This is an interview for the Park Forest Oral History Project with James D. Saul, on September 1st, 1980.
The interviewer is Glenda Bailey-Mershon.
Q. Mr. Saul, how did you come to Park Forest?
A. I had been living in Champaign, Illinois, where I went to school and built a house. But I found that unless you had a job at the university or owned some of that black land in Champaign County, you were at a great disadvantage in the job market. So I made a little shift. I had been working for an automobile agency there, doing insurance selling and claims work, and I found a job as casualty underwriter in an insurance company in Chicago and worked for them for a few months.
Since I liked safety inspections, I moved to the National Safety Council. There, they said they’d make me an editor, even though I didn’t have any actual editing experience. And I thrived at it. I wrote a bestseller in the industrial safety field – my first assignment and I’ve been in editing ever since.
Q. How did you choose Park Forest to live in?
A. Oh, it’s second choice really. A man at the insurance company said his father owned an apartment and he would rent it to me. This was on 79th street, then when I announced that I was leaving the insurance company, all at once that apartment wasn’t available. Apartments were scarce. So, the next choice was Park Forest, where I had heard you could get a house for $1,000 down, and reasonable monthly payments. So I came out here and was able to get an apartment to live in because they put you at the head of the apartment list if you put a down payment on a house. So that’s what we did. For a while, I was commuting from Champaign. I’d get up bright and early on Monday morning and ride the IC train through to the Loop, lived in the Y [YMCA] all week, go back [to Champaign] on Friday nights, and did that for a while. Then we got an apartment at 117 Hemlock, while this house was being built.
Q. I see. What did this area look like when you first came?
A. Barren. There was not one tree; not one blade of grass. There was the blacktop and the concrete and the dirt. And I was the first on the street to put in the grass. I had the advantages of having built a house four years before in Champaign, and I had done some landscaping work while I was a student, so I knew the time to plant grass was in the fall. And since we moved in on a Saturday, September 26th – I decided I would work out the muscular kinks from the moving by getting out and walking around with seed and fertilizer on Sunday. So I did that.
I had a great many visitors. People came and wanted to deliver milk, they came and wanted to sell me storm windows. I got so I wouldn’t talk to anyone who came up to the yard, I just kept on raking and seeding and fertilizing, ignoring them. That day’s work paid off in the spring – well, actually, before spring. By November we had a thick carpet of grass. And in the spring this grass was so thick that people came over to see how I had done it, because they had forgotten that I was out there in the fall planting grass. They were fighting the increasing heat and the violent washing rains we have in the spring – the fall rains are gentle and the heat is getting less and less, the water stays in the ground more and more. And they came over to look at the grass, and they would bounce on it, all going through the same body language, bouncing on their tiptoes.
What I had done was consult a fertilizer manufacturer in Chicago Heights about getting a proper mix of fertilizer to fill out the gaps the soil had according to the test I had made with a little $2 testing kit. The fertilizer manufacturer advised me that I was asking for something that would cost hundreds of dollars if I went for four pounds of Muriate of potash, and a little bit for nitrogen and a little bit for the other thing. And so he said, “Just get a straight commercial mix. 5-10-5 or something like that. And since you’re low on phosphate, get some super phosphate, which they use in truck gardens around here. I did that, and it apparently was just what the soil needed, because in the spring, when I dug for trees, I had grass roots the whole depth of the spade, about 14 inches. And the grass just thrived for years. Since then, I’ve become convinced that commercial fertilizers – chemical fertilizers – are not the way to go. So I use either natural fertilizers or nothing at all.
Q. So there were a considerable number of houses built already?
Yes, I thought this was going to be the last area, but actually Lincolnwood was built after this. People have said to me, “1953? You’re a pioneer.” But a pioneer in my book, is one who walked in mud and petitioned and picketed to get boardwalk. (laughs)
Q. I see. You were a member of a group of Park Foresters that you’ve dubbed “Floating crap game.” A group of people who….
A. Yes, I gave it that name, which I heard in a movie once. (Laughter) And the nature of this was that in the early days, when we talked about integrating Park Forest, because of the concern of many of us that our children were growing up in a Lilly-white environment, the same as Cicero or one of the all-White northern suburbs and, they simply were not having an experience that was representative of what our country is. You had to be careful, to whom you talked abut that, because there could be economic retributions. And there were constant threats of that and of physical violence.
Q. To you, personally?
A. I have not had anybody say that I am going to have my legs broken with a ball bat, or yellow paint on the front of my house, but I know it [potential violence] was there and if you made too big a scene of it that this could happen. We do know of someone who had a cross-burned on their lawn. This was a family on Monee Road, but she was, oh, quite outspoken, and would even act out any chance she got to walk around with a Black man.
Now, we’re talking about 20 years ago. At the art fair, she made a great point of taking custody of a Black family’s baby, and she wheeled the baby around the art fair. Which is neighborly enough, but knowing her personality, I thought she was looking to pick a fight and that she did this just to attract attention, and to see if she if she could provoke something – provoke some racial antagonism.
Well, so this is the reason for the “floating crap game,” that had to be careful to whom we talked. And so we moved around in each other’s living rooms, and the nature of it, because it was a bit secretive and because we were moving around, I said, “It’s a ‘floating crap game,’’ and the name stuck.
Q. Should be integrated?
A. Yes, I heard that from Shirlee Wheeler. And it was she, from whom I first had heard that the children were growing up with an unbalanced [racial] experience.
Shirley was a tireless worker for integration. It was the main thing she did outside of keeping house and raising her children.
Q. Where was that first mentioned? Do you remember?
A. Shirlee was in the Unitarian Church, in the choir and the Social Action Committee, I think. I’m not sure about the Social Action Committee, because some of the hardest workers for social action were impatient with the Social Action Committee because it did a lot of talking and not much acting.
Harry Teshima, or Tesh-ima – is the Japanese pronunciation, was one
Of the first to become disillusioned with the Social Action Committee. He went off entirely on his own. He would let anyone work with him, but he wouldn’t wait for you; he would go. And he found out how to get around all the bureaucratic hang-ups and delays, and he found out just where the law was on the side of those who wanted to integrate. And he would go and do it, himself.
Q. Hm. Were all of the people, then, in the “floating crap game,” Unitarians?
A. Not all, but most of them were, I believe.
Q. Is your Unitarian background, where you think the impetus came for you to work toward integration?
A. No, I’ve been on the side of the underdog as long as I can remember. And, when very young, I first went to St. Louis – which I believe was at age 18 from a small town in southern Illinois where I was brought up. I soon fell in with a group who were working for housing integration and I was marching in a parade in the Black neighborhood long before I heard the work integration, or social action, or Unitarian, or any of those. It just seemed like the right thing to do. I was brought up in a poverty-stricken family in a poverty-stricken town; the coal mining counties of Southern Illinois are a one-industry area and it had violent ups and downs. When times are good, everyone’s working themselves to death. And when things are bad, they’re lucky to have work two days a week. And so I saw a lot of inequities and I was indignant about them when they happened to me, and for some reason, I was indignant when I saw them happening to others.
Q. Do you remember some of those early meetings? What types of things you talked about?
A. Yes. We talked about where can we find a family and how to persuade them to move and we talked about what might happen to us if word got out to our employers, especially those who worked for, say, someone like a middle-sized merchant. If you were in a big company, you had some protection and if you worked in an association, as I did, you had some protection. But if you were an employee, say, in an automobile agency, as I had been in Champaign before I came here, you were vulnerable to the prejudice of one man, if he was reactionary or if he was afraid.
Q. I’m curious about how you derived the idea of actually looking for a Black family to move in.
A. Well the Black families were not coming here asking, because they knew it was no use. Harry Teshima, himself being Japanese, had difficulty buying a house here. He could rent an apartment, or he could buy a lot, but he could not buy a completed house. So, he bought a lot and he built a house, a fine house. And this experience plus the experience of being in an internment camp as a California Japanese during World War II, really made a strong imprint on him, so this was his major activity, other then making his living and keeping up his house. All, every ounce of energy he could find went into
Q. What kind of person did you find Harry Teshima to be?
He was gentle, but firm, intelligent, but he didn’t throw his weight around intellectually, put people down by asking them if they had read the latest book by the latest philosophic author. He was just intelligent, modest and talented with his hands. Anything he could build to help, he would.
You know, when we started with In White America, we had a switch box a two act play on the history of blacks in this country – I forget what they call this thing, a dimmer. But it was heavy that it took three or four strong men to carry it. It was full of solid iron cores and windings and vacuum tubes, and we hauled that thing around for a while and he said, “This is nonsense.” So, he began to carry electronics books and pads on the train, making sketches. And first thing you know, he had plans for a transistorized dimmer. He built that and it’s small enough and light enough so a person of average strength can carry it alone and it does the whole thing that the other, the big heavy equipment, does. I don’t know if a transistorized dimmer was available on the market at that time, but he didn’t seem to even wait to ask; he simply built it. And we had professional lights, which we had difficulty in putting up in some places, because in some places where we put on In White America, -- we did it a hundred times, but I lost track after a hundred. He built a bridge that we could put up with a pedestal. We had these telescoping pedestals, we would put up in the aisle, one in each aisle, and across the top, a bridge which consisted of two beams and triangular braces and we would hang our light up there, over everyone’s head. And all this we would load into his station wagon, take to the place where we were going to do it – as far north as Sheybogan, Wisconsin, as far south as Jackson, Mississippi; and practically every location in Chicago and the suburbs –we would take all this electrical gear, our props, our chairs, costumes, the whole works, and set it up, tear it down, bring it back, and store it in Harry’s garage.
Q. When did you first begin performing that play?
A. I’ve forgotten exactly when. Ted Wheeler, the director, might remember.
Q. Was sit before or after the actual integration?
A. It was after the integration was done and the integrationists needed something else for their energies and we latched onto In White America.
Q. I see. I see. Did you perform that play in Park Forest?
A. Yes. Several times.
Q. What was the community’s reaction to it?
I don’t remember any particular reaction, but there were individual reactions – it wasn’t our intention to take this thing on the road for a hundred times. We did it at the church as a play reading. We had done several things; we did Virginia Wolf
[Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, by Edward Albee] and several others. We would just be sitting around in a semicircle of folding chairs, with a book in our hand, reading. We did In White America and someone happened to be there from another community and said, “Come to our church and do it.” And we did it and then the third time, someone had – I believe it was the Austin community, the Third Unitarian Church, said, “Come here and do it.”
I remember an incident in the audience. There was one place where I played the part of Senator Tillman from South Carolina Who made a violent speech in which he described very graphically, a Black beast who lay in wait for an innocent White community was to lynch this man. This speech ended – with me screaming at the top of my lungs, “Kill, kill, kill.” Ted coached me carefully in this: “Now, don’t build up to this ‘Kill, kill, kill,’ in a straight line, but let your voice come down, so you’ll have some place to [illustrating the fluctuation in volume] to come up again, when you want emphasis. And so I would do that and I would notice the audience reaction; I’d been able for along time to hold audiences in public speaking. Audiences would be restless when I’d get up to make a talk, but after I spoke, for a while they’d get quiet and I have a feel for them, that I’m on the track. The same was true with Senator Tillman’s speech. There was this rising and falling and building up to this great frenzy of we did this third performance, the audience was absolutely quiet – there was only one sound, somebody “Whew!” and I knew then we had something really good going, if we could get that kind of reaction from the audience.
emotion in the end and screaming out, “Kill, kill, kill!” My only concern
Was that my voice would break because I was screaming it so loud. At the Austin church, when
What other kinds of characterization were there in the play?
Well, the first one that I did, the first in the play after our introduction, which was simply reading quotations from newspaper accounts about integration around the country. I had the part of the [slave] ship’s doctor. This was a description of the conditions on board and his daily work of having to go and administer aid to these people. He found them lying horizontal in shelves, with just barely room for one human body to be in there, just stowed as if it were something being chained, they didn’t even have freedom to go to the toilet, so they had to excrete right in the place. The combination of sweat and dirt and excreta made such a foul smell that the ship’s doctor described that and said that it made him ill to go down there and to see this and to small it, and he would have to go upon deck several times, to breathe some fresh air before he could to back to his duties. But these pople were so unhappy at being imprisoned and taken away from their extended families that they were accustomed to in Africa, that sometimes they would throw themselves overboard into shark infested water so they could drown or be killed immediately. This monologue was done in a very different manner from Senator Tillman’s speech; it was done in a gentle, concerned way. This was the way the play started. We proceeded through the middle 1700’s up to 1957, when the young girl integrated Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
And there were scenes from the story of John Brown, and of Sojourner Truth, the famous Black woman, and Woodrow Wilson, who was very negative toward a delegation of Blacks who came in. His interview ended with Wilson saying, “This interview is at an end.” This one we played with three actors, and the way Ted directed this, was that we would cut each other off as people do in a quarrel. Now, you could look at your script very carefully and we would count back, four words from the end of your speech, from the end of your cue, and don’t wait for the last word in your cue, go back four words, and come in there, so both of you were talking for four words. After you do this two or three times, it looks as if a fight’s about to break out. (Laughter) And people would give the same gasping reaction to this, when Wilson finally would say, “This interview is at an end.” It was a real shock that the chief executive of the country was cutting off communication. So, this is the kind of play it was. It was only two acts and it was a little thing. But we made it a strong vehicle and one of my big regrets is that the publishers – even though they were generous in allowing us to use it, because we were doing it on a nonprofit basis – wouldn’t give us permission to do it for – not even for public television, because if this was going to be done for television, they wanted the big bucks that were … possible. That’s why they’re publishing – not for the reasons we were doing what we where doing.
Hmm. Who else was in the cast?
Dave and Beverly Bumbaugh were in it; he was the Unitarian minister here for five years. He didn’t start in it as I did, but he was in to the end. Dave played the other White man in the cast and Beverly played narrator, introducing the different scenes. And then, Bill and Virginia were instrumental in getting Wilson to move in here. And he wanted me to join a gang that would go over and put yellow paint on Wilson’s house….
Yes. … That it would be somewhat to my work relationship, but I wanted the thing nipped. I watched, I kept sounding him out on this thing to see if the plans were ever going to get any firmer, if he got anyone to go with him on his painting to. Apparently he never did, because it never happened.
Yellow paint. And I told Clem that I was not interested in joining him, and, in fact, I reported this to the police, that there was such a thing afoot. I had very mixed feelings about this, because I worked with Clem and the word had gotten back to him that I was an informer, that.
He lived in Park Forest?
A. Yes. … That it would be somewhat damaging to my work relationship, but I wanted the thing nipped. I watched, I kept sounding him out on this thing to see if the plans were ever going to get any firmer, if he got anyone to go with him on this painting tour, apparently he never did, because it never happened.
Q. Were their any incidents surrounding that first move-in?
A. I’ve heard that there were, but I haven’t heard exactly what they were. That there were some threats, maybe some vandalism, but you’ll have to get that information someplace else.
Q. You’ve written for us in the article that we’re going to include in your folder, about the first village board meeting after the Wilson’s moved.
A. Oh, yes. That was quite a scene.
Q. Could you describe it, please?
A. Yes, the first thing I remember is that I went in and I looked around for familiar faces, and I saw the “floating crap game” there, but they weren’t all bunched up, they had very wisely dispersed themselves. I found a seat fairly near the front, over on the left side, and Shirlee Wheeler came in a little later. Shirlee had a habit of getting emotional in public meetings when she talked about integration. She would cry and keep on talking through her tears, through her tears, and some people were concerned about her, she was, maybe, oh, not too stable, doing this, but it was just that she was very concerned. And I made a gesture to her – what was this gesture? Oh, yes, I gestured with my hands, pushing them, the body language of pushing my hands toward her and downward, meaning, “Stay seated. Don’t get on your feet and talk.” And she nodded and smiled as if she understood perfectly what I meant, and she knew she should not try to talk in that circumstance because she couldn’t make it to word three. (Laughter)
Bob Dinerstein was Village president then, and we had about 200 in the room, where ordinarily there would be a rather small turnout at the Village Board meeting, only these with some business to conduct would come out and listen [those with] some protest to make protest to make or some petition to make. People began jumping up and protesting this [move-in] and one man described graphically how many square miles of Chicago were blighted and lost and that the same thing was going to happen in Park Forest, where he had made the biggest investment of his life. And then, at one point, some somebody got up and wanted to know about Tony Scariano. It happened that Tony had represented both parties in the real estate deal, which ordinarily is not done. If I were buying a house, I would want my own lawyer, and not somebody who had a conflict of interest. But apparently all parties involved were willing to have him do it, to examine for liens and that sort of thing. Since he was the only lawyer involved, everyone thought he had planned this whole thing and one man got up and said he wanted to know what Tony Scariaon’s part in all this was. And Bob Dinerstein said, “He was the lawyer. Next question?” (Laughter)
Q. We’re talking about Tony Scariano Senior?
A. Tony Scariano, Senior, yes. Junior was very young at that time.
Q. Do you remember how the subject was first brought up at that Board meeting?
A. No. But it seemed – it was practically the only thing that was discussed.
Q. Or anything more about what people said?
A. It was very repetitive and – toward the end a man named Nudelman, who lived on Water Street, got up and said that he thought this matter of a Black family moving into Park Forest had been discussed thoroughly, and he would like to talk about the high cost of water, because his water bill was higher than ever. And this, this was a kind of emotional release for everybody. (Laughter). All of us, especially the integrationists, just broke up at this. Nudelman’s family—I think he’s divorces now – his wife, I believe is still here, and he lives someplace in the South, I think Atlanta.
Q. Do you remember, at that meeting, what the attitude of the trustees was and more about Dinerstein’s attitude?
A. The attitude of the trustees was that we would abide by the law. People there were told that if there was any violation of the right of these new residents, that the village police would arrest, the village prosecutor would prosecute, and the village magistrate would sentence. And that was the end of that!
Q. Did it continue to be a topic at subsequent meetings, do you know?
A. I didn’t go to subsequent meetings, but it took a long time for the thing to settle down. I know I was doing political work in the1960 elections – this was three years after the integration – and Tony Scariano was a candidate. He was running for state legislature a gain, and people still bring it up, especially, people who had recently moved from the South. “Is he the one who brought the Niggers in here?” And I explained to them that he was just the lawyer and that he really had nothing to do with brining them in. He was just taking them on as clients as he would anyone else, for buying a house or getting a divorce, or setting up a business, or whatever it was. No one wanted to believe that. They wanted one simple scapegoat for this thing. I think if they had realized that there was a whole movement in the village that they would have been mystified by it..
Q. People didn’t realize that? It was never widely known?
A. I don’t think so. People in the “White power” frame of mind can’t understand integrationists and marchers and racial mixers and pro-abortionists and all such offshoots. (Laughs)
Q. Did your group continue to operate after the Wilsons moved in?
A. Not in the same way; it wasn’t with such great urgency. But I think the way it went after that, was that the Wilsons lived here for a while and he went on a sabbatical and rented his house in the meantime to a White family. I’m not positive of these facts. But I know that when he finally left the area to go to a different institution that he sold to a White family. And we were again a lily-white community. And the next family was Bill and Virginia Henderson, who were in the cast of In White America with me. They lived o n the next street west of here, on Algonquin, for several years. After them there was an irregular series of move-ins. People just began to drop in on this street and that and it proceeded slowly. To what percentage, I don’t know. Not nearly as high a percentage as Park Forest South, which understand is around 20% .
Q. After the Wilsons, there was no organized effort to find families to integrate the community?
A. Not that I was part of. There might have been. Some of the other people I mentioned might be able to tell you about that.
A. I know there was activity all along. Anna Taylor at one point asked my wife and me if we would go and test realtors, to see if they were steering people to a certain neighborhood, or steering people away from Homewood, for instance, to Park Forest. And within Park Forest, in the same general area where a Black family already lived. We do have little pockets like the one near here on Apache and other places, there are three Black families in a row. It looks like the work of a conventional-minded realtor.
Q. Yes. You were never involved in the housing efforts like the suburban housing centers, and so
A. Only on the fringes of it. I have gone to one or two meetings; I never joined it and stayed with it for any length of time.
But in the Environment Commission on which I served for two years – Environment Conservation Commission is its full name – at once point, we became concerned about the number of houses that were abandoned here, and some of them actually had boarded-up windows, which is a violation of Park Forest ordinances. We specify wire mesh over the windows instead of board; wire mesh is less conspicuous. And we had houses all over the village that had been abandoned for reasons of, -- oh, health, or job out of town, or unemployment, divorce, various things. People would have a house and their equity would amount to only a few mortgage payments and they were perfectly willing to move away from this, it was no more than if they had rented an apartment for that length of time. So the house was abandoned and run down, a target for vandals.
And one of the things that I offered to do was to go and photograph these places – that’s one of my skills. So I went out with tripod and camera on Saturdays and Sundays and took pictures of these places and there were apparently houses, because people would come out to the street, and say, “Something has to be done.” I would tell them, that’s why I’m here, because something’s being done at last. So what we did was take pictures and have large prints made, and send them to the newspapers, telling the whole story; that this house was abandoned and that the federal government agencies involved were sitting on their hands, nothing was happening, they were ignoring our telephone calls, ignoring our letters. So the publicity attracted a great deal of attention, and one of the things that happened was George Romney [head of HEW] came out and toured the area, and this naturally galvanized the local bureaucrats. And, all at once these houses became available. It was possible to buy them.
Now, the way it had gone before was that one well-intentioned clause in the regulations on abandoned houses was that it would be available to the original owner for at least a year, in case he became employed again, in case there was a reconciliation in the domestic situation, in case health improved, if that’s what had caused the abandonment. But, the way it works it that you have a house with no owner. Actually, the federal government owns it because it’s been defaulted on, but the federal government is not in the real estate business and they don’t know the weeds are getting tall, and they don’t know people are writing four-letter words like LOVE on the front window (laughter), and so it is just simply an eyesore, and we didn’t want eyesores.
So the publicity was very unpalatable to the people in the Chicago region office of HUD so they complained to us that we shouldn’t have done that, that we shouldn’t have put those pictures in the paper and we shouldn’t have said those unkind things, but that was the only thing that really got results. One of the worst houses in this area was one on Algonquin, which was in a really bad condition. Somebody had added a tin building to the back, which was all bashed in from kicking and ball-bat blows, and you could see rotted wood around the gutters just standing on the ground or the driveway and windows broken. People had broken in and they had kicked in the sheet rock walls. Someone bought that for only $4,100, put it back into repair and sold it – a good business deal. So, it is possible to do these things if you just get a concerted group.
Q. Do you recall what period was this, when all the abandonment of homes was occurring here, or did it?
A. This must have been the last sixties.
Q. Had it just become a problem then?
A. Well, it had been growing apparently and we didn’t realize the extent of it. We knew there were one or two in this neighborhood and people who lived on, say, Nanti knew there was one or two in their neighborhood, but when you start writing the whole list up, it looked alarming. And when I went around and took these pictures and we got this whole stack of prints together, that made quite a document. I think we had a large spread of pictures in the newspaper.
Q. There were concentrations in this neighborhood, in Eastgate?
A. Yes, especially on Apache and there’s still trouble over there.
Q. Were there concentrations in other areas of town?
A. I don’t think there were; I think, as I recall it, it would be just one here and there, in other parts of the city, of the village.
Q. Why were there so many abandonment’s in this neighborhood, do you think?
A. Because these houses are the lowest cost in the village and the easiest to buy, and these houses tended to be bought by people who are blue-collar and vulnerable to the business cycle. That wasn’t the way at first; the blue-collar influx has been a gradual thing.
Q. I see. It wasn’t that way at first. When you first moved in, how would you characterize this neighborhood?
A. Well, let’s see. Now, on one side of me there was a mail carrier; the other side, a milk truck driver, which is blue-collar work, but it’s steady work. And across the street was a woman who was a career woman at Sears; she had been with them for 30 years, and a railroad switchman, blue-collar but steady. And a factory maintenance man, vey steady, a factory manager, a telephone lineman, two Chicago Fire Department employees. But not too many who were vulnerable to cyclical unemployment. I don’t think it was a majority of blue-collar at first. I know there was a man two houses away on Antioch, who left here to become the treasurer of Montgomery Wards. I think he had the number three job in the corporate structure. So he was by no means a struggling type. They’re mostly young, so that the place just swarmed with little kids at first. Once in a wile I would take a cab home and the cab driver would always throttle down to 20 miles an hour along this street because you just didn’t know when a puppy or a ball or a child would come swarming out.
Q. When you first moved in here, when the section was first built, was there a realization that this was going to be the lower-priced housing in the area?
A. We knew it, yes, because it wasn’t a great deal lower, a two-bedroom house, half brick and half wood walls in other parts of the village were going for twelve and thirteen thousand and this was eleven thousand.
Q. Has that gap increased over the years?
A. Yes. Those houses, most of them have been enlarged, I think. And the new houses are the multi-level, which I think new, were two and three times the price of this house, those in Lincolnwood and the other new areas.
Q. I see. There’s been some concern expressed in the press lately about integration in this neighborhood. Is there cause for concern, do you think?
A. I think there is, though I had not been following it. I’ve been away every week for almost a year. I really don’t know the figures, but this area is vulnerable, being on the corner of the community, being next to the tracks, being next to the forest preserve; it’s more isolated than any other neighborhood. And this is something that we have pointed out to realtors in the past, before there was ever a Black family here. A Black realtor in Chicago was trying to bring a Black family into Arcadia, which is the first street next to 26th Street. And we got a delegation together, Shirlee Wheeler come over here. She called me and she came over here and we walked around the block to the area where …
Q. You’re telling me about a move-in of a Black family?
A. All right. Yes. It was a proposal that a Black family was going to move in, or a rumor, or something of that sort, and just across our back line here, really, I heard about this through Shirlee Wheeler and she said, “Do you know where the house is?” and I said, “well, we can walk over there.” So she came over and parked her car here and we walked around the block to the area. Things had calmed down, because the police had come and told everyone to go home, but people were still out in their yards talking, and we went and tried to find out what was happening, and we couldn’t. In fact, some people were people of good will and they were annoyed that we were coming around asking; they didn’t know what side we were on.
But we found out what was happening by calling the police department and we talked to the police chief and he agreed with us that this was the wrong place to integrate Park Forest. The proper place to integrate in a community is in the better parts of town, near the central district, that are less vulnerable to decay, less vulnerable to block busting. And so, as I said, he agreed that this was the wrong place for it, the wrong time for it. So we found out who the realtor was and we went into Chicago with a whole delegation, had lunch with him. I was going to take along a map of Park Forest and showed him where this area was. He hadn’t seen it. He just knew he had a lead, a prospect. So, instead, I drew a map of the area on a napkin from the lunch table for him and I said, ”Here’s the forest preserve, here is railroad track, here is a creek – there is a creek over between the first of these houses and the last of the Ash [street townhouses]. There’s a natural barrier there. And anything with a natural barrier is extremely vulnerable to tipping, to going all black. So we showed him this and he, when he saw the map, he said he just didn’t realize the layout. And I think he backed off from this, because he wasn’t that hard up for one sale that he had to do something like that.
Q. This was a Chicago realtor who was steering them in?
A. It was a Chicago realtor, yes.
Q. About when did this occur?
A. Oh, I think the police department records would indicate that, but it must have been, it could have been before the Wilson move in 1957, [Actually 1959. Ed.] it could have been after.
Q. Around that time?
A. There were either none or not enough families in the more stable area of Park Forest that this area was ready for one. And so, even though we had been trying to integrate for years, we didn't want to start here. Because it would have been a negative experience if it would have been a block busting thing, and all the “White power” people would have been able to say, “I told you so.”
Q. Hmm. Has there been over the years, steering, that you know of, going on, to this community?
A. Not that I personally know of, but I know it’s happened, and that’s the reason that Anna Taylor and other people she was working with were getting together this group to test – and come down to the steerers.
Q. What about the quality of these houses compared to others in Park Forest?
A. These are substantial houses. I’ve been in the building business; I was in the building business before I came here. I built the house in Champaign that we still own, and I examined these houses. I went upstairs and looked at the framing. The way they were sold was with the upstairs unfinished. It was a plywood floor, otherwise the framing was open. And it’s a substantial house that meets practically any city code in the country. It’s on a slab, which is not ideal, but, on the other hand, there’s no basement that’s ever going to flood, and the slab was built on a footing four feet in the ground. I saw the specifications and there is 16 inch footing, there is reinforced concrete foundation, and there is a slab that meets the code, the framing is two-by-four, and it was substantially nailed with ten-penny nails. The weaknesses were the siding, which was asbestos. It cracks and was not replaceable. But, that I saw as a minor matter. People would be covering that, anyway, with something else. I think, if you look around, you don’t see many of them that still have the asbestos shingles, as this one does. They have put vinyl siding, wood siding, to replace asbestos, the original asbestos. The roofs were ninety-pound roofing, which was the lightest I’ve ever heard of. You can’t buy it retail and it blew away in the big land hurricane in 1968. Some people lost half the roofing. WE lost just a little patch and re-roofed at that time. But I could see those were minor matters that any householder could take care of as he went along. Replacing this roof cost only $180 and when you consider a small cost like that against the low cost of the house and lot of only $11,000, it’s still a good buy. This is the best buy in the whole Chicago area.
Q. So you never had any problems with the house?
A. Only minor problems. Little things, I think in several places there are warehouses of components that smart contractors would buy, like zinc drain fitting to go under the sink, that melted away with vinegar and lemon juice flowing past them. And the furnace blower with the oil cups on the wrong side, out of sight, that householders couldn’t fin until their motors burned out, their blower bearings burned out. And we had a little difficulty at first with the hating pipes. They’re buried in the concrete and some of the concrete workers had apparently stepped on the cardboard forms they used and crushed them, so we had no heat coming out of some of our pipes. But, when we complained about that, they sent a worker in, who chipped a hole in the floor and put in new forms and gave us a heating pipe again. But that was no charge, of course.
Q. Do you remember very much about the relationship between the homebuyers and residents and American Community Builders?
A. Yes. They were apparently hard pressed with a lot of complaints. They built these houses in a hurry, and they hadn’t – a lot of little of things like, like the heating pipe incident – and one thing that happened to me that didn’t happen to anyone else that I know of, was that the washer and dryer wouldn’t fit. One of the things that I had asked about when I looked at the model house was, “How wide a space do you have here to the right of the kitchen sink for the washer and dryer?” So we actually measured it; it was a thirty-inch washer and a thirty-inch dryer. So, when I came in, I went out and bought a washer and dryer that were no wider than thirty inches each, but they wouldn’t fit. So I measured my space and I had 59 inches. I began to call the builder’s office and I got no sympathy whatever with that. So then I asked for the man in charge of it, who was a vice-president and actually number three in the corporation after the two partners, Manilow and Klutznick. His secretary told me he would just be annoyed to hear from an individual homeowner about a dryer that wouldn’t fit in the space. I told her he wouldn’t be nearly as annoyed as I was with this $300 appliance sitting in the middle of the kitchen blocking the space, useless.
So I decided I had to go some other route than the direct route, so I went out to the far corner of this area where they were still building houses and began to ask for the superintendent of construction. It seemed that no one knew where he was or when he was there, but I kept on asking – I’ve always been stubborn. I finally found an extremely hard-of-hearing plumber. I had to get up within three of four inches of his ear and shout to make my request understood. So he told me where the headquarters was. It was a dwelling hour over on the south side of everything here and that I should go and in walk down the main corridor and turn to the left – his office was the last office on the right. “That’s the superintendent of construction and he’s the one to talk to.” So I went over there on Saturday morning and didn’t ask if I might go in, I just went in, and I followed the heard-of hearing plumber’s directions. This man looked up, startled, from his drawing board and I told him what my difficulty was. So he made a note of it, and soon, two workmen showed up over here with a tape measure, and they measured and they looked at each other, and they measured again, and they scratched their heads and they went away, but then they came back with tools, and they took the sink down and moved it one inch to the left and made space for my water and dryer. (Laughs) So we got that one.
It’s that way with practically everything with the builders. I know I wrote them letters and I got back replies that said, “There was no need to write a harsh letter.” But all my gentle supplications had borne no fruit. So I was at the point of writing a harsh letter.
Q. Hmm. Those were things about your house that you were writing about?
Q. Hmm. Do you remember very much about, oh, the sitting of the schools and recreation, and what went on between residents and ACB in those matters?
A. I remember that there was some agreement, which I wasn’t in on, about Algonquin School, the nearest one here, that there were to be public recreation facilities built around that school. And one thing they overlooked was that they made everything convenient for people to come in and watch athletic games but there was no way for a teacher to get a car up close to the building to haul instructional materials. A teacher would have to park a car 200 yards away from the entrance and haul heavy equipment, say, audio-visual equipment; if you had a heavy tape recorder or amplifier or something for recording a play … there was no way to get that up close. But this was an agreement that had been made well before anyone thought of this.
At one point, the school district didn’t have funds to buy play equipment and a group of men went there for several Saturdays in a row and at the request of a woman principal. It was very temporary [the play equipment]; she was very emotional – she walked off the job in the middle of the year. But one thing she did was to organize this team of men to go and build this equipment. We built sandboxes and be buried tractor tires half-way in the ground for climbing apparatus and built temporary swings.
Q. Hm. Which school are we talking about?
A. Algonquin, just west of here. But the siting of the school was something that I had never heard about, it had all been done in the early planning stages. The builders had done that and as everyone knows, they were rather farsighted in that. They set aside space for shopping, churches, schools, they didn’t just let it happen tht way it happens in other communities.
Q. How about Whyte and The Organization Man? Do you remember when he was in the community?
A. No. His book was out before I realized he had been here. But I had a friend, a psychologist. I believe he still lives here. He told me that he and another psychologist – when they learned that William H. Whyte was coming here to do this, they began to set him up. They would learn from someone that they were going to be interviewed and they would talk to the interviewee, and tell them stories of over-conformity and coach them in responses of over-conformity, to give Whyte more dramatic copy, really, than he would have gotten without their coaching.
Q. Did he say why he did that?
A. Just as a practical joke. And it’s one of the funniest practical jokes I’ve ever heard of, really.
Q. Were you able to …
A. And the most far reaching.
Q. … verify whether or not he really did the coaching? (Laughs) Because, he has the deepest contempt for any kind of intellectual phoniness. He himself is brilliant, though he comes from a poor background. So he has seen practically all sides of this society and he knew just exactly what Whyte was doing here and it just was a perfectly natural thing for him to do, to puncture this balloon before it was inflated.
Q. He told you this, I gather, after Whyte had left the community?
A. Yes, after the whole thing was over.
Q. Hmm. What did you think of The Organization Man?
I enjoyed it. I still have my paperback copy of it. I don’t know that I changed my life as a result of reading it. (Laughter) But I just observed this and could see -- Well, I knew Park Forest, and I was a little surprised to read in The Organization Man of its uniqueness because I’ve been situations all my life, college situations and the Unitarian Church, where conformity -- Well, I should say non-conformity was the rule in the kind of living situations and social situations that I had sought out. So, it didn’t exactly blow me away to find a while community that was above normal; half the men and a fourth of the women college graduates, which was way above the national norms. This is the kind of companionship that I would seek out wherever I went. And it just seemed normal to me that I could find people that I could talk to in Park Forest almost everywhere I went. It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me, “You know, Park Forest is different.” “Oh, by the way, you know, you’re right. It is different, isn’t it?” The Organization Man points this out to all its readers.
Q. Did you think that Whyte was accurate in his portrayal of the transiency, the mobility of Park Foresters in those early years?
A. Yes, that’s documentable.
Q. Were there any other strong impressions that the book left you with? You’re a writer.
A. No, it’s been years since I read it. It was well done, well organized. But what I told you about this practical joke really got to me because I realized how easily it could be done.
Q. As a writer, I think you can be presumed to be particularly observant. How would you characterize Park Forest and its changes over the years?
A. Well, it has become older and a little more conservative, and as they kids grew up and began to cause mischief, it became less than a crime-free haven. I remember being told when I first came here, that “We have no crime.” And that was just about literally true. Then someone cut a hole in the roof of the bowling alley and dropped in and emptied the safe, which was built for fire protection, not burglar protection. My daughter said to me – she was very young – “But you said there were no crooks in Park Forest.” (Laughter) “Well,” I said, “maybe they came in from Chicago.” But as the kids grew up and began to dabble in dope and vandalism we began to have some of our share of it.
I think I was on hand at the time the toilet bowl was smashed in the 211th station. I know I was there on Sunday afternoon and there was another man there who apparently was doing the same thing I was, catching a plane out to be in another part of the country first thing Monday morning and there was a young fellow I had seen before. He had to come to the door one morning at ten minutes of six and I came to the door, got up and came to the door to see what the temperature was and he was coming across the lawn, and he came up and, looking very tired, said, “Mister, what time is it?” And I told him, and he went back to his friends asked, : “What happened?” And I heard him say, “Well, he came to the door just as I got there, so I asked him what time it was.” Apparently, these three kids were prowling for a place where they could break in. They were looking for an unlocked storm door so they could come in, lift a television set of something. Six o’clock in the morning would be a great time to do it; they could see what they’re doing and hardly anyone was up.
This same kid, a few years later was there in the I.C. station. He was a good-looking kid, black hark, handsome features. But he had with him three of the scruffiest looking kids I’ve ever seen. And there was a pounding in the toilet from there, and when I came in, he went over to the door and opened it and some said something, and the pounding stopped. So he stood around, and his three grimy friends stood around, and the guy who was in there doing the pounding was quiet, and the train came and the other man and I left. And the next think I know, there was an indignant article in the paper about somebody had smashed the toilet bowl in the I.C. station and so the railroad was taking out all the toilets up and down the line. (Laughter) If I had realized what was happening, I could have stopped the whole thing. But I’ve seen him later, loafing around the shopping center looking fierce, as it was stylish for young fellows to do for a wile there, with a group of others around him, as if he was holding court against society at large. I think he’s the same one I heard about who was such a bad kid that his family moved away and left the house to him.
A. And, he was supposedly, according to one of my son’s friends, the kingpin in this village. But all I have is hearsay on that.
Q. I see. One last question, Mr. Saul. Is this a self-conscious community?
A. I suppose it has been, yes. And a little defensive. You know, if you live in Westchester, it’s kind of neutral. And if you live in Park Ridge, it’s kind of neutral. If you live in Lake Forest, you have to be a little defensive. “Well, we live on the West Side, we’re not the rich nicks over near the lake.” (Laughs) And Park Forest.
Q. It’s neutral, as far as what other people think of you, you mean?
A. Yes. But Park Forest, with all its publicity, naturally attracts attention. Oh, well, I understand that everybody keeps up their property very well there.” Well, it’s true we have a beautification contest. And the same thing about the social aspects of it; I found myself constantly explaining, a little defensive. “Well, don’t you think it can become one big slum in a few years from now?” And, I, naturally, would take the line, “ No, absolutely, it can not happen and here’s why….”
Q. Do Park Foresters still, or have they over the years, maintained that sense of being unique, themselves, in their own identity?
A. I think those who have been here for a while have. There are many newcomers now. There’s a higher percentage of blue-collars, of course, and a lot of these people have come from some other part of the country and have never read of Park Forest or heard of it and just didn’t know that it was anything except what somebody recommended. They hears there are apartments available there for lower rent than you can get anyplace else, so they came here. They didn’t know there was anything different about Park Forest. And perhaps they can live here for years and still not know it, if they don’t read and don’t circulate among the people who know. But those who have been here all along, I don’t think, have lost any sense of the uniqueness of the place and the value of it. I know, I’ave lived in other places. The year and a half that I worked in Highland Park I stayed in Evanston, and Evanston is a fine community, but it’s never won the All-American award. The man I rented from there said to me one Friday, “You heading back for the ‘boondocks’ (laughter) tonight?” He and I had a little confrontation there. I told him that Park Forest was not the boondocks, it had won the All-American award twice in fourteen years, and that it was superior in these several ways, which I cataloged for him. (Laughter) He backed down and said “Well, anyplace but Evanston is ‘boondocks” to me, you
Q. I see. Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Saul.