New project, less height on Lake St. near Unity Temple

Potential developers to meet with Historic Preservation Commission

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Lake Street may get another apartment building as development company Michigan Avenue Real Estate Group (MAREG) has plans in store for the U.S. Bank drive-up at 835 Lake St., just steps away from Unity Temple. The site is west of Oak Park Avenue and east of Kenilworth.

MAREG plans to construct a six-story building with 84 rental units, 88 parking spots and a pedestrian entrance facing Lake Street, according to a letter sent to the Historic Preservation Commission. The developer has hired SPACE Architects to design the structure.

This plan follows a 2019 controversy when a different developer proposed a 300-foot residential high rise for the site. Concerns over both height and the shadows it would throw over Frank Lloyd Wright's nearly adjacent Unity Temple put a quick kibosh on the plan.

In the new proposal "The ground floor consists of the residential lobby, residential fitness center, building management office, elevator, surface parking, waste and recycling center, bicycle storage, mechanical and one self-serve ATM kiosk. The upper floors consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom units," the letter to the commission reads.

The vehicular entrance will be located on the alley just south of the proposed complex to route traffic from the development away from Lake Street for the safety of pedestrians.

MAREG will meet with the Historic Preservation Commission Oct. 1. While the bank structure that currently sits on the lock is not historic and does not require the commission's approval for demolition, the lot itself is in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District. As such, the Historic Preservation Commission must review the proposed building to ensure it fits within the district's character, as well as the potential effects it may have on neighboring Unity Temple.

Last year, Golub & Company had designs on building a 300-foot residential high-rise on the lot in question but elected to withdraw their application after heavy criticism.

MAREG appears to have taken that into consideration, as the letter to the Historic Preservation Commission states that the "height of the building has been crafted so as not to eclipse the streetscape, and specifically not to impose on the visual space of Unity Temple."

Further, the letter states that MAREG's proposed structure's massing and architecture is deferential to that of Unity Temple, as well as the main branch of the nearby Oak Park Public Library. The village of Oak Park's design consultant, Wight & Company, contributed to the plans.

This is not MAREG'S first foray into developing Oak Park, nor is it its first dalliance with historic districts. The village board gave MAREG its approval to build a 5-story, 42-unit apartment building at 435 to 451 Madison St., despite failing to secure a positive recommendation from the Plan Commission. The Plan Commission felt the height and the massing of the building too large. The Madison structure will back up to the Gunderson Historic District.

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Reader Comments

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Les Golden  

Posted: September 22nd, 2020 5:32 PM

I take a different point of view. I find the glass/steel structure absolutely gorgeous. We need more of such buildings all over Oak Park. It's the Unity Temple that is an eyesore, created by some guy who is long dead. I say, destroy the Unity Temple, put TWO 100-story glass/steel structures there. The added benefit is that there will be thousands of birds killed when they fly into the glass and, let's face it, those birds poop all over!

Susan Montgomery from Chicago  

Posted: September 22nd, 2020 9:02 AM

Do I dare say it? It's ugly. This is Oak Park, renowned for its architecture. It can do better than this!

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: September 20th, 2020 11:34 PM

It looks like low rent California motel. That is not a compliment.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: September 20th, 2020 4:06 PM

I suppose if we all live long enough we will see high rises proposed for Scoville Park across the street from this proposal. And we keep talking about Unity Temple which is not even next door to this. What about the building to the left, Courtland Condo association, where we first lived in OP back in the 1980's. We used the Village Lot behind the bank drive up for our permit parking lot. What is to become of that?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: September 20th, 2020 7:52 AM

Meanwhile, the dumpy eyesore of an old hotel directly to the west of this site looks like no work has or is being done to it. All that has been accomplished there is the owner, who has several other large buildings in his portfolio, sweet talked the Trustees into giving him a bunch of free affordable housing funds for a shiny new elevator, because someday he will have what he calls affordable apartments on the first floor and those tenants will need an elevator for the unsubsidized neighbors to use. A classic moment in throwing money away.

Eileen Marie Hourihan  

Posted: September 19th, 2020 6:10 PM

Just a thought. Wouldn't it be lovely if we made sure that the new building visually complemented the design of Unity Temple? Part of the beauty of architecture, of a work of art, of the design of a village is not only that individual structure or work of art. Its beauty is accentuated by all that surrounds it. Let's stop for a moment and spend some time thinking about how to protect that which makes Oak Park what it is. People come here from all over the world to see the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright. Please, let's just make sure that we don't destroy what we have. And, this thought encompasses how we view the whole village. Oak Park is a very special place, for more reasons than one.

Heinz Schuller from Oak Park  

Posted: September 19th, 2020 3:17 PM

"the Historic Preservation Commission must review the proposed building to ensure it fits within the district's character" - - Now that should be an interesting meeting.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: September 19th, 2020 1:31 PM

@ Mark Ruehl: As a sometimes pedestrian, I do not wish to associated at all with this building. The building will give pedestrians a bad name.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: September 19th, 2020 12:07 PM

Well Neal we do have a very nice collection of Eastern Bloc / Soviet architecture here in Oak Park.In fact it is beginning to rival our FLW collection in achieving world renown. I think the Mills Park tower started it all. And of course we reached the height of Soviet expression with that glorious paean to mother Russia: the building formerly known as Whiteco. Since then Oak Park has been diligent in expanding this practical and numbifying but inspiring style. Check out the "Brick" on South and Harlem. Glorious. No? So yes, this new addition on Lake would be most welcome.

Neal Buer from Oak Park  

Posted: September 19th, 2020 9:52 AM

Looks like the Soviet style from the 60's is back! At least the 100 story skyscraper was taken off the table. Great strategy. Offer an outlandish proposal first, then replace it with something that screams it is so much better than the first proposal.

Mark Ruehl  

Posted: September 18th, 2020 6:58 PM

This fits in the space okay, but what a pedestrian, even ugly building.

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