This is an interview for the Park Forest Oral History Project with Ross DeLue.
The date is November 11, 1980 and the interviewer is Glenda Bailey-Mershon.
Q. Ross, will you tell me how you first heard about Park Forest?
A. Well, I came back to Chicago following a stint with the Air Force. I left my wife and child in the East. I had been stationed in Newark, that was my final station. My wife had come from New York, where her family still lived. So I told her to take our daughter, Mary and stay with her mother. I would come out to Chicago and being a native Chicagoan, I had all kinds of contacts and knew people. I knew housing was tough, but I told her I'd find us a place to live in a few weeks and she could come out and join me. However, I didn't realize how tough housing was. (laughter). Probably the Chicago area was one of the worst in the United States. There was absolutely nothing in the way of rentals. I saw a couple of real estate agents, and looked at housing and didn't like what I saw, both from a point of view of location and the prices that were being asked. And having just come out of the service I had no money. So, a down payment was going to be a very difficult thing. As far as apartments went ... I better, back up a minute and say that I came back to Chicago to go back to my old job, which was as a newspaper reporter for the Chicago American. I began to look for apartments and discovered very quickly that you ran into some rather weird things. It didn't matter that you were a returning veteran or anything else. Rent control was still on. The only way that you could get an apartment was by taking over from somebody who already had one and was going to leave. And there may have been some honest people but if there were, I couldn't find them because everybody that I talked to was a real thief. The main gimmick was that there would be a battered kitchen table and a battered chair that looked like it had been picked up at the Salvation Army, and you would go in and if you said, "Yes, I'd like this apartment," (The landlord would say)
Well, you'll have to buy the furniture." And they would point to the table and the chair and say, "This will cost you fifteen hundred dollars, or two thousand dollars." It was very obvious as to what was going on. There were a few new apartments being built. Most of them were being built under the FHA (Federal Housing Authority). The FHA had certain restrictions which were being flaunted. The result was that you would look at an apartment, and they'd say, "Well, we’ll rent you the apartment, but you have to pay a year's rent in advance as a security deposit."
Q. That wasn't kosher according to the regulations?
A. Well this happened several times and I began to get interested in what was going on, and I finally talked to my city editor and I said, "Look, I've been trying to find a place to live now for more than a month. I've looked at a lot of places and these are some of the things I'm finding. I think we’ve got a hell of a good story here, because there are thousands of veterans running into the same thing. There's hundreds of thieves out there violating laws. I think we should run an expose." So he said, "Alright, let's see what happens. Go ahead and dig up some stuff and write some stories and let me look at them and we'll see. Maybe it will be good for a series.” This was how I began to get into housing. Meanwhile, I'm living in a Loop hotel. My wife and child are in New York and I'm not happy about all this. But I started to write about my own experiences and the stories began to run and the paper loved it and the more they ran, the more leads I got from readers who would call up or write in and describe their experiences and we realized we'd really hit on something that was causing a great deal of interest. Earlier I mentioned the business about the landlord asking for a year's security deposit. It turned out that the FHA, under their regulations, permitted a maximum of a three-month security deposit, not a year's. In addition, the FHA also required any one building under FHA loans, to have their rent scale approved by the FHA. And these people were charging a third more to double what the official scale was as set by the FHA. Aside commentary: In one incidence, there was a very nice apartment building going up in Rogers Park. I looked at the thing and ran into everything I'd been writing about. So I went over to the FHA and I talked to the District Director. I told him what was going on at this particular building and he said he couldn't believe it but would check it out. A day later he called me at the office and said, "I sent an investigator out who posed as perspective renter and everything you said was true. We are really going to pull the rug out from under this guy." And they did. It cost the developer $275,000 to refinance that building because FHA withdrew their financial guarantee. I might add that the builder hated me for it from that point on. (Laughter) We won't mention names, but he was the head of a large mortgage company in Chicago.
Then I began to hear about a large development being built way out in the country. I had been told that these people were building this place, but that they were not going to charge exorbitant rents, that they were going to give first crack to all their apartments to veterans with children, and it was an Utopian type of thing and I figured, "This is a real scam." I decided to check it out. It was an organization I'd never heard of called American Community Builders. They had an office on Monroe Street in the Loop and I went over to the office and said that I would like to talk to the president of ACB, a man named Klutznick. And I met this man and told him that I was interested in finding out something about Park Forest.
Q. Did you tell him you were a reporter.
A. Oh sure, there was no cover up. I explained I was planning on doing a series of stories on new housing and I'd heard about Park Forest. In my own mind I was skeptical about the promises and felt there was something phony about the whole deal and I had to find out what it was. So, he said, "Well fine, maybe the first thing we should do is go out and look at Park Forest." And I said, "Great" and we made a date for the next day. We met the following morning and drove out to what, at the time, seemed the end of the world. I knew Chicago pretty well, and of course, there was no expressway system out this way at the time. And we rode and we rode and we rode through Jackson Park, through industrial areas, until finally we got to Chicago Heights. We turned off the Lincoln Highway and went down a two-lane rural road (Laughter) and suddenly in front of me was a large construction camp. There wasn't anything except earthmoving equipment, a bunch of carpenters, and a cement batching plant in operation. Crews were excavating basements, hundreds of basements. With a map, Klutznick described what this was going to be. A town that temporarily they were calling Park Forest. Now, in case you are interested in knowing how the village got named ...
Q. Oh yes, I am, indeed.
A. Well, I don't know if anyone's told you this before or not ....
Q. I don't think anyone really remembers, to tell you the truth. (Laugh)
A. He explained that in order to get the FHA papers together they had to have a name. This was to be a planned community, there never had been a planned community before except for two Greenbelt towns that were built by the federal government during World War II just outside of Washington. In the course of our conversation, I learned that Klutznick had been named Federal Public Housing Commissioner by President Roosevelt, and had been in charge of developing these Greenbelt towns. They were know as Greenbelt towns because they were surrounded by park like areas and trees. They were very pleasant. So he had developed the idea that it would be a great thing if a similar Greenbelt town could be built by private means. Later on, all of this was filled in for me for some stories that I wrote about Park Forest. But anyway, before the papers could be approved by the FHA, they had to have a name. They were facing a deadline, the papers had to be in Washington the following day, and so somebody said, "OK, we'll name our town Park Forest temporarily. Ultimately we'll pick out a permanent name. Remember, that in the Chicago area there were a series of suburbs with the name of Park or Forest and they realized this could be a confusing thing. That's how the name became Park Forest. Then, when the earliest residents finally -- there were several hundred here, the subject came up "Now what are we going to do for a permanent name for this town?" Everybody submitted all kinds of names; And they decided to have a vote. The vote was held and Park Forest, which wasn't supposed to be (Laughter) the permanent name, won, and it turned out that the people were saying, "Well, I've had stationery printed; I can't throw that paper away. It says Park Forest." (Laughter) So, this being a democracy, the name stuck.
Q. I heard someone seriously proposed Klutznickville, is that (laugh) true, do you remember?
A. I don't think that was ever serious, the same way that when Park Forest South was ultimately going, some idiot said they should call it Nathan, for Nate Manilow. I mean, that got a long way too. (laughter) But really the primary reason was that people had credit cards with the name Park Forest, Illinois on it. They had stationery printed, some people had had checks imprinted by their bank with Park Forest and it was going to be a big mess, as far as they were concerned getting that stuff changed, so the name "Park Forest" stuck. Well, anyway, I dug and I dug and I dug. And instead of finding that this was a scam and that there was something wrong, I discovered early on that if Klutznick was not an idealist, he was one hell of a good actor. You're aware, I am sure, of how the streets were named out here.
Q. I know about the Medal of Honor winners, yes.
A. McCarthy was with the Chicago fire department. Bigelow and all of the streets, with the exception of Birch, of course, were named for Medal of Honor winners from the Chicago area. (Only some streets in Areas B, E, and J were named for Medal of Honor Winners ‑ Ed.)
Q. I see.
A. And I found out that ACB was really serious about veteran preference. Any veteran with a child applying for an apartment went on the waiting list in sequence. If he was just a veteran, he went on a different waiting list,
but he went behind the veteran with children. And then came the general public, first families with kids. Now I don't know, I haven't been around the courts a long time. Are the tot yards still there, do you know?
Q. No, they're not, really. One or two court have a little playground, that I think, the nucleus was the tot yard, but most of them are gone.
A. The idea was that all the kitchen windows faced out on the court. And at one end of the parking lot, there was a large fenced playpen, with a sand-box in it and a couple of little teeter-totters or whatever, and the
idea was that the mothers could take the real little ones and put them out in the tot yard while they were working around the kitchen. They could keep an eye on the kids back there and the kids would be safe.
You also had--again we go back to FHA--but I did determine that Park Forest was the biggest FHA project up to that time. It was a 28-million-dollar loan guarantee. The money was put up by three life insurance companies:
Northwestern Mutual, Sun-Life Assurance of Canada, and New York Life. The land, which had been assembled by Nate Manilow, was used as the ten percent down payment. In my checking around, I could find absolutely nothing in the background of Klutznick that was off color, nothing in the background of Manilow that was off color, nothing in the background of Carroll Sweet, Sr., that was off color, and I began to get a little frustrated, very frankly,
because this thing was just too good to be true. It couldn't be. Nobody was going to do this for anybody. It was too legitimate. And yet, that's how it turned out to be. I mean, it was completely legitimate. I had made arrangements to have Leona and Mary come into Chicago. We were living in a downtown hotel, the Sherman [Hotel], 1 where we had a tiny kitchenette apartment, but it was adequate. Prior to moving in there, I had called Leona, I guess it was in April or May of 1948, and told her I wanted her to come out to Chicago and take a look at a couple of places. I had found a couple of apartments. [Undeciphered] we were going to have to borrow money for the security deposit. Meanwhile I had seen this construction camp out here. She was not impressed with the apartments in the city. She didn't like the neighborhood one was in, another was too dark, and I didn't think
she'd go for what she would see out here. We drove her out, and I showed her this place, and described what they were going to be like. By that time, in Court B-1, they had one building fairly well completed, so that you could
climb in and there were some walls up. It gave a rough idea of what it would be like. The big picture window was in, and the sun was out and you could see how it would stream in the place and to my amazement, she said this would
be fine. After all, she said, they would be brand new and bright and airy, and God knows, the rent was right. This was another thing strange for those times. ACB was telling everybody that they would rent the regular interior two-bedroom apartments for $83.00 a month. They had some two-bedroom end units which were more expensive, they'd be $85.00. And then the most expensive units were the three-bedroom carports, and I believe, I'm not sure, I can't be sure, but I believe they were somewhere in the neighborhood of $120.00. More or less, it could have been $115.00, it could have been $125.00. I don't know, but they were bargains compared to what you were being asked for in Chicago. And they weren't asking for any years' rent in advance as a security deposit, two months was it and that was fine. I had been working, very closely, because of my past experiences with Ed Kelly, who was a District Director of FHA. I knew these guys were meeting every government restriction they were supposed to meet. So I told Phil I was ready to file an application for an apartment. He knew we were living at the Sherman which was a rough situation for a five-year-old and promised us one of the first units. He started to laugh, he said, "After me. I'm going to be the first person to live there." His wife crossed him up. Ethel went into the hospital to have Skippy, now known as Samuel; their youngest child, and so Phil didn't get out here until about ten days after the first three families moved in; maybe four families and it made him very unhappy. It really did, he wanted to be the first person out here. (Laughter)
Anyway, as I say, I had made arrangements to bring Leona and Mary into Chicago and so for somewhere like four or five months, I guess, we lived at the Sherman in the Loop, waiting for the apartment out here to be ready. We were originally to move in the first of August and the buildings or the units weren't anywhere completed and we were told, as I recall, we'd get in by the tenth, and then it was to be the fifteenth or eighteenth, and finally it went to somewhere around the twenty-eighth, I believe. I would have to look at a calendar to make sure of the dates. I, honestly don't recall the exact date we were told that we could come out. Se we arranged to have our stuff taken out of storage, and we got out here on "move-in" morning--it was a beautiful day but hot. The three moving vans pulled in within a half hour of one another. There were two other people moving in the same day: the Heckmans, Bill Heckman, that is, and Manny Kanter, and it was Bill and Jane Heckman, in case you're interested in names and Manny and Madelyn Kanter. And Bill was with the FBI, and Manny was with Argonne Lab. and I was with the Chicago-American. (Laughter)
Q. I think that's quite a trio. (Laugh)
A. Anyway, to our combined horror, all three of us were told that the units were ready for occupancy except for one thing: the floors weren't finished. So we were in a tizzy. Here we had three moving vans, with three crews and we had to get someone from ACB to come over and say what we could do with the furniture, because it obviously couldn't be moved in, under the circumstances. and I don't ....
Q. Did ACB have an office out here by that time?
A. Oh, yes, they had an office here as well as the office Downtown. But somebody came over, I don't recall who it was, and said, "Well, now look. Maybe, what we can do, have your moving men move all the furniture up to the second floor in the three units and don't be concerned about it. What we'll do is we'll get crews in and we'll sand and finish the floors, seal them, we'll do the downstairs today, then tomorrow we'll get a crew to move your furniture for you to the first floor and finish the second floor and then we'll have our crew move what goes upstairs to the second floor. And this seemed a logical answer, so the moving men carried everything up to the second floor, and that was how we proceeded. Now you've got to remember that this was a vast open expanse of nothing, no trees, no grass, no nothing but dirt and top soil piled up round the various courts into miniature mountains.
Q. Had all the trees been cut down in the townhouse area? Do you remember?
A. Everything was gone. They, for reasons of economy, speed, expeditious building, they had to have a flat plain and they would come in with bulldozers and they would dig. At one point during a peak period, they must have
had 25 hundred to 3,000 men working out here. And what they had done was set up a carpenters shop where they had prefabbed, roof trusses, walls – as much as they could. They would lay out roof trusses and cut them and get
them together and build up stacks of them, so that when the walls went up and the brick-layers laid brick, then they'd bring the stuff over, and they'd clomp, clomp, clomp, and they were very, very efficient. It was almost a
mass-production type of thing.
Q. It must have really looked like a construction camp. Just men working
everywhere I guess huh?
A. That's exactly right. So, anyway, that first day, Bill (Laughs)and Jane and Manny and Madelyn, I guess, they'd given up wherever they'd been staying. So, they had to stay out here, and they said they were going to camp
out on the first floor, to sleep, I don't know what they slept on, blankets, whatever. Fortunately, Leona and Mary and I were able to go back Downtown and go back to the Sherman and spend that first night there, while the Kanters and the Heckmans were where they were. And the next morning we came out and supervised the moving of the furniture and what not, as ACB had been great about providing some strong backs and enough people to handle all our stuff
and they got it all done. So that second night, we were all set up and able to sleep in our units. Now, how much detail do you want about this early business?
Q. I think it's very interesting.
A. Do you?
Q. How much do you want to give me?
A. Anecdote type of things?
Q. Oh, yes.
A. Alright. I said to Leona, that first night that we were out here, naturally, we couldn't cook, for God's sake, we had no time to any shopping and it would have meant we would have had to go into Chicago Heights anyway,
so we decided to see where we could find a good place to eat. Now, this is the end of August 1948. Today is November 1980, right? Somebody said there's a place in Homewood called Surma's that's very good. So they told us
how to get there, just go straight down Western Avenue, follow, blah, blah, blah, you can't miss it. So we drove to Surma's and it looked a big place and we went in. Now we got there at about 5:30. Mary was pretty hungry. And
they sat us down. At 6:30 I was very upset, because we hadn't had a waitress come by ...
Q. Oh, my goodness.
A. We finally went into Homewood and found a very good steak joint--Did you
know where Aurelio's was originally?
Q. I think so.
A. It's on that little street that runs through the town. Well, this was right across the street, then, from where Aurelio's used to be. It looked like a tavern, but we had dinner. So our first night out here wasn't what
you would call the most enjoyable from that point of view. Anyway, we came back and went to bed. We didn't get much sleep, because while the units were all ready, the screens hadn't come yet. And the mosquitoes were God-d-d-d-d ( Laughter) awful. They were just terrible. In the morning when we got up, we were bitten to a pulp, and I might tell you that my daughter, who was five years old at the time, is a redhead with very fair skin and she looked like she had smallpox. So I said to Leona, "I don't know what we're going to do, but I've got to get into the Heights and find something to put over those windows." So I went in and I found some mosquito netting, which I cut up and I had bought rolls of scotch tape and spray, you know, insect spray, and I went up to the place and I closed it all up, and I put the mosquito netting up over all the windows with scotch tape, particularly upstairs, and I sprayed to kill all the wild life, and the second night we slept fairly well. Oh, no, I'm sorry, no, I got ahead of myself. The second night I closed the place up and sprayed and we tried to sleep and it was so hot we couldn't sleep. So it was the third day that I went into the Heights and I got the mosquito netting. And that was O.K., meanwhile, Mary, particularly, looked like a disaster. So the following day, we were in the court, outside the apartment and who comes along but our soon-to-be-neighbor, Phil Klutznick, who was going to occupy the two units facing Western Avenue at the entrance at Court B-1. And he looked at Mary, and he said, "My God, what's the matter with that child?" And you've got to remember that he had just had his fifth child and he was mad about children, and this was, I guess, one reason that he was so hepped about veterans with children and so on. So we said, "No screens." Now, his unit had screens on it, you know, his was all completed. But he wasn't in because of Ethel being in the hospital. So he got real mad and he called one of the supervisors over and said, "Get So and So out of the office and have him over here right away." So the guy came over, again I don't remember who it was going to be, one of the foreman, and he said, "We have no screens on these apartments. People are moving in." And the guy said, "I know, there has been a shipping delay. The factory's in Pennsylvania, we were told they'd been here and they're not here." And Phil said, "Alright," he said, "You send a pick-up truck, but right now, put two men on it." He said, "You call the factory, and tell them we're coming to pick up enough screens for 'x' number of units." He said, "I don't want those men to stop until they're back here." He said, "You have them leave right now, you call the factory, tell them to have the stuff ready, they will be there in twelve or fourteen, fifteen hours, whatever it is, load the screens on that truck and have them turn around and come right back with them. One can sleep while the other's driving." That's what they did, and a day and a half later we had screens on all the units that were occupied. So even though you get a lot of static from a lot of people about Phil Klutznick, I'm sorry...I remember many things, where we had differences, and we had violent arguments, but I can also remember the good things. He got blamed for a lot of things that he had no control over and should not have been blamed for. There were many things he was blamed for that he should have been blamed for. But, he also was a very kind and considerate person. So, anyway, now we're living in Park Forest. Bill Heckman, the Kanters, a family named Saitta, that moved in to the end unit. Saitta was spelled S-A-I-T-T-A, as I recall. Then other FBI guys started to come in, including the Moores, and Capt. Woodruff, who also was 5th Army. The Woodruffs had little twins, and there began to be kids around the place. And these big dirt piles, the top soil that had been scraped off so that the construction could continue, it had been mounded up in these miniature mountains and the idea was that as soon as the units were completed, then the bulldozers would come in and spread the top soil back over the clay, because this built on very hard clay....
Q. Oh, yes. I've heard about that...
A. Meanwhile, those top-soil piles were the greatest thing in the world for the little kids, because they played their "pretend" mountains. You have to remember in those days television sets were rare, so kids had parents reading books to them and they were interested in books and they played outside. They didn’t sit and look at the “boob tube” all day.
Now there were two buses a day that ran between the I.C. [Illinois Central Railroad} and Park Forest, one in the morning, one in the evening, for commuters.
Here’s another little anecdote. We had been out here about three or four days, I guess, and Leona and Mary had met me Downtown and we’d had dinner and we came out on the I.C. And it had to be eight-thirty or a quarter to nine, I guess, because it was just dusk, and, as I say, this was at the end of August and it was light quite late. So we got of the I.C. at (Laughs) 211th. We got in a cab that was there and the driver turned around and I said to “Park Forest.” So he sort of smiled at me, wheeled out on to Lincoln Highway, and headed east. And he was driving and he said, “Seriously, where do you want to go?” And I said, “To Park Forest.” And he said, “No kidding where are you going?” And I said, “To Park Forest.” He said, “ What do you want to go there for? There’s nobody at night. It’s a construction camp, for God’s sake.” I said, “I live there.” (Laughter) He said, “ You what?” And I said, “ I live there.” He said, “Nobody lives there. (Laughter)
I said, “Never mind. When you come to Western Avenue, turn south.” “O.K.” and he turned south and as he came across the E.J. & E tracks, you could see lights on in the the Heckman’s and the Kanter’s units. And I heard him say, “God almighty. Somebody is living there.” (Laughter.)
Q. That’s a great story. (Laughter.) He just….(Laughs.)
A. You know, who would want to live in that desolate, God-forsaken, God-awful, construction camp.
Q. Do you remember what other people who were living around Park Forest thought or said or may have said to you at the time about it?
A. Well, of course, everybody around in the whole area, particularly the Heights, knew that the handful of us here were crazy and they were really miserable to the early residents. In the early days--now I'm going into the first few months--the only shopping that people could do was in the Heights. So they would go over to the Heights. There was a lot of mud in Park Forest. They'd have mud on their shoes. They'd go in the stores and clerks would wisecrack about "Park Foresters." They believed that nobody was going to finish out the winter here. They were convinced the place would empty because there was really nothing here and it was going to flop, it was going to be a big flat failure. You know, there had been real estate developments back in the ‘20's and a big chunk of where Park Forest was, had originally been one, where they laid streets and sidewalks and people in the Heights and all through the south suburban area had bought lots and lost their shirts on them. They were convinced that this was never going to build. They were reading stories in newspapers and magazines about a new community that was going to have a population of 15,000 people, when it was all finished, it was going to go up to 15,000 and the people were really going to live here, and they knew it was crazy; it wasn't to be. In the early days, because of this kind of feeling, Park Forest was like a close-knit family. Everybody was in the same boat. You couldn't drink water out of the faucet. ACB had to deliver bottled water two or three times a week. Each kitchen had a carrier sort of thing, a metal thing that the big five gallon jug of water would fit into, and they would tilt over, and you used that water for cooking and everything except for bathing. You could use the water that came out of the faucet for bathing. Your mail delivery came in an ACB jeep. The workmen from ACB would go to the post office and pick up all the mail for Park Forest and drive around and deliver it to the various units.
(end of side 1)
(tape 1, side 2)
A. Anyway, they were building a water softening plant here. I'm sure you're aware that aside from Park Forest the water throughout the whole area, even today, is untreated. Most houses in other towns had to have water softeners put in the house. Even in Flossmoor you'll see three faucets; one with potable water and the others for just washing. So until the central water softener plant was put in and approved by the state, ACB supplied drinking water. In those days, Illinois Street in the Heights was a very, very prosperous business area. Halsted Street was very prosperous. It was only after the Park Forest shopping center was built that those places really began to hurt and Park Forest took most of the business away. Sort of a similar thing to what happened to Park Forest when Lincoln Mall finally came along. Anyway, anybody from Park Forest who would drive over to the Heights, if they saw somebody standing on the corner waiting for one of the infrequent buses, even if they didn't recognize them by sight, they'd pull up and say, "Are you waiting to go to Park Forest?" And if they said, "Yes," "Come on, get in." You had this kind of thing and the result was, everybody got to know everybody else very rapidly. Then, they had the big tent meeting. You know, you've seen some of the pictures.
Q. Yes. Yes. I'd like to hear what you remember about that.
A. Well, I don't remember too much about the tent meeting because I wasn't there.
Q. Oh, you weren't there ...
A. I worked for a newspaper (laughs) and I had to go to work that day.
Q. I see.
A. Leona was at the tent meeting. But, anyway, everybody was really involved. We had a community here, owned by a company, one landlord, ACB.
There were no houses because ACB's theory was, "We build the rental units and once they're built, then we'll start worrying about building homes for sale and we'll build a shopping center." Now, back to the FHA. One of the things that ACB had to do to meet the conditions for a loan, was to assure FHA that there would be sufficient schools for the children. So ACB went to Chicago Heights School District 170 and said, “We are going to build a community not too far away from Chicago Heights. Can you people take care of our kids?" And the school officials in Chicago Heights, knowing as well as everybody else in the Heights that the place was never going to be completed, said, "Sure, we'll take care of them. We'll charge you 'x' amount for tuition per child and we have the capacity to handle it." They sent ACB a letter to that effect, which was duly sent on to FHA, so that FHA would be assured that the kids would have schools available. And the first couple of months all went well. They took the kids. But, then, units began to get finished off faster, and faster, and faster, and people on the waiting list were moving in faster, and faster, and suddenly to Ben Scylla's horror, he found he was rapidly running out of space, and he had the kids. So those of us who were interested in education said, "We've got to do something. The Heights has got to build a grade school in Park Forest for our kids." And we began to negotiate with them for a school. But then politics reared its ugly head. They said, "Sorry, we're not going to build any school over there." Originally, they had said, when we first talked about it, "Oh, yes, when you have enough children, we'll build a school to take care of them." But then it was, "We're not going to build a school over there, because if we do we have to issue bonds to cover the cost. Then if you people should leave the district, we're left holding the bag for the bonds. And we can't do that to our taxpayers." We tried to assure them this was not about to happen. But no way were they going to build a school.
Well, there was a District 163 out here, which was a one room school house, west of Park Forest, west of what was Park Forest at the time. It served all eight grades in one room, there were twenty, thirty farmer's kids going over there. So we decided we better get organized. Park Forest, from its
earliest days was a town for committees. So we set up what we called the
Schools Organizing Committee. There were five or six or seven or us who met
one evening in a house on Western Avenue.
But anyway, we met there that night and among those who were there was Bob Dinerstein, who at that time, believe it or not, was very shy and retiring. We discussed what had to be done, and set up several sub-committees to check out the school laws and see what the mechanics were for taking over District 163 from these farmers, providing they were willing. Bob was made chairman, over his violent protest, of the Schools Organizing Committee.
We had negotiated enough with ACB to know that ACB was willing to provide the
sites for schools. They had been prepared to give Chicago Heights the land
for a school. So that the only bonding Chicago Heights would have had to do
was for the building itself. ACB had also set aside sites for churches, be-
cause they were shrewd business people. They knew that this town was never
going to succeed unless there were churches and schools. Who was going to
move out here, no matter what the rents were, no matter how attractive, no
matter how anything. You had to have schools, churches, and shopping to make
a town. And they knew this. So when the Heights pulled this stuff, there was really no alternative for ACB but to advance the money necessary to build a school, because we didn't have the bonding power at that time to issue bonds to build a school. And so agreement was reached with ACB; they would advance the money to build a
school. They would build the school, we would pay the rent for the school until such time as our bonding power was sufficient to issue bonds. Now, of course, Park Forest had already been incorporated by this time, and you understand why it was incorporated as a village?
Q. I think so, but tell me about it.
A. Alright. Most of us, the bulk of the residents in Park Forest were ex--Chicagoans. Under Illinois law, if the population went over 500 you could not incorporate as a village. You had to incorporate as either a town or a city. However, if you incorporated as a village, you could always remain a village. The best example of that was the village of Oak Park, which was a large suburb, but it was a village. A village did not have to have wards. We did not want Chicago type politics in Park Forest. We wanted a clean, well-run community. We didn't want somebody representing a particular section of the village. Anybody who was elected to office here had to represent all of Park Forest, the community as a whole. And it was only under village government that we could have trustees and a village president, so when we began to rapidly approach 500, there was one God-awful rush getting the paper work done and getting the word down to Springfield, and what not, that we were going to hold an election and incorporate as a village.
Q. Do you remember when that was actually discussed?
A. Oh, sure. The election was held, as I recall, in January of 1949 and we began talking about this in early October of 1948, October and November we talked about it.
A. Who was we?
A. Hmm? Oh, God, everybody. People from ACB ....
Q. Just casual conversations you mean, or ... ?
A. No, no, no, no. As a matter of fact, there was a great deal of steering of this on the part of Phil Klutznick. Because Phil was a very savvy guy, and he said he felt, that in the long term, when Park Forest was more than just a handful of renters living in apartments, Park Forest should be a village with its own elected government. That was when he began to get a lot of flack from real estate developers, in Chicago, who said, "You're out of your mind. Do you mean you're going to let a bunch of people who don't even own their homes, set up a village. They'll have the power to levy taxes on you, because you are the sole owner of the land and the units. You're the landlord, and you're going to let these people tell you, "We're going to tax you for a fire engine, we're going to tax you for a police department, we're going to tax you for a water works, all this kind of stuff." And Phil said, "Yes, I think that's the way a democracy should operate." So it was Phil and other people at ACB, plus we had people out here, like Dennis O'Harrow, who worked for the Municipal League at the University of Chicago. They provided communities throughout the United States with advice. So he was very active in this and for those people who were suspicious of any of ACB's motives, and there were many, he could say either, "Yes, they're trying to screw us," or, "No, they're being very altruistic here. This is the way to go." We had guys like Bryan Patterson, who was very active in those days. We had some real savvy people out here. The educational level was very, very high. Ninety percent, I guess, were college graduates, for God's sake, and I told you about the Phi Beta Kappa keys (laughs) blinding people (laughter). Anyway, so that there was all this discussion and it seemed to be the consensus, that people wanted a village; they didn't want to delay this thing. They knew that any delay would mean we were going to have to incorporate as a town or city. We didn't want that. I don't think there was vote against it.
Q. A referendum for incorporation?
A. Yes, I think it was a one hundred percent for incorporating as a village.
Henry Dietch or Bob Dinerstein can probably tell you better about that. I'm
not sure if there were votes against it. Park Forest was incorporated in
January of 1949 as a village. [ Ed. note: Officially, February 1, 1949]
Q. Let's go back to the schools. There's something I want to ask you to be
sure if I've got it straight. As I recall, part of Park Forest was in 163,
A. West of Western Avenue.
Q. ...which had, right ....
A. Was 170. Western Avenue was the dividing line.
Q. The portion you lived in was 170 and a little part was 194 in Steger.
A. Yes, but the bulk of Park Forest, that was built then, Western Avenue
was the dividing boundary between 170 and 163. Now 170 had an outstanding school district, for ethnic reasons. They had a very highly respected, very well-known superintendent, Ben Scylla. His assistant, Frank Nevosad, was equally respected. The kids that were going to the 170 schools were getting a bang-up education. And this was strange from the point of view that Chicago Heights had a reputation in the Chicago area ... that beggared description. (Laughter) It was a syndicate town. There was a mafia there, gambling, prostitution, crooked politicians, everybody was on the take, and I'm talking about real top flight hoods, guys who were on the
FBI's most wanted list. You saw "The Godfather," they had a godfather over
there. The Heights was really a rough, tough place--except for the school
system. Apparently there were a bunch of first generation Italians that were living
in the town, and they were willing to go along with all this other stuff as
far as the community itself was concerned. But like many immigrants, they
wanted the best there was for their children. And the word went out that there was to be no politics in the Chicago Heights School system. The people that ran for the Chicago Heights School Board were to be absolutely clean; there was to be no graft, they were to have only top flight administration; and excellent teachers. You could do anything you wanted in the Heights, but you left the school system alone. When we were putting the heat on for the school, a petition was circulated over there, to hold a referendum and vote Park Forest out of District 170. Meanwhile, ACB had built the ... I guess the first school out here was the Lakewood School. Here's where what some people said was a misunderstanding. I'm convinced in my own mind there was no misunderstanding. Park Forest 163 District got taken, by ACB, in this.
Q. How's that?
A. .... When the negotiations were going on and ACB said, "We will build a school, we'll advance the money, and you pay us the rent until you ... such time as you have bonding power, and then you can purchase the building at cost. They also said, "What you pay us for rent will go toward what we have spent to build the school. So that when you get your bonding power: say, if arbitrarily, the school cost $300,000, we'll say, you have paid, by the time you get your bonding power, $50,000 in rent, they you'll owe us $250,000." How, this is what I understood and I'm sure that I didn't misunderstand, but when the chips were down and the bonding power was available, Sam Beber said to the 163 School Board, "Well, the school cost us ‘x’ dollars and so, issue bonds for that amount to pay for the school." And somebody said, "Wait a minute. We've paid you ‘x’ amount of dollars for rent here. That's supposed to come off." "Oh, no, he said, you misunderstood. Show it to me in writing."
Q. It wasn't in writing, I take it?
A. It was not in writing. I told you before that, in the main, I found
ACB completely fair. There were some things I didn't agree with. This was
one I didn't agree with. I felt, this was a place the town got gypped. But,
Sam, insisted that the rent was not to apply to the total cost. It had been
my understanding and the understanding of a number of other people who sat in
on conversations, that it was.
Anyway, 163, meanwhile, is taking care of all the kids from the west side of
Western Avenue and the new schools are being built. But the kids from the
east side of Western Avenue were suddenly in bad trouble. Because we're being
de-annexed from 170. We knew, when the election was held there was no way we
could stop it.
Q. Yes, somewhere back there didn't you run for the 170 school board? At
one time, before you were de-annexed?
A. No, it was 173. 1 think.
Q. Huh. Maybe my memory is wrong..
A. Now wait. You may, you may ....
Q. I think I recall a Reporter's story about you running for the 170 board.
A. Oh, that's right. You're right. I did run for the 170 board. And
that was when Mary Dinerstein organized a block to beat me.
Q. Oh, really? Why?
A. She liked some girl who was running. When 173 came along, a group asked
me to run. I said, "If you want to file a petition, it's alright with me, but
I'm not going to campaign." Anyway, I was elected to the school board, along
with John Moon and Fran Kane .... I forget who the others were.
Q. Let me see if I understand this correctly, Ross. You were de-annexed
from 170, but you couldn't be immediately annexed into 163, so you had to
create your own school district for awhile.
A. That's right. A new district had to be created, then absorbed by 163.
Q. I see.
A. What the legal ramifications were, I can't tell you right now. We had wanted to become a part of 163. But there was something in the school code that prevented this from happening. So we had to organize a separate school district which we knew would be in existence for a year, or very little more than a year, and then it could be voted into 163. I suppose we could have gone to 194, but as far as those of us who were living out here at the time were concerned, 163 was far more desirable than 194. As a matter of fact, there was talk of a consolidated school district, where we would take over the Park Forest part of 194 and the high school district and make it all one consolidated district. That never came to fruition. Anyway .... we had maintained a very good relationship with both Ben Scylla and Nevosad. We asked if we could borrow Nevosad to get us going until we could get our own superintendent. Now, we were going to build a school, the Dogwood School. The Dogwood School would have to have a principal, but also, in accordance with the Illinois School Code, we also had to have a superintendent, which was not the most economical thing to do. But, he helped us. He sat in with us meeting after meeting all the time the plans were being approved and the school was being built. He helped us select the superintendent. He gave us constant advice about what to do and how to operate, and I don't think we could have done a half way decent job without his help because this was a real pro telling a bunch of amateurs what to do.
Q. Were you building a school in 173?
A. We built the Dogwood School there.
Q. O.K. It was built during that time.
A. Yes, and you see, after the school was built and in operation and everything was functioning fine, we met whatever legal requirements were necessary to be met, so that we could dissolve 173 and with a vote, attach it to 163. So there was a very smooth transition. They simply took over District 173, which was Park Forest on the east side of Western Avenue, and they had a school already staffed with teachers.
Q. Somewhere, I heard, that some of the school board members in 173 were hesitant after awhile to be annexed back into 163. Do you remember anything like that?
A. No, not really. You will always find, where you've got six or seven people, somebody who will say, "Well, maybe we should keep going the way we are.” My personal feeling is that whether you are a village trustee or you're the President of the United States, or you're a member of a school board, you sort of get the idea, "Wow, I've got some power here. This is very pleasant. Why should I give this up?" That kind of thing. And if there was any of it, it was overcome very quickly. Now, it could be, I don't know, maybe some of the members on 163 said, "We don't want to take that on." That could be and I would know nothing at all about that, you'd have to talk to some of the people who were on the, oh, let’s see ... Wasn't, no, it was Al Glassner who was a member of that school board in those early days. He's one person that I remember. But they would be the ones who would have to tell you.
Q. Was 173 just south of 26th Street, by the way?
A. District 173 was all of Park Forest east of Western Avenue, as I recall, from the E.J. & E. tracks to the boundary of 194 on the south. There were rental units between the tracks and 26th street. It was built with the idea that if it ever had to be expanded, it could be. In one wall, the piping and stuff is just capped; so that if they ever want to put an addition on it, the architect's plans call for just knocking out that wall and all the utilities are there. Now, what else do you want to know?
Q. Well, I guess there are lots more things.
A. I've been going on and on and on here.
Q. Why don't you tell me a little bit about early Park Foresters you remember?
A. The early Park Foresters were really a peculiar breed of people. They were civic-minded, they were young, this was a very, very young community. Even then, all of us here were aware of the fact, particularly where the kids were concerned, that there were no older people. There were no grandparents, for example, that the kids should have with them, you know. The kids didn't see anybody older. The town had a reputation of, being very transient. And to a great extent, I suppose, it was more transient than most towns, but, on the other hand, there have been literally hundreds of people who were here in the very early days who are still here. They have not gone. The kids used to say, "Boy, what a terrible place to live. There's nothing to do here. Can't wait until we get away." And yet many of those same kids have since married and moved back (laughs) to Park Forest. So they feel, I guess, that it's a good place to raise kids. But we had a very, very high educational level. Now, one of the first organizations to be set up in Park Forest, believe it or not, was the National Council of Jewish Women and, NCJW, which is unlike--as I understand it, and I only know this because Leona was active in this (laughs)--unlike most Jewish women's organizations, was not into fund raising. They involved themselves in municipal projects. For example, they started Handicamp. They would start something, get it going, and then turn it over to somebody else to keep in operation. But, the first thing that they did in Park Forest was to build bus shelters on (Laughs) Western Avenue so that the people wouldn't get rained on and snowed on in the winter time. As I say, this is something that Leona could tell you about far better than I can, and she probably did. They started the Golden Agers out here. Now, as far as other organizations, there was the famous Sidewalks Committee. (Laughs)
Q. I gather that was the one that wanted their sidewalks in. (Laughs)
A. That was the one that wanted sidewalks along Birch, which hadn't been designed to have sidewalks. And there was a private nursery school started out here by Elizabeth Waldmann. You know, there's a street named for the Waldmanns out here. That nursery school was in a little house on the northeast corner of 26th and Western.
Q. Where the gas station is now?
A. Hmhm (nods head, yes) And that was started primarily because there were an awful lot of young mommas, who wanted to get involved in other activities in the village, and they had these little kids and there was no place to put them and Elizabeth, who was trained in that field, and I assumed wanted to make some money, started the nursery school. And it went on for a long time and was very successful. Charlie was the guy who was the water expert out here and who, as I understand it, designed and built the water softening plant.
(end of tape 1)
(tape 2, side 1)
Q. Thank you, Old-timer, there. (Laughter) This is tape two of an oral history interview with Ross DeLue on November 11th, 1980, with Glenda Bailey-Mershon; interviewer. You were--Ross, where are? (Laughs)
A. I'm right here, I'm right here.
Q. You were telling me who Otto Damgard was.
A. Yes. Otto Damgard and Oscar Johnson, and incidentally, have you heard either of those...?
Q. I've heard the names ....
A. Alright, and you know nothing about either one of them?
Q. (Shakes head, no) Except that they're involved with landscape.
A. Well, Ann Johnson still lives here; that's Oscar's widow. Anyway, I've told you that, because of the way Park Forest was built, everything, practically, was leveled, particularly in the rental area. Now, in the homes area, there were some big oaks left. They tried not to tear everything apart when they were building homes. But the name Park Forest was a little bit ridiculous at the time that it was picked, because there was sure no forest, except in the forest preserves. Here were, some ... what? 25 hundred acres that Manilow had acquired? The only trees that were left were some of the orchard trees that were left at the old golf club, but where Peach Street is, and where Apple Lane is, there was an apple orchard and a peach orchard...
Q. Oh, I see...
A. ...that's how those streets got their names. The clubhouse and the old swimming pool for the club house was on the northwest corner of Sauk Trail and Western Avenue then. And the orchards wound around and we used to go there and pick peaches and apples in the early days...
Q. Oh, really...
A. ...when we were living here. (Laughs) Anyway, to call the place Park Forest, this leveled plain, was ridiculous, but Damgard and Johnson did all of the landscaping through the entire rental area and also did much along the parkways and the streets in the homes area, and they did everything in the shopping center. And now, thirty years later, the fruit of their labors can be seen. I mean, I've talked to so many people, who moved away from here and haven't been back in fifteen or twenty years, and drive through and say, "Oh my God. The place is just absolutely beautiful." Never realizing .... (Laughs)
Q. Yes, a lot of people have mentioned it to me, too. So, actually ACB planted most of those trees?
A. Oh, all of them. Sure. Now...
Q. I always wondered whether home owners did it, or the company.
A. No. No. No. No. All the trees, when you're driving down Western Avenue, for example, from 26th Street, going south towards Sauk Trail, then you see all the trees on both sides of the street and the trees back in the courts and the bushes and what not, that was all ACB planted.
Q. I see.
A. Now, there was an interesting thing that you probably picked up in your reading, about the fact that Park Forest was designed with only ten to the acre of population. You couldn't do that today. Economically, it would be ridiculous to try and build a development with that kind of population density. So that that's one unique feature that the condo and the co-op areas will have as long as they exist. That you have that much open space around all those buildings. It could never be done again.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about the other members of the ACB team? Who you remember and what they were like?
A. Well, oh, alright. As I told you, originally ACB consisted of Carroll Sweet, Senior, who was a Michigan banker, Phil Klutznick, Sam Beber, and Nate Manilow. That was ACB. Then, when Sweet decided that he couldn't be active, his son, Carroll, Junior, became a member of the ACB management team and was here for awhile and then Carroll, Junior left. So, essentially, then, the ownership was Phil, Sam, and Nate. And you had some minor partners, in the architects Loebl, Schlossman, and Bennett. They owned a small portion. There was a silent partner that I'm not going to put on tape.
A. I'll tell you off the record sometime if you're really interested in
knowing about it. Anyway, Phil, as I say, had been Federal Public Housing
Commissioner, so that when he came on here, he brought a small qroup with him.
There was Abner Silverman, Hart Perry, John Lange, and Iz Rafkind. That's
R-A-F-K-I-N-D, in case you didn't get that. Now Iz, Hart, Ab and John had all
worked for Phil in Washington. They had been instrumental in developing the
Greenbelt towns that were mentioned earlier. Phil felt that they would be
very valuable here. They were here in the early days, and until the thing
really got well underway. The first to leave, I believe, was Ab, who went
back to Washington. Then, sometime after that, Rafkind, who was controller,
needed help, and Ed Waterman came on the scene as Iz's assistant. Now, Nate
was active to some extent in the overall management, but he was primarily the
expert on construction. He had a guy named Joe Goldman working for him, who
was his boy in the field. But, what Nate primarily devoted himself to was
building Park Forest, the physical building of Park Forest. Sam Beber was
primarily interested in the industrial park and in the commercial end of it.
And I think it's safe to say--and I'm not speaking ill of the dead--that Sam
Beber can be considered primarily responsible for the reason that the Indus-
trial park never got off the ground. And that was because Sam made such
demands on prospective tenants or owners, plant owners, or whatever, that ...
that was the primary reason plants didn't locate here.
Q. Hmm, now how do you know about that?
A. I'll give you what you want. (Laugh)
Q. (Laughs) 0. K.
A. In my business ... and as you know, I carry on a love affair with Park
Forest, and I've always wanted to do whatever I could for the town, and help
it in any way that I could, and I've enjoyed living here and it's given me a lot more than I could ever possibly begin to give it. But, at the time I was in the public relations business, and I had a client who was about to build two plants. And the talk about Park Forest had always been that the only industries, really, that they wanted in the industrial park were non-nuisance industries. Not industries that belched out a lot of black smoke, no smel-ters, or steel mills, or noisy type of companies. Well, this client for whom I worked, was a soft goods manufacturer, foundation wear manufacturer, that wanted a plant that would employ a lot of women to operate sewing machines. Their existing plants were all beautifully landscaped, air-conditioned, modern, lovely buildings. It was a very progressive company. In talking to the president, it turned out they were considering building two new plants. And I said, "Hey, how about one of them in Park Forest?," and I went into my sales pitch about Park Forest and what a great place it would be for them. They would have a resource of labor and a delightful town, and so on and so forth, and I got them all intrigued and he said, "O.K., we'll go out and we'll take a look around there and see what's what. And he did, and afterwards he told me, in no uncertain terms, that in no way would he come to Park Forest, that in his conversations with Beber, Beber was demanding the moon. They had been offered so much by other communities around the country if they would come in and build plants, that it would be ridiculous for him to try and meet the demands that were being made by Beber. For example, they ultimately built two plants in Nebraska, because Nebraska had an economic development corporation and they came to this company and they said, “Look, we'll build plants to your specifications in this town and in this town and we'll rent them to you for five years at a nominal fee, and we will give you a ten year tax moratorium; and we'll do this and we'll do the other thing, because we want your payroll. Each plant was going to employ, between..., one plant, I guess was going to employ 300 women and the other 500 women. And the attitude was, "We want your payroll. And these are the things we'll do for you." And, so he said to me, "Why would I go to a place like Park Forest when I can get this elsewhere, and I've had it offered to me by four or five different communities. They want our payroll." He said, "I asked about buying property in their industrial park, and I was told, "No, it's not for sale. It's on a leasehold, or it's for rent." (phone rang, tape turned off and on again) (Laughter)
A. So, that's just one instance of what went on in the industrial area. I had heard from a number of other people, including a very prominent member of the S.I.R.-that’s the Society of Industrial Realtors, probably the biggest realtor in Chicago, whom I knew quite well--who had tried a half a dozen different times to make a deal for an industrial plant in Park Forest with Beber, and, who told me--I'll quote him--he said, "The man's impossible to work with. He wants an arm and a leg and the moon," and he said, "no way." And he said, "I'll tell you right now there are many companies that just will not consider that area because it's south. They all want to go to O'Hare." But, he said, "Sometimes, if you can work a deal, where costs make enough of a difference, they will go south." But he said, "I can't. No way can he be dealt with." Now at that particular time, Glenda, there were people out here who were accusing the Board of Trustees of being responsible for the non-development of the industrial park. And the Board of Trustees may have been a little bit helpful because they had some squirrelly ideas about curb cuts, and about signing, and that kind of thing, and some trustees were constantly yammering, about, "Oh, it will bring truck traffic in, or it will do this or do the other thing." That was not the primary cause at all. The primary cause was the restrictions that Beber placed on the thing and the demands that he was making on people who wanted, who were even considering, developing out here. And I think you've got some backup on that in what has happened with the industrial park in Park Forest South. Because, even though it's south--and it's farther south than Park Forest--they have built some very, very attractive, very large plants over there, and they're still bringing plants in. And so it has to…
Q. So it's possible.
A. That's right.
Q. Hmm, hmm, I see. To go back just a little to the ACB team, they must have been a group of very interesting men.
A. Oh, they were interesting, they were bright, they were alert, they knew what they were doing, they functioned well together, they really did. I was in a position where I could see certain things and there wasn't the internal bickering or jealousy or what not, that you often find in that kind of an organization. And they seemed to enjoy what they were doing, they were having a lot of fun with it.
A. Yes, they really got a bang out of it.
Q. Some people have told me that they were, well, as one person put it, Nate's boys and Phil's boys, and that the two view points didn't always come together.
A. The two view points didn't always come together. Nate and Phil didn't always see eye to eye, by any manner of means. And yet, even though there were differences--for example, I don't think that I'm gullible and I don't think I'm naive, I really don't ... Nate was essentially a businessman and a damn good one. One of the best, certainly, in the real estate field. I mentioned before that I thought Phil was kind of an idealist, and he was. There were things that he wanted for this community that were done over Nate's violent protest; I don't think Nate ever really liked the idea of the original incorporation Phil had--maybe I don't know how to term it--he was certainly, you could never say that he was in any way naive, but he had a feeling about democracy and the people having a right to speak, that the average businessman never had, (Laughs) I'll tell you. They didn't.
Q. Did members of the ACB team do much socializing with the early Park Foresters?
A. Oh, yes, yes. The Perry's were extremely social, both Hart and Bede, the Langes while they were here were social. Ab Silverman really wasn't here long enough to get to know very many people. But certainly Phil and Ethel were very social. You never saw Nate. Nate was out here during the day, period, and that was it. Now Phil lived out here from the very beginning. First in a rental unit, and then he built the big house down on Monee Road. I don't know, have you ever been through that house?
Q. Not been through it, no.
A. You know how big it is?
Q. Well, I know it must have been big for five kids, but, no, I don't.
A. It's six thousand square feet ....
Q. Oh, my.
A. ... on one floor. Now, I don't know if you can relate to the square footage of a house.
Q. That's a lot. Some are one thousand around here, aren't they? so that ...
A. Yes, a funny story, a side bar, really.
Q. 0. K. Good.
A. I was in the court and Phil came out of the house and said, "Come here. I want to show you something." So I went into the living room and on his desk were a sheaf of blueprints and he said, "These are the prints for the house that I'm going to build down on Monee Road." So the two of us are there at the desk, looking at the blueprints, and Tommy, who was the eldest boy, came in and looked over our shoulders at the blueprints and he said, "Gee Dad, what school is that?" (laughter) That's how big that darn house was.
Q. Did Mr. Klutznick ever intend to stay in Park Forest, that you know of?
A. I don't ....
Q. He built an awful big house.
A. I don't know. I think the chances are that originally, when he first got the Park Forest concept, and for sometime after that, he felt that he and Ethel would be living here a long time.
Q. Just before, I think, ACB was dissolved, things got pretty bitter, I think, between the village, or at least between the village government and ACB.
A. It had been bitter on and off from time to time. But you see, ACB was convinced in many ways that things that it wanted to do were right and the village was convinced that they were wrong. On the other hand, the village was convinced in many areas that they were right and that ACB was wrong, when the village was wrong. One instance that I was personally involved in, where the village cost the taxpayers of the village of Park Forest a great deal of money, and that was the widening of Sauk Trail. The village could have had it done at no cost. The county was perfectly willing to widen Sauk Trail. The village trustees were afraid of protests on the part of residents living on Sauk Trail, who said, "It will become a speedway and our children will all get run over." As it happens, Sauk Trail at that point, was a disaster because it was a two lane road, it was far more winding than it is now through the forest preserves, it was hilly, you had no sight distances. Traffic could only creep and traffic was getting heavier because the village was building up. And so the trustees turned down the county's offer because three families living along Sauk Trail came to a board meeting and objected to the widening of Sauk Trail. Then, a year and a half or so, may be two years later, it had to be widened, it no longer could be left the way it was, and the village had to pay for it. And it was millions of dollars that thing cost. At the time the county offered the Sauk Trail deal Park Forest could also have gotten a lagoon built in Central Park and landscaped, again by the county and the county forest preserve district, and they turned it down. So that the Village Board wasn't all-seeing either. The Village Board may have gotten a bum rap about the industrial district, but they were
Conscientious--quite often--conscientious amateurs, who were not as farsighted
as they thought they were, in many cases.
Q. 0. K.
A. There has to be a middle ground, Glenda. Everything is not all black
and all white; there are various shades of gray in what went on here.
Q. Yes. What do you think the relationship was, essentially, between the
village and ACB at the time ACB was dissolved? Was that a c1imax, or...
simply a winding down.
A. I can't see that it was anything more unusual than it had been. The
point was ... I think, and I could be wrong, but just based on little things,
I think that the reason ACB was, as you put it, "dissolved.," I think that
Phil and Nate had reached an impasse in their relationship, to a great ex-
tent. I don't mean that they were fighting mad with one another, but ... it
was no longer a down the line cordial thing. And I think Phil felt that he
was ready for bigger and better things. Now, after all, he built Old
Orchard, he built River Oaks, he built some stuff out in Denver, he built a
town in Israel named Ashdod, he was expanding all over the place; he was
becoming more and more and more important. He had developed a base, Park
Forest had been eminently successful, and--now, Sam Beber continued to live out here, long after Phil sold his interest and sold his house. Sam and Helen still lived in their Park Forest house for a long time afterwards, and they had kids who were involved out here, you know, in real estate dealings. I think it was a progressive thing that was bound to happen between Phil and Nate. Phil sold his interest and he collected all these millions for it, heck he started Urban Development and Investment Corporation, and, as you recall, when he sold that to ... who was it? ... Aetna Life that he sold it to?
Q. Yes. A. And he sold it to Aetna, what did he get? Something like fifty odd million dollars for it, and Tommy still runs it, and Jimmy is also there. Jimmy was in charge of all the commercial leasing at Water Tower Place. The Klutznicks moved onward and upward at a much more rapid rate than Manilow. Nate had one son that I know of, Lew--he may have others, I don't know--but Lew was the only one that I know of. Lew has done well but, my God, you can't begin to compare what happened with Lew Manilow as compared to what happened with the Klutznick family. Now, I assume you know the relationship between Beber and Klutznick.
Q. Their wives were sisters, right?
A. That's right. Helen and Ethel are sisters. Their maiden name was Rikas, in case you want that, from a prominent Omaha family. I'm sure that when Phil came to Park Forest, when the original ACB group was organized, he was not a wealthy man. He wasn't broke, but he wasn't wealthy. Nate, at that point, I'm sure, considering the value of the land that he had here, was by far the wealthier of the two men. Then that situation reversed, in more recent times.
Q. Yes,. That's interesting. Let me ask you one final question, Ross.
A. This is going to be a doozy, I can tell (Laughter) from the look on your
Q. Oh. It's pretty abstract. You were a newspaper man for a long time, spent a lot of time in Chicago and around it, and they you were in public relations; I'm sure you must have seen a lot of other communities. What did Park Forest compare to, if anything?
A. It doesn't. Park Forest, I think, was and is unique. I know of no
other place like this town. Part of it was due to the time in which it was
conceived and built and the conditions that prevailed in the United States at
that time, and I know of no one else who has ever tried to duplicate it. I
think it is a unique community.
Now, I'll go back again at one thing with Klutznick. I am not sure that Nate
realized, when he was acquiring all this farm land out here, and the country
club and everything else, that he was looking at it from the point of view
that around three sides of this village there was forest preserve. I think
that when he and Phil got together and began to talk about this, that Phil
recognized the possibilities immediately and it clicked in his mind., "Boy,
what an opportunity for a Greenbelt town," he probably thought. "They can
never do anything about that forest land around this place." Now it's going
to proscribe the size of it, it's going to limit the size, it can never expand
... " but I think, that that is what made him think, "We'll build a town,
privately, that will be better than anything the government built. We'll
eliminate mistakes that were made during the war-time building of the
Before the first spade of earth was turned, before any ground-breaking, the
whole concept--the original concept had changed some, as the thing went on.
Every unit, the curvilinear streets designed with the idea that motorists would have to drive slowly making the streets safe for kids, and sewer lines, everything was laid out on paper, and then they followed a plan and built according to that plan. I know of no other community of 30,000 people that was ever built like that. I know of no community that started from scratch and was 15 to 20,000 three years later. There may be, but if there is, I've never heard it. It was a real,...strange thing, particularly when you think of the idealism that went into it. And there really was idealism behind it. You know, there, was something that required ACB to say, for example, "We're going to set up four priorities of renting." They could have said, just as easily, "We'll set a scale of rents and see how this thing goes. If there's any real demand, then we'll up the rents .... " Nobody told them that they had to do what they did and rent the way they did. When Phil built Eastgate, there was no new housing in the Chicago area for under $10,000. So he said, "We've got to figure out a way to build a house for $9,990 that isn't completely shoddy or junky." Well, the snobs, if you please, in Park Forest, who were living in $12,000 houses, were very upset at the fact that there was going to be houses built out here and sold for $9,990, because they were sure that meant we were going to have a big slum. And they didn't want that. After all, they were living in $12,000 houses, by God!
Q. Did the idealism in the planning come--and the emphasis on planning--come from ACB? I mean, was that the impetus for what Park Forest became?
A. I think so. You had never had, really, any town, any town anywhere in the world, that I know of, built from scratch, from nothing, prior to the Greenbelt towns. They were the first, everybody recognizes that. But, they were government sponsored, they were built with government money. So, here came a company saying, "We're going to use private money and we're going to build a town from scratch and we're going to complete it in three to four years, and that's going to be it, there's going to be no more, because there's no more land for them to build on." This was the general idea. It had never been done before, and so far as I know, it hasn't been done since. It may have been tried, but I don't think anyone really has ever done it. Can you think of any? Have you talked to anybody or had anybody talk to you that has know of one.
Q. A private development? I don't know of any that have been that successful. Developments, yes, but not communities.
A. Oh, sure, but you had that government bill under which Park Forest South was supposed to be built. Not one of those things ....
Q. That's right, yes.
A. ... came out. Every damn one of them failed, including Park Forest South.
Q. Oh, you consider that a failure?
A. Yes. Don't you?
Q. Well ....
A. Park Forest South was to have been ...
Q. Park Forest South fared better .... A. Park Forest--a most ....
Q. ...than most ...
A. But Park Forest South was to have been a town, if you recall, of 100,000 people in eight years. Park Forest South, with all the government money that was poured into it as grants, hasn't made it. I think that one place where Lew or Nate, whoever it was, made a big mistake--and this is just my opinion--thought they were being smart by capitalizing on the Park Forest name, and that's why they called it Park Forest South, and all they succeeded in doing was confusing a lot of people. If they had picked a different name for that thing and made it a separate town, it may have gone better, but I think that this didn't help, but really, I don't. I'd probably get a hell of an argument from them about it, but, you see, they did these things that were a lot different, too. Park Forest was laid out, a company was organized to construct and run it. I'm sure that if, at the time Park Forest was in the discussion stages, if Phil had said to Nate, "Now, those tenants may organize a town," Nate would have backed away from it as if it was a hot potato. I'm sure that was not discussed. I don't think it was in his mind at all that anything like that would be done. But in Park Forest South, they took chunks of land, they sold them to individual developers, and said "Go ahead and build your houses or build your apartments or build whatever you're going to build." That wasn't done here. When this area was built, outside of Phil Klutznick's house, and the house that you're sitting in right now at that original time, every house was built by ACB. Then, later on, Joe Belmont built some of the Parent Magazine houses. Phil's house and this house were built by a guy named Gustavson, a contractor. He lives in Homewood, or lived in Homewood. The rest of the houses that went up all were built by ACB. They built them and then they sold the house and the land to the homebuyers. But in Park Forest South, as I say, you had maybe a dozen different builders down there, each one with his own private little development, and that's far different than this town.
Q. I see. 0. K.
A. Well, don't you agree?
Q. Yes, I'm not sure what the effect of that was.
A. Oh, I don't know, I'm not talking about effect .... The one thing was that you've got to remember, that originally, when ACB rented, as the landlord, they screened every tenant they got; they laid down restrictions. They were going to be no pets, no families ...
(end of side 1, tape 2)
(side 2, tape 2)
A .... with more than four kids and they had minimum income limits. When they sold the houses, there was very careful screening. And ACB came in for some vicious criticism, if you please, about the fact that this, for a long time was an all-White community. Now, it really wasn't, because they did sell to some Orientals. I remember, ACB at one point--a spokesman, we'll put it that way, for ACB--saying that he personally was very opposed to this business of all-White here, but that the mortgage companies, who were writing the mortgages, were insisting on it. Whether this is true or false, I don't know; that statement was made. The, I was very, very proud of Park Forest, when the first Black family bought a house down here and moved in, because what was happening in other communities were people riding around and throwing bricks through windows and doing all kinds of terrible things, and police around all the time. With Park Forest, the Human Relations Commission swung into action and there was nothing. There was no overt action toward the family at all. I recall hearing that some idiot in the Mohawk area wanted to organize a posse or something--the guy you should talk to about this is Barney Cunningham--but as I got the story, and I got it from what I consider a reliable source, this guy called Barney at the time, and said, "We got to do so and so." And Barney said to him, "Are you out of your cotton-picking mind? You know what the attitude of the Chancery office is. You know how the Cardinal feels about this. You're not going to lift a finger against that family." (Laughter) You get proud of Park Forest for things like that. When the color barrier finally broke here, you didn't have rioting going on and you didn't have people throwing fire bombs up against houses as they did in other places; it just didn't happen,. I had a back‑door neighbor, who, when the first Black family moved in, got all upset. And she ran around trying to work everybody up and everybody said, "Marge, go away. Don’t bother us with that foolishness." She said, "The value of my house has dropped half."
Q. Well, why is that, do you think? Why do people in Park Forest feel that way?
A. Feel what way?
Q. Feel that they were not going to get upset about integration.
A. Because they were intelligent.
Q. 0. K. (Laughs)
A. No, I mean it. They were self-confident, they were sure of themselves. I’m sure that there are bigots in this town. I'm positive of it; I know some of them. But they're in a minority. They know that they can't get anyplace, that if they start, too many people will say, "Wait a minute. You're out of line, now cut it out." People here will speak up. In too many other places, people may feel like Park Foresters, but if a bigot starts raising hell, they sit back very quietly and they don't say anything. They won't open their mouths. Here they will! They'll say, "Wait a minute. That's not right. You can't do that. You're violating the law to begin with." And people have learned this and so they don't go off half-cocked anymore, those relatively few who are bigoted. I have heard people make vicious anti-Semitic remarks in this town. These are people who are either renting or living in houses that were built by Jews and the reason they were living and renting in them is that they were the best value that they could find anywhere in the Chicago area. They weren't gouged if they bought, and they weren't overcharged on rent, if they rented. But, boy, did they hate Jews. What did they think Phil was? What did they think Nate was?
Q. You chaired the twentieth anniversary celebration, didn't you?
A. Yes. And that was a big surprise to me. Q. Was it? How? A. It was a tremendous surprise, because I figured, that if we were lucky, we'd get twenty-five or thirty former Park Foresters to show up at various things--provided they didn't live too far away, and would come back to the village for some of the things that were going on, and so on. When I realized the number of people who were early residents--and by early residents, we'll say people who lived here in 1949 and the first half of 1950, which was relatively early--were still here, I almost ... I just couldn't believe it. There were people I hadn't bumped into around town, I hadn't seen, in maybe twelve, fifteen years. I didn't know they were still here and I'm sure they didn't know I was still here. But the town had grown, and people develop other interests and what not, and you didn't see them. And then, the number of people who came back from all over the country, for God's sake, from the East coast, from the West, when they heard about the darn thing, they just showed all over the place. And they had a ball.
Q. How did they hear about it? Just word of mouth?
A. No. We got a bunch of names and we wrote a lot of letters to people and, we got lists together, you know, and asked people who have lived here if they knew of various people. And of course, many of us still correspond with a lot of former neighbors and friends, at Christmas time we trade Christmas cards, "The Village is going to have a celebration." And you didn't even have to say, "Why don't you think about coming?" Because then you would hear back, "Hey, we're taking our vacation. We're going to come." Or, "We're going to be in the area, somewhere in the vicinity around that time, and we'll come," and that sort of thing. And it was really something. It was like old home week, or a high school class reunion.
Q. Yes. I know that Mr. Klutznick gave a talk at that anniversary celebration. Or at least one person said to me that he thought Mr. Klutznick sounded very frustrated. Another person said to me that she thought he sounded very angry. What do you remember about his talk?
A. I didn't hear it.
Q. Oh, you didn't hear it? (Laughs) What were you doing, Ross? (Laughs)
A. I was home, sick, and people came...
Q. Oh, no.
A. ...over afterwards and they brought flowers that had been there and they brought cake (Laughter) and all that stuff. You'll have to ask Leona. (Laughing) I worked my tail off for that thing, and I didn't get to it.
Q. That's funny.
A. Every time there's some damn big thing in this town, I'm either sick or I'm away. I don't know what it is, (Laughs) I'm involved in it up to my ears, up to the time, and then I don't get to it. (Laughs) Joe Blfstk has got his cloud over my head. You're not old enough to remember Joe Blfstk.
Q. No, I don't know what that is. (laugh) I don't know how to spell it, either.
A. Remember Al Capp?
Q. Yes. Yes. A. Well, there was a character in 'Lil Abner, named Joe Blfstk. I think he spelled his last name B-L-F‑S-T-K or something, and he had a cloud over his head wherever he went...
Q. Oh! Oh, yes! A. ... it rained on him
Q. Yes, I do. Yes, I do. Now I remember it. (Laughter)
A. O. K.
Q. Well, Ross, I think I'm probably going to tire you out (Laughs) if I
A. Well, let's, you know, cut if off.
Q. Thanks very much for the interview.
(End of interview)
Sharon Freese, "transcriptionist."