How can you tell you’re in Lombard in May? Follow your nose.
The unmistakable springtime fragrance of lilac blooms is at the heart of Lombard, both literally and figuratively.
For more than two weeks in May, crowds gather for the annual Lilac Time Festival in Lilacia Park in downtown Lombard. The event, which this year will run from May 2 through 17, includes tours of expansive lilac gardens, an arts and crafts fair, concerts, the crowning of a new Lilac Queen and, on the last day, the Lilac Festival Parade.
The festival is truly the town’s signature event, says William Heniff, director of development for the village. "It takes the entire community to make Lilac Time happen every year — everyone in Lombard comes together in the spirit of tradition and community."
Not surprisingly, the town itself has been dubbed "The Lilac Village," a nickname that can be traced to the 1920s, when an estate teeming with lilac bushes was officially donated to Lombard. Formerly owned by Col. William R. Plum, the home was turned into the town’s first public library and the grounds — designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen — became Plum Memorial Park, later renamed Lilacia Park.
You can find other lilac symbols in Lombard, too, whether you’re logging onto the village website with its lilac-colored graphics or noshing on a cream horn at the Lilac Bakery.
While lilacs have enticed people to visit this community for its beautiful perennial flowers, Lombard is abloom with things to do and see throughout the year. Just as people may not know the presence or historical significance of lilacs to this community, there are other surprising but fun things about this suburb of more than 43,000 residents about 22 miles west of Chicago.
Debbie Katzbeck, a 15-year resident, believes that in many ways, Lombard is a well-kept secret when it comes to being a great place to live. "For us, Lombard was a diamond in the rough — a great combination of old vintage and historic homes combined with new homes. We were close to the city, but not too close, and we are just a hop, skip and a jump to the train," she explains. "What attracted us to Lombard wasn’t just the beautiful homes, but the great people we were meeting when looking at homes."
"We came for the great schools and park district," recalls Maureen Schroeder of the decision to move to Lombard 19 years ago. "It hasn’t disappointed us. Lombard is a friendly, laid back town. We live near the downtown and it has been sleepy for a while, but it is picking up momentum, thanks to Lombard Town Centre."
Historic Lombard Hotel
Another intriguing, little-known feature of Lombard is the Lombard Hotel at St. Charles Road and Park Avenue, which was built in 1858 and shuttered for nearly 40 years. On May 9, people will get a glimpse inside the hotel’s ballroom before the building undergoes an extensive renovation.
"No one has been in there since 1976," says Sarah Richardt, executive director of Lombard Town Centre. The 160-year-old, three-story building — which is being turned into a mixed-use development — features unique architectural and construction details, including a foot-thick limestone façade, says Richardt.
As the western suburbs boomed in the late 19th century and early 20th century, Lombardians banded together to save and preserve other historically important structures in town. One of those was the Sheldon Peck Homestead — the oldest house in Lombard, the area’s first school and a verified stop on the Underground Railroad — which was restored by the Lombard Historical Society.
If you saw the recent remake of the movie "Annie" or any of the other previous movies of the same name, you might be interested in knowing that there is a Lombard link to this latest incarnation of a beloved character. The originator of the Little Orphan Annie cartoon, Harold Gray, used to draw that series in the study of a home at 119 N. Main St. that he bought for his parents. According to the Lombard Historical Society, some of the features of the residence — now often referred to as the "Little Orphan Annie Home" — including Daddy Warbucks’ staircase and expansive front deck, were incorporated into Gray’s sketches.
A Tale of Two Lombards: Lombard Town Centre and Yorktown Center
Just as there are different varieties of lilac bushes, Lombard has distinct areas with different characteristics and features.
Similar to other western suburbs along the railroad tracks stretching to and from Chicago, Lombard has a downtown business district that’s home to many stores, restaurants and businesses.
The Lombard Town Centre, as it is known, is comprised of several historic buildings with facades that harken back to its roots. Over the past several years, those historic sites have been complemented by new developments and a restored streetscape.
Reflecting the fusion of history and vision, a decided mix of proprietors have hung a proverbial shingle in downtown Lombard. Joining decades-old businesses like Schroeders Ace Hardware, new boutiques and eateries have opened in recent years or are currently in the works.
"One of the true gems of our community is downtown Lombard, which has a unique collection of independent shops and historical spots to experience," says Heniff. "Strolling the quaint streets is a great way to spend a day."
"There seems to be a steady growth, especially in the last few years," agrees Yvonne Invergo, executive director for the Lombard Chamber of Commerce. "While some storefronts may look vacant on the outside, there is build-out activity going on inside, and we will see some new and expanded businesses very soon."
For dining, Lombard Town Centre has become a destination, thanks in part to the reputation of the fine Praga restaurant, as well as eateries like Bricks Wood Fired Pizza, Punky’s Pub and Shannon’s Deli and Butcher Shoppe, among others. Those who want to enjoy a sip of coffee — or wine, depending on the time of day and personal preference — can check out wine and craft beer tastings (and live music) at The Cellar or savor coffee drinks and other goods at The Corner House. Other food and drink spots include 20 West Wines & Spirits, Lilac Bakery and Sweet Street Candies and Goodies.
Recalling a longtime favorite and citing a popular new spot, Katzbeck underscores the diversity of dining that is available in Lombard. "The Dairy Queen has been a landmark since my mom was a little girl. And on Thursday nights, all the moms can be found unwinding at Bonton for $5 martinis and $5 flatbreads," she says with a laugh.
You can also get some shopping done in downtown Lombard. This time of year, for instance, golfers go to Golfers Edge to stock up and prepare for a new season on the links. Those with little ones — or those who are young at heart — can browse the many types of collectibles and toys at Fairy Tales. Then there’s Slick & BJs, which offers a range of distinctive leather goods and jewelry while some enterprising friends turned a hobby into a business at T’s ‘n Taps Smiley Dyes.
In a sign of growth after years of economic uncertainty, several newer businesses have opened in the Lombard Town Centre. One example is the artisan boutique ClaSha, which moved to downtown Lombard from nearby Elmhurst last November. The store, named for its two owners, features an array of custom designed and handmade items, including wearables and gifts.
According to Richardt, another hotspot in Lombard Town Centre is Sky Centers Marital Arts. "There are more than 300 kids doing martial arts there every week — it’s a hopping place.
Students from the martial arts center were recently featured in a video for LEGO’s Ninjago brand, adds Richardt. "LEGO hired a local band called The Fold to write a song that goes along with the Ninjago brand and they also ended up hiring Sky Centers’ elite demonstration team to be live action ninjas in the video."
In addition to Lombard Town Centre, a different type of center attracts legions of visitors to the community. Yorktown Center, on Butterfield Road and Highland Avenue, is one of the largest shopping malls in the region. In addition to the indoor mall that has been part of the west suburban retail landscape for decades, Yorktown Center also encompasses The Shops at Butterfield and the Plaza Shops at Yorktown, for a combined 150 stores, 17 restaurants, two theatres and bowling at Lucky Strike Lanes.
While the retail anchors at Yorktown Center, including Von Maur, Carson Pirie Scott and JC Penney have been there for many years, new businesses keep coming. Later this spring, BZ’s Twisted American Cuisine is set to open in the old Ed Debevic’s space. Armands’ Victory Tap at The Shops on Butterfield is another new addition.
"Yorktown today is completely different than Yorktown just a few years ago, and they have no plans to slow down any time soon," says Heniff. "It seems that every time I go back there’s a new store or something I haven’t seen before. It’s an exciting time for both Yorktown and Lombard, and we’re looking forward to what’s to come."
More recently, there has been a lot of buzz about the AMC Yorktown 18 Movie Theatre, which underwent an extensive makeover and now offers dine-in food and drink menus and comfortable reclining seats. Reserved seating means that patrons can order tickets in advance.
A Walk in the Park (Districts)
In May, Lilacia Park is the center of attention in Lombard, as people gather to stop and smell the lilacs. That said, there are plenty of parks to go around in Lombard — not to mention park districts.
The town of Lombard is actually served by three different park districts — The Lombard Park District, Butterfield Park District and York Center Park District. Each organization maintains its own public sites and offers unique programs for all ages.
The Lombard Park District oversees two major summer attractions in the community: Paradise Bay Water Park and Western Acres Golf Course. Paradise Bay features a zero-depth pool as well as a body slide, bowl slide and speed slide, among other water features. The facility — which opens for preseason on May 30 and for the full season on June 8 — is open to both residents and non-residents, though the latter pay a somewhat higher fee.
The Butterfield Park District serves residents of unincorporated Lombard as well as some Glen Ellyn residents, with parks, pools, an indoor recreation and aquatics center and a range of programs. Marking its 50th year in 2015, the Butterfield Park District is currently working on plans with community input to renovate Brentwood Park.
Meanwhile, the York Center Park District offers a variety of programs for all ages in addition to a summer camp and various summer outings.
Lombard Events: Cars, Craft Beers and ‘Cue
As the season changes and outdoor activities heat up, people are returning to downtown Lombard for various special events.
For the past 17 years, Cruise Nights in Lombard Town Centre have offered folks the chance to view classic cars and enjoy music and food in a festive atmosphere. This year’s Cruise Night schedule kicks off on Saturday, June 13, with Chicago radio personality Buzz Kilman — back on WLS 890 on "The Johnathon Brandmeier Show" — and his blues band. The lineup for 2015 includes other cover bands and musical acts representing generations from the 50s through the 90s.
Although the Taste of Lombard has been cancelled for 2015, due to the disbanding of the Lombard Jaycees that spearheaded that event, residents and visitors can still savor some outdoor fare this year. The second annual Lombard Ale Fest will take place on June 13 in downtown Lombard, where guests can sample over 100 unique craft beers from around the country, along with items from local food trucks.
Later in the summer, the inaugural Lom-Bar-B-Que and Blues Fest will fire up on Aug. 8 with a BBQ cook-off for adults and kids. "We have 33 barbecue competitors signed up and kids have already signed up for the competition, too," reports Richardt, adding that the Lom-Bar-Be-Que event will include live music, family-friendly activities and a beer tent for the over-21 crowd.