Oak Park 2019
A community where layers of past and present build on a legacy of creativity
Just as elements of fiction include a good plot, memorable characters and settings that span time, a community is comprised of people, where they live, how they connect and how the area has evolved over the decades.
You might make a comparison to the process of designing a house. It starts with a vision, moves to a plan or blueprint, is carefully constructed and, throughout the years, updated for the respective era.
These analogies are particularly fitting in Oak Park, a suburb known for two giant personalities who lived and worked here: author Ernest Hemingway and architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Like stories and structures, the vision and beginnings of this town are richly layered and continually enhanced with new people, places and pursuits that reflect today’s lifestyles and perspectives, from the balance of stately 19th century homes and gleaming new high-rise residences to charming churches with banners sharing messages of inclusivity. Diversity, in fact, is a hallmark of this suburb of around 52,000 residents, just over the geographic line between Chicago and the suburbs.
Follow in the Paths of Legends
As native and one-time Oak Parkers, Hemingway and Wright didn’t just leave their marks with ideas and tales of their times there. Their homes are now opento the public, and you can follow in their historic footprints in a variety of ways.
Walk through Wright’s inspiring surroundings . . . on a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, open daily to the public. Stand in a spot where Wright developed the groundbreaking (literally and figuratively) Prairie Style of architecture that forever changed building design. Pick up a token of the experience, whether it’s a decorative window or an architect’s pencil, at the museum shop. Look ahead and save the date for the 2020 Wright Plus housewalk, an annual event usually held the third Saturday in May.
Step back in time . . . to see how Oak Park was when Wright, along with other Prairie School architects and apprentices, first brought this new type of building to life in the many residences they designed in the village, including the stately Cheney Mansion. Run by the Park District of Oak Park, it is open for events and private rentals. (Make time to stroll the gardens and greenhouse). Check several homes out at once by taking the “Wright Around Oak Park” tour. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust runs the tour every day from April through October. Not feeling like a group tour? Take a self-guided audio tour instead, also offered by the Trust.
Be transported spiritually . . . at Unity Temple on Lake Street, one of Wright’s most famous structures, planned at his Oak Park studio. Recently restored, Unity Temple is an architecturally stunning house of worship, with its clean lines and organic style. And, for many, it is religiously or personally meaningful, too.
Turn back a page into the past . . . and see where the story unfolded for Ernest Hemingway at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum, open Wednesday through Sunday for tours. Delve deeper into the author’s life as you walk through his boyhood home, which was built by his grandparents, and stick around on select Fridays for a new monthly social event, Friday@Hemingway’s. It features author appearances and folk band performances.
Make believe . . . you’re in a Hemingway novel or in Wright’s era in an Oak Park locale imbued with character from its respective point in time. There’s the charming Write Inn, a boutique hotel that’s also home to the Hemmingway’s Bistro. The place evokes the expat life of the writer in France, with French cuisine like baked brie and steak au poivre.
Check out — or check into — another historic boutique hotel, the Carleton of Oak Park, built in 1928.
Wonder and Wander
Imagination is an attribute that seems to define Oak Park, past and present. Be inspired in your own way at one of the many attractions that spark creativity or an appreciation of beauty.
Find inspiration in nature . . . as Wright and Hemingway both did, at Austin Gardens, a gem of a green space that has a quiet garden and woods-like atmosphere. Sign up for a program at the rather new education center, which has offerings for kids and adults. Keep an eye out for pieces of public art tucked into the grounds. Austin Gardens is the venue for outdoor summer performances — including Shakespeare’s plays — by Oak Park Festival Theatre.
Stop and smell the flowers . . . or just gaze at them at the Oak Park Conservatory. Its indoor showroom and outdoor gardens are teeming with all kinds of native and exotic plants, including a few that can be traced back to the opening of the conservatory in 1929. Even better, it’s free.
Keep on walking . . . as you check out scenery and important history at the Women’s History Walk down Lake Street, led by guides from Oak Park River Forest Museum, operated by the Historical Society of Oak Park and River Forest. Learn about progressive figures in this burb’s history at other exhibits and events, including a walk through the historic Gunderson District and a special indoor museum display highlighting the history of the 1968 Fair Housing Ordinance.
Get out the wiggles . . . and encourage inventiveness at Wonder Works Children’s Museum, a virtual emporium for creative play. The site includes several areas to fuel fun and discovery, including an organic garden abloom this month.
Sit Back and Take It All In
Watch a summer blockbuster . . . at the historic Lake Theatre, with new releases on six screens. Did we mention the popcorn is particularly delish, with free refills?
Take movie-watching outside . . . and view a film at Scoville Park, like “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse” on June 20, “The Sandlot” on July 18 and “Crazy Rich Asians” on August 15.
Bring a blanket . . . to Scoville Park to hear the sounds of the season — the music of nature as a backdrop to pop, jazz and other genres at the park’s summer concert series on Sunday evenings beginning at 5:30 p.m.
For even more live action . . . head to the Harrison Arts District in Oak Park to watch a comedy show, a music act or a play at Open Door Theater, which putson performances year round.
Immerse Yourself in Summer
Get outdoors while the getting’s good and forget all about this winter’s arctic blasts and late snowfalls.
Dive (or maybe wade) right in . . . at Ridgeland Common Pool on Lake Street or at Rehm Pool on Garfield Street. But don’t look for the near-iconic 10-meter diving tower at Rehm Pool — it was taken out before this season because of the age and condition of the structure.
Toss a ball . . . sit down with a book, spread a blanket or just walk through Scoville Park. Fitting for a town that embraces nature and various forms of organic living, Oak Park is home to 13 parks encompassing over 80 acres of green space, run by the Park District of Oak Park.
Dine alfresco . . . at one of the many bars and restaurants that grace the streets of Oak Park, from longtime favorites like Maya del Sol on Oak Park Avenue to newer spots like The Little Gem Café on Marion Street.
Sink Your Teeth In
For a town of its size, Oak Park has restaurants spanning a host of cuisines.
Eat all day long . . . starting the day with eggs made right at George’s Diner, an Oak Park staple for more than 50 years.
Go old school for lunch or dinner and order up a Big Mickey (hint: it’s a good sized burger) at Mickey’s Gyros and Ribs. You can find tradition with your food at veritable Oak Park institutions like Poor Phil’s, Winberies Restaurant & Bar or Petersen’s Ice Cream.
Raise a pinky and savor afternoon tea at Serenitea. Munch on an airy macaroon at the aptly named Sugar Fixe Pâtisserie or visit the sister-owned Spilt Milk bakery. Find your bliss at Happy Apple Pie Shop, which serves up fresh pies made by a team of bakers that includes those with developmental or intellectual disabilities.
Balance your diet . . . by grabbing fresh produce and famous cider doughnuts at the near-legendary Oak Park Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings from May through October in the parking lot of Pilgrim Congregational Church. Enjoy the usually warm cake doughnuts while tapping your toe to music from local folk musicians.
Eat the world . . . a bit at a time at Oak Park restaurants inspired by global cuisines, including — but in no way limited to —Jerusalem Café, Khyber Pass, Sushi House, Mora Asian Kitchen, Grape Leaves, Katy’s Dumpling House, Taste of Brasil, New Rebozo and Trattoria 225. In a village heralded for its diversity of people, the food reflects a broad world view.
Hop on over . . . to one of Oak Park’s brew pubs for some unique pours, available at Wild Onion Tied House, Kingslagher Brewing Company, Avenue Ale House, and Oak Park Brewing Company, with the entertaining Hamburger Mary’s Show Lounge next door.
Find a neighborhood joint . . . with character and good eats at independent places like Wise Cup, The Buzz Café, L!ve Café and Creative Space, and the Hole in the Wall Custard Shoppe, to name a few.
Support small businesses and get some cool stuff, too, at one of many retail shops.
Pick up something whimsical . . . at Pumpkin Moon, which offers a variety of distinctive toys and gifts.
Support fair trade . . . and find something unique from artisans around the world at Ten Thousand Villages. Try on some “ethical fashions” and browse goods for good at Two Story Farmhouse.
Make it personal . . . at Oak Park’s exquisite jewelry shops, like the family owned and recently remodeled Oak Park Jewelry. Step back in time and step out of The Gold Hatpin with a piece of vintage jewelry. You can personalize an array of cards and gifts at independently owned Fitzgerald’s’ Fine Stationery. Find your best fashionista self at Sanem’s clothing shop or Careful Peach Boutique.
Learn Something New
Listed in the top 20 most educated communities in the country by a NerdWallet survey a few years ago, Oak Park is a village with a wealth of collective knowledge to be shared and built upon.
Find out why . . . Oak Park Public Library is one of the threads tying this community together, with programs, resources and events that spark conversation, spur knowledge and share information.
Remember why you love paper . . . (nothing against the digital word, of course) at the Book Table, a self-billed “fiercely independent” bookstore. Also, The Looking Glass offers gently used books along with gifts, cards, classes and discussion groups.
Oak Park has long been a haven for artists and continues to have a thriving and always vibrant arts scene.
Pop in and out . . . of galleries, shops or funky-and-fun spots as you stroll through the Harrison Arts District. Black Moon Gallery, SMS Studio and many others celebrate the arts.
Channel your inner artist . . . at HeartGarden, The Actor’s Garden or the Inner Arts Studio, where you can take classes or try your hand at art. Check out the colorful, painted building that houses the Oak Park Art League, an art gallery and school open to both seasoned artists and novices.
Oak Park, like other western suburbs, puts on an array of events throughout the year. Given the village’s spirit of diversity, these events are as eclectic as they are entertaining.
Experience Oak Park in microcosm . . . at “A Day in Our Village” on June 2 at Scoville Park, an annual event that highlights the cultural, civic, educational and religious groups in the community.
Give a toast . . . to summer at the Uncork Illinois Wine Festival on Marion Street between Lake and North Blvd. on Saturday, June 15, and sample from more than 150 wines made by local wineries.
Get in the original indie spirit . . . at the Independence Day Parade that steps off from Longfellow Park on the morning of July 4. Find a spot near Oak Park and River Forest High School to watch the fireworks shot off after dusk that evening.
Vive la difference . . . at Art Dans La Rue, an art fest with food, wine, music and dance with a European flair on August. 6, also on Marion Street
Lolla was so last August . . . Mark the changing of the seasons at the two-day music festival, Oaktoberfest, on September 20 and 21. The event also features microbrews, wine, and seasonal foods.Edit Module