ave. Plans for the writing center are still in the early stages, Berry said.

"It would be about a 2,200-square-foot, single-level building," he said, noting that the plans for the center include a public performance space, an educational space, a small museum space and a bookstore and gift shop.

"We're just in the opening phase in raising money to build that," he said.

The price tag for such a project would be about $1.1 million, Berry said.

"It would, in any case, have meant that in a year or two that we would have moved out of the museum anyway," he said.

The plan is to remove a garage behind the Hemingway home to make room for the writing center, Berry said.

The Ernest Hemingway Foundation has rented the space at the Oak Park Arts Center since 1990 from Tony and Chatka Ruggiero, who own the building.

Berry said the Ruggieros have been generous in providing the space for the museum, but he added that running the birthplace and museum has become a strain on the foundation's finances. About 10,000 people visit the museum and birthplace every year, according to Berry.

He said part of the logic in closing the museum now is to fortify the foundation's finances in preparation for construction of the writing center.

Berry said the design of the writing center is already complete, but not quite ready for the public, and the foundation has already received approval from the village to build on the site of the Hemingway home.

Berry said the foundation had secured a commitment for substantial donation to the writing center project, but the donor unexpectedly died before the deal was inked.

Chatka Ruggiero, reached by phone, said she just learned about the decision and said has enjoyed having the museum as tenants for so many years.

Ruggiero said she has no plans for the space as of yet but has been approached by several organizations over the years inquiring about various uses in the building.

"I'll think about it and try to come up with the best use for the building and the community and go from there," she said.

She said construction of the Oak Park Arts Center building was completed in 1917 and was built as a house of worship for the Christian Scientist Church. The Ruggieros bought the property in 1989.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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