A look at West Park’s national recognition
Lake Forest Preservation Foundation Executive Director Marcy Kerr (second from right) with board members (from left) Gail Hodges, Dennis Johnston and Arthur Miller in the West Park Neighborhood in Lake Forest, recently named to the National Register of Hi
Updated: January 4, 2013 11:53AM
LAKE FOREST — Learning her neighborhood made it to the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places was welcome news for Susie Rafferty Athenson.
A third-generation resident of the West Park neighborhood in Lake Forest — whose children mark the family’s fourth generation there — Athenson is proud of the walkability of the area in which she lives and the significant role it has played in the city’s development.
“I think it’s a great thing. Our neighborhood is finally getting some recognition,” Athenson said. “This is an important neighborhood in the history of Lake Forest.”
The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, which administers the National Register program in Illinois, noted in its announcement in December that the West Park Neighborhood was honored for providing “affordable housing and green space for middle-class workers who supported wealthy communities nearby.”
The Lake Forest Preservation Foundation (LFPF) first submitted the application for the National Register designation back in 2007 following a house walk a year earlier in the neighborhood. The application included a description of each property, including 130 single-family homes and garages, three duplexes, West Park and the historic clubhouse/warming pavilion. It languished in Springfield for several years before being forwarded to the National Park Service, which finally approved the National Register of Historic Places designation several weeks ago.
“With changes at the state agency and cutbacks, it really took a lot longer than it should have,” LFPF Executive Director Marcy Kerr said. “This national designation is the National Parks Service saying this is an important neighborhood, it has historic meaning to it, it’s significant in the whole growth of Lake Forest.”
The West Park District consists of two subdivisions planned between 1887 and 1907 on farm property dating from 1837 originally settled by the Cole/Swanton/Atteridge families. In 1907, Shaw preserved the meadow settlers used for grazing and the curving lane at the northeast corner of the park — now Summit Avenue and Summit Place — which was part of the historic Atteridge farm road from the business district on Western Avenue to the farm buildings located on Green Bay Road. That same year, the Young Men’s Club, which started two years earlier to provide recreation, social events and community promotion for young men and tradesmen in Lake Forest, worked with local business owners, developers and bankers to create the subdivision.
Over the decades, houses built in the area stuck to the guidelines of the original plan to give the area uniformity of scale and materials.
Athenson and her family in a 100-year-old house on Summit Place overlooking West Park.
“We added on to the original 1,600-square-foot house to make it livable for four kids,” Athenson said.
The Athensons are not alone in their modernization of their home in which all work in the area as been done to the back of the original structures.
“One of the things I love about West Park is the fact that all the streetscape, all the faces of the houses, have maintained their original design,” said Paul Bergmann, an LFPF member who worked on the application with Art Miller and Shirley Paddock. “The whole subdivision looks like the time period in which it was built. That’s different than what’s going on in other parts of America, where they drive a bulldozer in and tear everything down.”
Miller said he was delighted when he learned the neighborhood made it to the National Register.
“The biggest thing it means is now people recognize it. It’s not just another blah-blah suburban neighborhood,” Miller said. “There’s nothing else like it in the Chicagoland area.”
Jim Swarthout, who has lived in his home on Summit Place for 58 years, is not so sure.
“I have reservations about it,” Swarthout said of the designation. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with the rights of property owners if they want to make a change. I don’t want someone else telling me what color to paint my door.”
Lake Forest Community Development Director Cathy Czerniak said the designation does not change the process for property owners.
“This designation does not establish requirements for any additional reviews for alterations to homes in this area, but does provide valuable background information to homeowners and to those looking to move into the neighborhood,” Czerniak said.
Miller took that explanation a step further.
“What it really does is restrict their neighbor next door from building something really goofy,” Miller said.