Coming Home to the Village of Park Forest

Illinois Trip – Day 2 -Park Forest

April 22, 2014

Park Forest sign

Park Forest is my hometown, I grew up here.   My family was here from 1966 (birth) to 1984 and it was a great place to grow up.  It was interesting seeing the changes 30 years after moving to Wisconsin. Park Forest is famous for being the first planned community after WWII.  An early nickname for Park Forest was “GI Town”.  Park Forest was built to address the lack of housing for all the returning vets of the the war. The village  was  ready for residents by 1948.  Enjoy this video showing the early history of Park Forest.

As of the 2010 census, the village had a population of 21,975, which is less than it’s peak of 30,000  in the 1960’s.   Park Forest  earned the “All American City” honor twice. The first time was in 1954 and the second time was 1976, when I was there.  What a time to be be there, when community pride was high.  

Let’s begin our tour of my hometown, right here with the sign at the edge of town at the intersection of Lincoln Highway and Orchard St.  Right across the street from here is another childhood memory of mine, this little structure at the edge of Olympia Fields, for a gated community called Maynegaite Woods.  When I was little I called this a “little castle” and always wanted to go inside.

Maynegaite signMaynegaite Little Castle

The Chinese house across the street.

Park Forest Asian house

We move further down Orchard, on our left is the building where the fire dept.  practice putting out fires.  I knew it as the Jaycee’s Haunted House, where we  went to get scared near Halloween. It is dedicated to Captain Adolph Pfeifer, who  died in the line of duty in 1963.

Park Forest Fire Dept. Training siteCaptain Adolph Pfeifer plaque

On our right is the Aqua Center, the outdoor pool complex where I learned how to swim.  They were getting it ready for summer.  This pool used to have a high dive.

Aqua Center

Aqua Center inside

Next to the Aqua Center is the Park Forest Public Library, where I spent MANY hours all the way through high school.  We had arranged a tour with the Library Director Barbara Osuch, to show us around.  She is very gracious and an asset to a place that was so important in my life.  I was especially impressed by the children’s area, completely revamped and modernized.   One theme has persisted over the years, kites.  When I was 12,  they had a  summer work shop on making kites out of plastic garbage bags and wooden dowels.  We made the kites, then went out to Central Park just outside of the library to fly them.

Park Forest Public Library

 

Park Forest Library Kid Zone

The view outside these windows facing Orchard USED to be my school, Lakewood. I was a student there from 4th-6th grade.  Here is a picture I took of the school in  1993  before it was torn down to make room for housing. Thanks for the great tour Barbara!

Park Forest Library windowsBarbara Osuch and us

Lakewood School 1993

Back behind the library is the Freedom Hall/Nathan Manilow Theatre, named after one of my town’s founders.  I have attended and even have performed there when I was a kid, tap dance recitals.  It opened in 1976 when I was 10.

Nathan Manilow Theater

Park Forest does not have as many restaurants as it used to have, but this red brick building on Orchard has housed a restaurant as long as I can remember. It has been Dunagains Irish Pub since 2013.

Dunagains Irish Pub

In the 70’s, the restaurant was called “The Country Squire”.  Here is an ad from 1977.

Country Squire Broiler ad 1977

The current business is still owned by the same family but has changed with the times.  They also still serve great food,  we found that out by having lunch there. I had soft tacos and Al had a Reuben.   Friendly staff  made us feel welcome and we would recommend coming here. They also have live music on some evenings.

Dunagains Collage

Lunch at Dunagains

No longer hungry, we continued our tour.  We got to the corner of Orchard and Indianwood, where my childhood Catholic Church resides called St. Irenaeus.  Some of my best memories are here, in the CCD religious program, and helping out at our summer day camp for two weeks every summer during high school.  It was just as beautiful inside, with distinctive stained glass windows.  We attended a Sunday service there in Oct. 2003 during our last visit.  Following are pictures from then.

St. Irenaeus Church St. Irenaeus inside 2003

St. Irenaeus windows

Just past the church on Indianwood  on our right is the bank and post office.  It was “The Bank of Park Forest” when I lived there. We sometimes sold Girl Scout cookies there in the post office. Drive-through on the right.

US Bank in Park Forest

Park Forest Post office

Across from the post office is the new Fire Department building. Also a memorial to fallen comrades.  Also a piece of metal from the World Trade Center.

Park Forest Fire Dept

World Trade Center metal

During my years there my family lived in two townhouses.   Homes are arranged in “courts”.  We visited my first court on Hemlock St. where I lived from birth to age 7.  We had to leave there because they were going to become condos, and they still are.

Hemlock court

This the back of our former apartment, this is a merge from summer 1974 and from this visit. This is my little brother and I, love that Schwinn Pixie bike I had then.

153 Hemlock 1974 and 2014

Our other apartment was on Forest boulevard, we lived there from 1974-1984. here in Court F-2.

Court F-2 Park Forest

We lived here, number 185 on the right.

85 Forest

There are individual trees in this court that I liked even as a kid, they are still here!  Also much larger!

Court F-2 tree 1 - 1986Court F-2 tree 1 - 2014

There are three red bud trees behind our former place, this is comparing 1986 and now.

Court F-2 Three Redbuds 1986Court F-2 Three Redbuds 2014

If you keep following the sidewalk, there once WAS a playground ahead. It is gone now.  Here is a picture I took of it in 1980. The same perspective NOW.

F-2 Park 1980

F-2 Former Park View 2014

On the right side of the picture used to be a road that went next to the park, the road has been gone for more than a decade, but the remnant still exists.  The park would have been left of this view.

Former Sears parking lot

The white structure you see behind the town homes in the top picture is a former landmark of Park Forest, the Tower. It was right next to Western Ave, which leads to Chicago Heights. Here is a better picture of the same tower.  This was 1989.

The Centre Tower 1989

In the middle of the former downtown was a slightly smaller version of this tower, but it had two clocks on it. Of course it was known as the Clock Tower.  It was the center of downtown when I lived there, and near it was (is) a stage for musicians to perform on summer nights.  Here is a newspaper clipping from 1977.  People playing frisbee on the lawn near the tower, this is classic Park Forest! the logo now and in the 1980’s.

Park Forest logo 2014Shop Park Forest sign

 

Downtown PF by ClockTower

Both of the towers are long gone, this sculpture is now in the approximate place of the clock tower.

Park Forest sculpture

This view is taken from the left side of the top picture, looking across.  On the right used to be a Marshall Fields.  The Marshall Fields building has since been torn down, this was my last photo pf the building. There is now a veteran’s memorial in the center of the picture.

Former Clock Tower view 2014

There are now two murals downtown.   This one is on the other side of the building on the left in above photo.  It is outside the building now occupied by the Tall Grass Arts Association (that used to be a Kresge’s). The second one is close to my Forest  Blvd. court.

Tall Grass Arts Association Building

 

Park Forest mural

Our visit is nearly over. Please be sure to visit the Park Forest 1950’s Museum, sponsored by the Park Forest Historical Society. It was not open the day we visited unfortunately 😦   The address WAS 141 Forest Blvd.  In 2016 it is at 227 Monee Road, inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church.Park Forest 1950's Museum

Right before leaving town, we stop by Thorn Creek Nature Preserve.  My Girl Scout troop went there a lot, a great day in a forest.

Thorn Creek Nature CenterThorn Creek Nature Center plaque

Another great attraction to visit is the new Rail Fan Park, opened July 28 of 2013. There is a viewing platform with a great view of a rail “clover leaf”, the only such rail juncture visible by the public.

Rail Cloverleaf

 

Rail Fan Park in Park Forest

We made a full circle, not far from here is where we began our tour.  It was great coming back home to my hometown.

 

22 thoughts on “Coming Home to the Village of Park Forest

  1. Pingback: Park Forest and Matteson Rail Fan Park | Adventures in Travel

  2. Pingback: Home Sweet Homewood – Illinois | Adventures in Travel

  3. Thank you for showing Park Forest in such a positive light. Many former Park Foresters complain about how much it’s changed. My mom still lives in the co-ops and we visit every year.

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  4. Love seeing these picture both recent and in the past some of my favorite memories of Park Forest including the summer concerts with popular bands, riding my bike through the forest preserve, many activities in Central Park and the plaza (one of the first of it’s kind) with Santa at Marshall’s, Halloween costume contests at the theatre…

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  5. I recently visited Park Forest for the first time since I left in 1979. I lived there, court E-7 from September 1970 through August 1979, when my family moved to Crete IL. I had many fond memories growing up on Park Forest. On Saturday February 20, 2016, I had an opportunity to visit with my wife. She’s heard all the stories about me growing up…but now she can put places with the stories. It was amazing how things still seemed very similar! not much has changed, a few things, but what would you expect after 37 years! We parked and walked around the neighborhood. I went by the schools, dogwood elementary, which burned in 1990 and is now a Indian Community Center, and Lakewood…which is gone..The Aqua center is still there! Many fond memories. The area still looks very clean and very family friendly. I did notice something very odd however. It was a Saturday afternoon, in mid February, temperatures almost 60 degrees, bright sunshine….and I didn’t see one child outside playing! NOT ONE!!! When I was a kid growing up there, if there was a day with weather like that in February, the entire neighborhood was outside playing! We saw two older women walking their dogs, that was all. I’m glad I got to visit though and show my wife where I grew up. Thank you so much for your tour, it has many pictures that I fondly remember!

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    • Hi Raymond, thanks so much for sharing your memories with me. We enjoyed our visit two years ago. I was there from 1966-84 and graduated from Rich East. The park that was near what used to be the Sears parking lot is long gone too. I concentrated on my good memories instead lamenting all the changes. I enjoyed going to another favorite haunt, the Highway Bakery in Chicago Heights. 🙂 Have a great week!

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  6. I lived at 4150 H-4 until we moved in 78 to Alabama, I was 15 and had a club house where my friends and I liked to hang out, also the park was right in our backyard I really miss Park Forest.

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  7. That really brought back memories. I lived in the coops on Fir St. right next to Lakewood school. Seeing pics of the Aqua Center, library, clock tower and country squire restaurant was amazing. Country squire was next to Ace Hardware and Jewel, correct? What year did you graduate Rich East?

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    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for your comment! The Country Squire (Now Dunagains Irish Pub) is near the street, across from the former Jewel and Ace. I was class of 1984 at Rich East. I have lived in Madison, WI since then so I had seen a lot of changes. I also wrote about Chicago Heights and Libertyville in separate posts.

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  8. I was so happy to find a picture of Lakewood school before it was gone! I lived in F-2 at 223 Forest Blvd. from 1968-1974. So sad to see the plaza torn down (for the most part, anyhow). I spent many hours at the playground in the picture! I knew exactly the southeast angle that the picture was taken towards (with the parking lot for Sears Automotive center in the background!), with my apt. behind the photographer.Wow. And I’m pretty sure Country Squire was originally called the little red schoolhouse. Last time I was back (2003?) I was also struck by the total lack of children (or anyone else) on the streets in the summertime. Very weird. 1969 would have been full of kids. Scott

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    • Hi Scott, My family moved to F-2 in summer of 74. Lived at 185 Forest. Went to Dogwood. My last visit was a few years ago, great trip! I took all the pics 🙂 I am sad with how things have changed, it has been 33 years since I lived there so can’t expect it to stay the same. I have seen lots of changes where I have lived for the last 33 years, Madison WI. Thanks for your comment Scott 🙂

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  9. We moved to Park Forest in 1954. Lived on Dogwood Court, directly across from Dogwood school. We had a house build on Green St, near Rich High School. Lived there until I married in 1965. Sold the house in 2003 after my dad passed. Great childhood memories growing up there. Still keep in touch with some friends I made there.

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  10. I grew up in PF and recently went back, I was horrified to see the decline. I checked the police blotter online, just this year you have three killings. The blotter is full of gun arrests and drug dealers at the parks. Shootings happen at 7pm, when I was a kid we could stay out till 9pm (when it got real dark) without any parents or fear.

    While I applaud your presentation, PF is definitely a thing of the past, like the entire South Suburbs. It’s not getting any better, and unless you get an economic stimulus like the 3rd airport, unfortunately it will go even further downhill.

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    • Hi Eric, thanks for your comment. I have not lived there in 33 years so I have an incomplete picture. I chose to focus on my happy memories there. At least on the day we were there, it was peaceful.

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