Oak Park is rightly famous for its landmark architecture, including many buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright. The architect lived in the community for several years and built more in the area than anywhere else in the world.
There’s much more to appreciate than just the sights, however. With a creative vibe, fantastic schools, and a vibrant cultural scene, Oak Park is an attractive landing place for Chicagoland renters and buyers. And with beautiful parks and the lovely Oak Park Nature Conservatory, the community even has its fair share of nature.
Only 8 miles west of the Loop, the drive into the Loop can take as little as 15 minutes. Prefer not to drive? Getting around Chicagoland is easy with Metra and the ‘L’ (Green and Blue lines).
Oak Park History
Early Oak Park
The first Euro-American settlers arrived in the Oak Park area in 1835. Until a stop was built on the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad, the community was sparsely populated and isolated. Primarily a farming community, the small village center offered a market, general store, post office, and even a small newspaper. Oak Park grew dramatically after the Chicago Fire of 1871. Streets were paved, new trail lines reached the community, and many new houses were built. The community was incorporated in 1902.
Growth and Frank Lloyd Wright Years
The extension of the Metropolitan West Side Elevated Railroad (today’s CTA Blue Line) further linked the village to Chicago. A regional shopping center grew around the elevated station, including a Marshall Field’s, Wieboldt’s, and the Fair Store. Apartments and commercial buildings were built in the town center and much of the open prairie in the northern part of the community was replaced by large homes. From 500 residents in 1872, the community grew to nearly 40,000 by 1920.
It was in these years that Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked in the area. He designed many notable buildings including the stunning Unity Temple. Other notable Oak Park residents have included Nobel-Prize winning novelist Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan books.
Modern Oak Park
Oak Park experienced some significant change after World War II. The area diversified with Roman Catholic, Jewish, and African-American communities settling in the village. Seeking to avoid a segregated community, village planners put in place policies to promote an integrated and non-discriminatory housing environment. These plans were successful, and today, Oak Park is a stable, integrated, and middle-class suburban village.
Oak Park Living
With the feel of a suburb and the culture of a city, Oak Park offers its residents the best of both worlds. Residents can walk from their tree-lined streets to mom and pop restaurants, grassy parks, or the classic Lake Street Movie Theater. At community events, one can get to know the friendly, welcoming community. Families, professionals, and artistic types all call Oak Park home.
Food and Drink
Eating out in Oak Park is a joy. One can find everything from family-owned restaurants and fine dining to classic dives and familiar chains in the community. Looking for a recommendation? Check out Maya del Sol, a delicious Latin fusion restaurant with a beautiful patio, Poor Phils, a family-friendly pub known for its seafood, and Peterson’s Ice Cream, serving old fashioned flavors since 1919. The area offers several cozy bars including Avenue Ale House and Friendly Tap, a popular spot for live music.
Oak Park Shopping
One can find a number of great shops throughout the community, mainly in Downtown Oak Park. Local favorites include Gem, an independent jeweler specializing in custom pieces, and The Book Table, a husband and wife bookseller with a diverse selection. Home cooks appreciate the Marion Street Cheese Market, the Sugar Beet Co-op, and Carnivore, small grocery shops offering artisan foods and specialties.
Oak Park may technically be a suburb, but you wouldn’t know it from the area’s great culture and entertainment. Movie Lover? The Lake Street Theater, opened in 1936, is a charming old movie theater playing arthouse and documentary. The area also offers some interesting museums, including the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, offering tours of the homes he designed in the area, and the Hemingway Museum, housing rare artifacts and manuscripts. Children love the Wonder Works Children’s Museum. Art lover? Check out the Oak Park Art League.
Oak Park also puts on a number of events including Uncork Illinois, an annual wine fest, the Oak Park Festival Theater, performing classic plays in Austin Gardens Park every weekend during the summer. On July 4th, the whole community gets together for a fireworks show and live music.
Nature lover? With more than 25 beautifully maintained parks and the majestic Oak Park Conservatory. Housed in a historic Edwardian building, the Conservatory offers 12 acres of outdoor gardens and two-acres of indoor rooms for when you need to escape the Chicago winter. Another gem is Austin Gardens, a peaceful park with mature trees and colorful flowers. For all ages, the Park District offers sports and arts programming and maintains a variety of sports fields and courts.
Looking for Great Schools?
The city’s distinguished schools provide one of the main draws to Oak Park. The district offers ten-strong elementary/middle schools and two comprehensive college-prep high schools (Oak Park and River Forest). These schools perform well on statewide standardized tests and send students to colleges and universities across the country. What’s more, the schools have produced a string of notable alums including Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, and the voice of Homer Simpson, Dan Castellaneta.
Oak Park Homes
Oak Park offers a great place for new home buyers due to its variety of single-family homes. A historic area, one won’t find cookie-cutter homes along the area’s tree-lined streets. Architectural styles are varied including prairie, bungalows, stucco, and frame and brick homes. On the upper end of the market, one can find a number of 19th-century Victorian style mansions. The area also offers a number of apartment buildings and newly built condos, mostly in the eastern portion of the city.
A lovely city with classic architecture, great schools, and vibrant downtown, Oak Park has long been a favorite with Chicagoland renters and buyers. Come and check it out!