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Preservation & Progress

Downers Grove is proving every day that historic preservation and progress can peacefully co-exist and even enhance one

The village has had a historic landmark ordinance on the books and an architectural design and review board in place since 2007, but the practice was seldom used because not many were aware that it existed and those who checked into it found the process too cumbersome and somewhat daunting. They also worried that landmarking might unduly restrict the modifications that they could make to their homes, according to Mayor Martin Tully, the original ordinance’s principal drafter.

“The original ordinance contained too many hurdles, because it was adopted as a compromise measure and lacked broad support at the time. Further, although, it really wasn’t too restrictive, some homeowners had heard concerning stories from other communities and they didn’t want to take a chance,” he said. So, only two homes were landmarked in Downers Grove between 2007 and 2016 – the Drew House and the Bunge House.

Everything changed in late 2014 when the W. H. Edwards House, a lovely Queen Anne Victorian built in 1898 and the first house in town to have running water, was purchased by a developer and slated for demolition to make way for condominiums. People came out of the woodwork to oppose that removal and the situation shed new light on the village’s landmark ordinance.

“As it turned out, the original historic preservation ordinance did easily not lend itself to landmarking the Edwards House or its neighborhood, so the house was lost despite efforts to relocate it. But the fact that we lost that precious old home brought about broader support for historic preservation in Downers Grove and raised awareness of the limitations of the old ordinance,” Tully said.

The village’s historic preservation ordinance was rewritten in 2015, making the process simpler, more flexible and less costly. Since then, village officials and staff have been working with several organizations, including the Friends of the Edwards House and the Downers Grove Historical Society, to promote the practice and advantages of voluntarily landmarking homes, to educate people about the process, and to celebrate the residents who make that choice.

“All of that work has led to some pretty remarkable things. During 2016 alone, nine properties within Downers Grove were landmarked and by May 2017, three more had been landmarked with more in the pipeline,” Tully said. “In fact, our staff has put together a whole packet of information for people who are interested and are shepherding homeowners through the process. More and more people are wanting to get involved in preserving Downers Grove’s rich heritage.”

“A high point of the movement took place on Feb. 14, 2017, when the privately-owned Pierce Downers home was finally landmarked,” Tully added.

“The village has further encouraged this movement by landmarking two public buildings – the Main Street train station and the Fairview Avenue train station. We would also love to see a request to landmark a commercial building or two and have our eyes on several that would qualify,” he said.

“We have to remain mindful of the balance we need to strike between our rich history, since this is a community that was founded in 1832, and the reality that if we don’t invest in the future and move forward, we will stagnate and not provide for the next generations,” Tully noted.

“It was amazing how the situation over the Edwards House went from adversarial to cooperative between the village and the grassroots groups who were advocating that the Edwards House be saved,” said Liz Chalberg, president of the Downers Grove Historical Society.

“Put simply, the zoning allowed the Edwards House to be demolished and efforts to move it to a different location fell short, so the Edwards House ended up being the sacrificial lamb that reawakened preservation efforts in Downers Grove,” she added.

The controversy spurred a reworking of the 2007 ordinance to something more homeowner-friendly and palatable, Chalberg said, so that homeowners became less fearful about landmarking their homes and preventing them from ever being demolished.

It also pushed both the village and local organizations to promote the landmark program and educate homeowners about the advantages of landmarking their homes. Finally, it increased awareness about Downers Grove’s treasure trove of historic homes, commercial structures and civic buildings. Investors interested in opening businesses in preserved historic buildings are being sought and there is even a new Four Square Initiative that is putting photos of the village’s more than 133 Four Square-style homes on a website.

In Woodridge, preservation has more of a modern twist.
Incorporated as a village in 1959, Woodridge is a young community that enjoys a rich heritage that dates back to the 1800s with Potawatomi Indians as some of its earliest residents.

Woodridge derives its name from the heavy stands of oak and maple trees situated on high ground overlooking the East Branch of the DuPage River. These first settlers were farmers named Goodrich, Greene, Kohley and Nadelhoffer, who purchased land at $1.25 an acre. Woodridge was incorporated on Aug. 24, 1959, with a population of about 459 residents. The village grew in size with annexations in 1963, 1970 and in 1972, numerous farms along 71st Street were annexed and were developed as Woodridge Center. The first elementary school in Woodridge still exists today as the core of Goodrich School.

In 1985, the village developed a master plan to guide future development and to plan for future growth. The master plan envisioned a walkable, scenic Town Centre that integrates the area’s civic, park and educational assets into a “campus-like” destination, with ready access to new recreational and entertainment opportunities, nestled between lakes, woods and prairies.

As elements of the 1985 plan were put in place, the vision for the Town Centre was further articulated by the adoption of the 2014 Woodridge Town Centre Master Plan. Including Lakes Harriet, Carleton, Hawthorne Hill Woods, Memorial Park and the 44 acres jointly owned by the village and the Woodridge Park District, it preserves the area for civic, recreation and open space uses. The plan guides the enhancement of the overall aesthetics of the area through attractive landscaping and way-finding and signage, providing new community spaces for activities such as festivals, outdoor theatre, and community events.

Woodridge continues a community tradition of stressing its natural beauty, paying homage to the natural characteristics that first drew people to this area and pursuing planned growth to create spaces and features that provide opportunities for a look back in time as well as a look ahead into the future.

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