The Oral History of Park Forest: OH! Park Forest
Bernard G. Cunningham, Parts I & II
Recorded December, 1980
Interviewed by Beverly Helm
This is an interview by Beverly Helm for the Park Forest Oral History Project. The following tape is narrated by Bernard G. (Barney) Cunningham, a twenty‑nine year resident of Park Forest. Mr. Cunningham served as village trustee for six years and then as village president for ten years.
Q. Mr. Cunningham, I'm going to start with some background information
A. All right.
Q. Are you a native of the state of Illinois?
A. Yes, I was born in Evanston, Illinois June 5, 1922.
Q. And how did you first come to Park Forest?
A. In 1951 I was working in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and decided I wanted to change jobs and come back to the Chicago area. At that time housing was still tight and the only place you could get an apartment [was in Park Forest], even after a wait ‑‑ I think in our case we waited about sixty or more days to get into a rental unit. It was reasonable rent and one that we could afford.
Q. Can you describe your family at that time?
A. When we moved from Milwaukee to Park Forest we had a son who was about two years old and then a second son who was just about three months old.
Q. So you were really a very small family at that time?
A. Our family at that time consisted of my wife and the two oldest
Q. Can I ask you to give us some background information on your
A. I was in the U.S. Army Engineers in World War II and was assigned to the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. I'm an electrical engineer by training and background but I finally got my degree in mathematics at Loyola University in 1947. Most of my adult life has either been spent in electrical engineering with General Electric or, in 1951, when I came back to Chicago, I worked with the McGraw-Hill Corporation as an Industrial and Engineering Consultant.
Q. And presently?
Bernard G. Cunningham 2
A. Presently I work for the Regional Transportation Authority.
Q. O.K. Let me ask you how did you first hear of Park Forest?
A. Well, I heard from two sources. It was a place that was suggested
to me by a fellow worker at McGraw-Hill and I then tried to get some
information about it and read a May 1951 article in Architectural
Record, which talked about the planning of the village and talked about
some of the innovations and quote "new concepts" that were supposed to
be incorporated into the construction here.
Q. Do you remember very many details about the architectural
innovations that they described?
A. Well, there were about three things that they talked about. First, of course, was to get away from the street grid system which is prevalent in Chicago. With few exceptions, most streets intersect at right angles and you have a block by block [grid]; these streets [in Park Forest] were laid out on a curvilinear‑type fashion to slow down the traffic and to give a less rigid, if you will, development. Secondly, the idea was that the houses would be built in clusters. The townhouses along Western Avenue were built in clusters of anywhere from twenty to forty‑eight dwelling units. The number of buildings had anywhere from two to eight dwelling units per building. The back doors backed up into a parking area and as a result, most people used the back
Bernard G. Cunningham 3
door. The front door, although it was accessible by sidewalk, across a green space, was not used very much. It was your back door neighbors, not your front door neighbors that you conversed with. The [third] part about it was a shopping center or mall (tape turned off and on again as the doorbell rang) where the shopping was centrally located and it was supposed to be one‑stop shopping: you went to the grocery store, the hardware store, the liquor store, the department store, drugstore and cleaner. You just parked your car once.
Q. Can you recall the first time you ever saw Park Forest, what it looked like, and what your reactions and your wife's reactions were at that time?
A. In the village at that time, the rental units or townhouses had been completed ‑‑ they're now called the co‑ops and the condominiums ‑there's some three thousand and ten. They had started construction of some single-family houses along Sauk Trail and Indianwood Boulevard. They were both the smaller two‑bedroom houses with the radiant hot water heat and some model three‑bedroom frame houses with forced air heat. There were few sidewalks in that area of the village; there were some sidewalks in the rental area. Western Avenue was a two‑lane street. You came to and from the I.C. [Illinois Central] station at 211th Street by bus. The bus service was frequent and good. The buses were crowded. You didn't [have some] things you take for granted today, like medical services. There were a few doctors and dentists in the village, but most people had to go to the doctors and dentists who were practicing in Chicago Heights. The biggest thing was, with a few exceptions, there were no trees. The exceptions were along the fairways
Bernard G. Cunningham 4
of the original golf course. I think that people who have been away from Park Forest for ten or more years, when they come back, the thing that they mention the most is how much the trees have grown. I think that any community should come back to the slogan of doing something about a tree whether you're a Joyce Kilmer fan or anybody else.
Q. Had you pretty much made up your mind to move to the village before
you ever saw the village?
A. No, we did not. We had looked at a number of houses ‑‑ I shouldn't say houses ‑‑ apartments for rent in Chicago and I think the thing that really made me think more about Park Forest than continuing to search for an apartment in the city was that one of the many ads that we answered as we were trying to conclude our search. It said, "bring your own appliances." So we called and asked what appliances do they furnish and they said, well, you had to bring your own stove, refrigerator and space heater. (Laughter) I decided that I didn't want the space heater. One of the other things about apartments in Chicago was you could or could not get appliances; well, that meant another three to five hundred dollars to move into an apartment. The apartments in Park Forest were furnished with a stove and refrigerator ‑‑ you did have to buy a washer and we had a dryer. It was not permitted in the rental area at that time, as it is [not] now, to hang wash on the outside of the building.
Q. Was your wife originally from the Chicago area?
A. Yes, my wife grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago and I grew up on the North side of Chicago, so the community was close enough to the city and people were familiar with it that we could visit our respective parents and family [but] we were in a sense isolated by the distance
Bernard G. Cunningham 5
from the city which was available only by the regular trips on the I.C. or by automobile. When we moved to the village we did not have a car. We depended solely on the bus and the I.C. It wasn't until about two months later that we finally did acquire a car. One of the reasons was that a shopping trip meant either walking to the plaza and then calling a taxi to go home with the groceries or bumming a ride to the center with a neighbor who did have a car and to bring your groceries home that way.
Q. When you came out to see the rental units were there many that were available or just a few or . . .?
A. No, there were relatively few available. I don't recall the unit we looked at . . . or how we selected the one we did, but one became available on Birch Street which is right at the entrance to the village. The unit had been lived in by someone who had broken the lease and that's why it became available.
Q. And that was a two-bedroom unit?
A. A two‑bedroom unit; it had a kitchen, dining room, living room on the first floor and a stairway to the second floor where there was a bathroom and two bedrooms. The basement had the washtubs, the furnace and the water heater.
Q. What was your reaction when you first saw Park Forest? Well, let me ask you this, how did you get out here if you didn't have a car?
A. I borrowed my father's car when we came out to look at the village and, of course, the fact that there was ‑‑ we knew we'd have to get a car soon, we didn't know when ‑‑ the fact that the village was accessible by transportation [was important], and I think all the time
Bernard G. Cunningham 6
we've been here we've been very concerned about the availability of transportation. In those days, and give me plus or minus ten percentage points ‑‑ about 85 percent of the people who lived in the village worked in the Loop and it wasn't until more recent years ‑‑ and I'd be interested to see what the 1980 census shows, of how many people who work in the Loop and live in the village ‑‑ [that] it's been steadily decreasing.
Q. How did those co-ops look to you when you and your wife saw them?
A. They weren't co-ops; they were all rental units then. We selected an interior unit, quite candidly because the rent was the cheaper for the interior units and it was more expensive at the ends. We were concerned about the utilities. At that time there were no water bills, the developer and landlord also owned the water company and provided as much water as you wanted all in the rent package. There had been some trees planted.
At that time we were concerned about the church facilities. St. Irenaeus was under construction at that time, but Sunday Mass was held in two places: a little old white church on Sauk Trail in St. Anne's Cemetery just west of where Rich East is now and in the Holiday Theatre. For a long time, I would say about two months, we had to alternate between either Saint Anne's, bum a ride with somebody, or we could walk to the Holiday Theatre. Then the first Christmas we were here, in December 1951, was when Saint Irenaeus Church opened for their first Christmas Eve Mass.
Q. How impressed were you when you saw the rental units?
Bernard G. Cunningham 7
A. I can't say that I was impressed one way or the other. They were a compact unit, fairly new, everything was neat and clean. In those days, because of the intense shortage of dwelling units in the Chicago metropolitan area, the developer pretty well could call his shots. If somebody couldn't pay the rent, the developer broke the lease and moved them out. At that time there were no single women permitted, I mean women who were either divorced with children, or happened to be single. I can recall when Miss Ringering [moved here], the first librarian that the village employed, we had to ask the developer to make an exception so that she could obtain a one‑bedroom apartment. I think it's been said by Mr. Klutznick and others, they didn't have any social problems in the community because the economics of the situation made them move elsewhere.
Q. That sounds strange now to get special permission for a single
person to have an apartment.
A. Things have changed. (Tape turned off and on again while telephone
Q. Can you describe the state of the streets? What did it look like? What kind of landscaping had or had not been done around the rental units?
A. Well, there were some foundation plantings close to the buildings. There was grass and in most cases it was well cared for, because there was no premium or restrictions on watering.
I might add that this sounds like an everyday thing but one of the key things in the development of a new community is the availability of utilities and transportation. The utilities, in this case the water
Bernard G. Cunningham 8
utility, was a very important thing to the developer. There were, at that time, only two wells in the village, but if the developer had not been able to have water locally, he wouldn't really have been able to develop Park Forest.
The other thing that was key was the availability of sanitary sewer. He [the developer] early on made a deal with the Bloom Township Sanitary District for a major sanitary sewer or interceptor which started in what is now Beacon Hill, came into Park Forest in the Eastgate area and provided the, if you will, the outlet for a lot of our environmental problems to the Bloom Township Sanitary District plant. In order to get this done, theoretically there didn't have to be any increase in the size of the pipe after it left Park Forest until it got to the Bloom Township plant, but being a very practical man and recognizing the political situation, he agreed to build a larger sewer at the point where it entered Chicago Heights. And of course, this has helped Chicago Heights solve some of its sewage problems; at the same time, Park Forest got a solution to its problem. Then ‑‑ and I'm going by memory now ‑‑ in the early fifties there was a major treatment addition required for the Bloom Township Sanitary District and I wondered if it would be prudent for us to continue to expand the district or to perhaps to join the Metropolitan Sanitary District. So I consulted with my wife's uncle, who was a trustee at the district at the time, Michael Rudnik. He put me in touch with their engineers and we had a discussion on it. At that time the trunk sewers which served the Metropolitan Sanitary District were so far from the village that it was pretty evident that at least in the short term, ten or fifteen years, the Bloom
Bernard G. Cunningham 9
Township Sanitary District would be the best economic solution for the village. I supported that particular referendum, along with others of course, and the plant was expanded and then it was expanded two or three more times before the [Metropolitan] Sanitary District finally came to Southern Cook County by running a trunk sewer down Crawford Avenue.
So you have the water and the sanitary sewers which are not necessarily profit‑making utilities, and then of course the other ones are the telephones, gas and light. Fortunately, we are on a right‑of‑way for natural gas pipelines and high voltage utility lines which run east and west through the village, so, we had plenty of access to the utilities which you need in order to have a community go.
Q. When you first came to Park Forest, you had a very young family, so you didn't have any school age children right away. Do you recall what schools were built and which ones were available then?
A. Yes, at that time they were still using some buildings on Forest Boulevard. That is, the apartments or rental units were being used for schoolrooms and the Lakewood School was opened about that time. The Sauk Trail School had not been. I think maybe they had started construction, I don't recall. The St. Irenaeus School was still under construction, but at the time the church was built ‑‑ this was the first church building, not the present one ‑‑ it just had eight classrooms adjacent to it, so they just had eight classes. The high school students were in a thing called the "Non‑High School District" and they were educated by contract with other high schools. They could go either to Bloom or to Thornton and it wasn't until late 1951 that they finally organized what is now [Rich Township High School] District 227. The
Bernard G. Cunningham 10
first [Rich Township] high school students could either finish where they had started or they could go to the new high school which held their first classes at what is now Faith U.P. [United Protestant] Church. There was a lot of community effort that went into the organization of the district and the establishment of the first District #227 board. In recognition for that, the community was awarded its first All‑America City Award in 1954.
Q. Do you recall the address of the rental unit that you lived in?
A. Yes, 192 Birch Street.
Q. How long did you stay there?
A. Well, we were there about three or four months and we liked the community and we liked the church and the people that we met at the church. My wife was in the choir at that time to give her relief from "cabin fever" that comes with young babies. I found the commute was not that impossible and while my job at that time required me to do some traveling, the transportation that was available to the village ‑‑ at that time we had to go to Midway [Airport] ‑‑ was not all that bad to have to go to the airport. I frequently went to Detroit, St. Louis, Minneapolis and those trips were fairly easy out of Midway.
The other thing, I think, is that you get used to things. Shortly after we arrived, I can't remember what the illness was, but somebody was sick. My wife went [to the] next door [neighbor] to ask for a doctor. Doctors were hard to come by. She gave us the name of a Dr. Long in Chicago Heights. So we started going to him shortly after we moved in and we still go to him, Dr. Hugo Long in Chicago Heights. When you get used to those services and you feel comfortable with a doctor ‑‑ one of
Bernard G. Cunningham 11
the things we had to do was to find a new dentist and that was a little bit less satisfactory and wasn't until recent years that we've been able to have confidence with the dentist we're dealing with. I don't mean to impune the early dentists; it's just that we didn't find one that suited our tastes. So you get used to those things, those services that you need and so we felt more comfortable.
I remember that we first looked at a house, we had only been in the rental units about three or four months and I had a day off and we went over to see what the prices were. I had the advantage of the G.I. bill. At those times the two‑bedroom, all brick houses with the radiant heating were selling for about thirteen thousand, fourteen thousand dollars, in that bracket. With the G.I. loan we could get in with ten percent down. I borrowed some money from my father and we finally made a down payment on a house at 320 Manitowac Street, and were able to move there.
This was one of the streets south of Sauk Trail that was being newly constructed in those days in 1951, 1952, 1953. The developer, Park Forest Homes, was building eight hundred to nine hundred houses a year and selling them. He had packaged the products. It was attractive for a person coming out of the service to be able to get into a house and start making mortgage payments. Taking advantage of available income tax deductions was a distinct advantage. Some people wanted to get more room than the rental units or more privacy than the rental units provided. There was one drawback then and there's still one drawback now which I think the village has corrected by planning and that is the fact that the initial subdivisions in the village were constructed with
Bernard G. Cunningham 12
a combination curb and sidewalk. This was a part of the developer's plan, because if you build a separate curb and separate sidewalk you increase the cost of development. We moved into the house sometime in June or July of 1952. They had a kind of a half driveway so you could pull off the street and park the car off the street, but they didn't have any sidewalks then and I can remember carrying the last load into the house and we were still on duckboards.
Q. What are duckboards?
A. Duckboards are, if you can imagine two two‑by‑fours laid vertical, and then you take one‑by‑twos or one‑by‑threes about two feet long and nail them on the top of the two‑by‑fours so that when you walk on them you don't sink into the mud. There were ample supplies of those and they were moved, the developer moved them, when the sidewalks went in he moved the duckboards to some place else, because he had to wait for the ground to settle before he could put the sidewalks in.
Well, we moved into the house and I decided it was time for celebration and went out. With my last five dollars I bought a bottle of gin at Park Forest's favorite watering place and came home to make our first drink in the new house. As I was coming up the duckboard I stumbled, I lost the gin and it broke. (Laughter) Now, I don't know when it's a good time to meet a new neighbor, but he saw us move in, so I went over and pounded on his door. I told him I was his new neighbor and I had a problem. It was late Saturday afternoon, the banks weren't open, Jewel didn't cash checks at that time, and I had just spent my last five dollars for a bottle of gin that I broke and could I borrow five
Bernard G. Cunningham 13
dollars from him so I could buy another bottle of gin. He turned out to be a very good friend, Art McKenna and his family; and we were able to celebrate with the second bottle, but not the first. (Laughter)
Q. So, you only stayed in the rental units then what, less than six
A. About six months.
Q. Do you recall what your rent was there?
A. I believe it was eighty‑eight dollars and then I believe it was ninety‑two, but I don't know why I recall those two numbers, I'm sorry I don't. That did not include your heat or light or telephone, but it did include your water and of course the municipal services, those that were available at the time. For example, at that time they had an all‑volunteer fire department and there were a few policemen that were hired at that time ‑‑ a very small force.
It wasn't until a couple of years later that we did get more personnel ‑I believe the original fire station in the village was built in 1951. It's been expanded several times since. The first Village Hall offices were adjacent to the fire station. It's now part of the police department offices. Public Works was in an old farmhouse at Western and 26th Street. It was subsequently torn down in order to build some stores there right at the northwest corner; it was away from the location where the present Aldi's complex is. There was another small house on the east side of Western Avenue at the northeast corner of 26th and Western which was a kindergarten run by a Mrs. Waldmann. Mr. and Mrs. Waldmann were very close. He was a civil engineer who worked for the developer. She ran a kindergarten. With a number of small children in the village, that was a very popular place.
Bernard G. Cunningham 14
Q. I can imagine.
A. It was also one of the places that was available for meetings.
Q. Can you describe the plaza as it was when you first came to Park Forest?
Q. How much of it was there?
A. Very little of it was there. The old ACB Administration Building which is now fairly close to the Sears store, was there and there was a great big flagpole. At that time the front entrance to the village, west of Western Avenue, was Victory Boulevard, a wide street with a parkway. Sears now occupies the old intersection of Victory and Forest Boulevards. In those days Victory Boulevard, which was a divided parkway type street, came right up to what is now the middle of the Sears building and then you had to turn left or right on Forest Boulevard to go around the Plaza. There was another small group of stores, which included the hardware store, the drugstore and the Jewel on the south side, and on the other side where the jeweler and Maeyama's are now was the liquor store and one or two other stores. The clock tower was there but there was nothing west of the clock tower, there was nothing south of the ‑‑ Let's put it this way the present Sports and Hobbies building hadn't been built. I'm trying to recall when the restaurant which first housed Mickleberry's was built, but I just don't recall that. The bowling alley had been built north of the ACB Building. It was a bowling alley first. Then it became Saxon's and now it's back to being a bowling alley again. At that time there was no Goldblatt's, no Marshall Fields and, of course, no Sears. There was nothing in Plaza West on the west side of Orchard Drive.
Bernard G. Cunningham 15
There was a gas station at the northeast corner of Indianwood and Orchard run by Bill Knoch. There was another gas station at 26th and Western. Those were the two places to have your auto service work done, if you wanted to have anything done, and both of them got to know everybody in the community pretty well. The one at 26th and Western was subsequently operated by Joe O'Bryan for many years. He became a village trustee. While he still lives in town, he operates his business out of the village now.
Q. After you moved from the rental units on to Manitowac, by this time you're still in your first year of residency in Park Forest. Can you describe the atmosphere, or the kind of spirit?
A. I think there are a couple of things: first off, we moved in in June. We had a neighbor on either side but there were lots of vacant houses that were still under construction on the street. Our first objective was to get rid of the duckboards and get the permanent driveway in position and then to put in a lawn, so that summer of 1952 was literally consumed with learning how to put in a lawn. I remember a couple of my neighbors tried to put in a lawn over the Fourth of July weekend. They had leveled their ground, put the fertilizer down, put the grass seed down and we had a heavy rain storm which washed away all their grass seed, so they had to start over again. (Laughter) But I had a little bit better luck; we finally did get some grass to come up during the summer. But, it was a little bit different. While you were in the rental units, you used as much water as you wanted. That's what I say kept the grass green in the rental area. All single family detached homes were on water meters. Being newly married and in fact
Bernard G. Cunningham 16
just starting a new job, we were very conscious about expenses, so you were careful what you spent and you were really kind of concerned just about fixing up the house, putting in shelves, because they were very Spartan interiors.
For example, all those houses were built with radiant heat and asphalt tile floors. I guess the only luxury you could say that they had was the radiant heat and the hot water heater. Everything else was new, but very basic. Some people built garages and had other ideas. I'm trying to recall, we finally built a garage and I can't remember whether it was the summer of 1953 or 1954 and it became kind of an aggravating experience for my wife, because I'd come home from work about six or six fifteen; I'd change my clothes and immediately go out and start pounding on the wood. I'd work until nine o'clock. Even though I had a light out there, there were a lot of small children who were in bed and you didn't want to aggravate your neighbors by. So you'd do this all summer and you'd proceed very slowly and I finally had the walls up and I had the rafters up, but I didn't have the roof on. I finally got the roof at the time of the first snow, so I had to wait for it to thaw and I had to take a couple of days off to put the shingles on. I would not recommend anyone to build their own garage. The money you save just isn't worth the aggravation.
Q. Did you pour your own concrete?
A. I poured my own concrete. My wife was out there helping me and we had a friend who said he knew all there was about pouring concrete and I told him, "We got a little hump in the middle, what are we going to do
Bernard G. Cunningham 17
about that?" He said, "Don't worry about that, we'll get that when we start to put the trowel on it," and he was wrong. That garage is very well built, but it's still got a hump in the center. (Laughter)
Q. Forever more, right?
Q. How long did you stay on Manitowac?
A. We stayed on Manitowac for three years and I'd become ‑‑ I should skip over it if you want to be chronological. During the second summer we were ‑‑ we were fairly close to Marquette Park. We had a number of neighbors who were complaining about the fact that this park had been given to the village by the developer and it was a part of a peat bog. It was no major attraction, but it was a nice neighborhood park that could be made available for softball games and some swings. Well, the mothers after a rainstorm would go out and rescue their loved ones from the mud and pretty soon the pressure came on Papa to do something about the park. So we went up to the hearing to find out that they had authorized three hundred and fifty dollars to begin the landscaping at the park. Well, most of us had just recovered from the hundred‑and‑fifty‑or‑‑so dollars that we had put into a front lawn and that was just for materials. Because we had borrowed equipment and provided our own sweat labor, if you will, there was an additional amount. So, we decided we'd be a little agitated about that and we thought the recreation board was spending their money on the wrong things, developing programs rather than doing something about physical development.
Bernard G. Cunningham 18
At the same time, the first referendum on parks and recreation had passed, but when they went to have it certified they discovered that someone, who will remain nameless at this point, had forgot to print the two separate places of election on the back of the ballots, which invalidated that election. So they had to rehold the election and there was some animosity that developed and I think that some of the biases that you develop in a community began to arise at that time. But the referendum did pass and the recreation board changed.
I will have to admit that one of the reasons that, we were close was that a number of us who had moved into the new homes at the same time and had the same problems of a lawn, went out to buy a power lawn mower to make it easy and we discovered that power lawn mowers were costing around seventy to a hundred dollars, something like that, which was a kind of a major expenditure. So we had a lawn mower co‑op, where six of us went in to buy the lawn mower. McKenna and myself were engineers and we seemed to always get the lawn mower when it was on the fritz, so we had to fix it so we could run our own lawns and then the other four could cut their lawns and generally one of them ended up with a thing going in and that's the last lawn mower co‑op that we joined, but we met some neighbors in some interesting ways.
They used to have babysitting co‑ops in those days, where the women would sign up. There would be no exchange of dollars, except in the event somebody who owed the co‑op "time" was going to be moved or transferred, they could buy out of the co‑op for whatever the going price for babysitters was in those days. The women would get together and they'd have a kaffeeklatsch once a month and figure out who would
Bernard G. Cunningham 19
get the assignments. I remember more than once, my wife would start babysitting with a neighbor's two or three children and then I would put our own children to bed. Then when everything was peaceful and quiet, she'd call me and I'd go over to sit with the neighbor's children. She would come back home and maybe about two o'clock in the morning I'd get tapped on the shoulder. The neighbor was home, and I'd introduce myself, he'd introduce himself. So there was a trusting cooperative attitude.
There were a lot of things that we went through. Again I'm going by memory, it was the summer of 1952 or 1953 [that] we had a very heavy rainstorm and of course there were some lawns that were lost, but we also had some flooding. We had some water on the street ‑‑ we didn't happen to get any water in the house, but some people who were not too far away from us did get water into their homes which meant any rugs they had on the floor . . . . With the radiant heat there was no problem with it getting into the heating ducts, but the people that had the forced air heat got water in the heating ducts and that was a bad thing. So there was a great agitation for the developer to do something. They generally, when confronted with the facts, would do remedial work. There was a relief sewer built to eliminate the problem. The expanding developer doesn't like a newspaper picture after a rainstorm with ten or twelve kids running around in water up to their waists or somebody out with a canoe and then you can see in the background street signs for Indianwood and Orchard, or Indianwood and Blackhawk. That doesn't do well for selling houses.
Bernard G. Cunningham 20
I passed over one other thing I think though that kind of shows the values in the early days. When St. Irenaeus School opened up, our number two child was, I guess, six years old and we tried to register him for school when he was five. The Pastor, Father Coogan, who's now Pastor Emeritus there, said that he was going to take him on first‑come, first‑served. There were all kinds of solutions proposed, but he was going to call the registration in May some time. He said it was going to be on a Saturday morning. On Friday night people started standing in line. Actually, my wife got called and, "If you want to get your kid in school go on over there," so she got a babysitter, she went over. When I came home, I went over and stayed there Friday night until registration began on Saturday. I met some good people at the time (laughter), still see some of them. But I know there were more than two hundred [children], because they could only take in fifty in each of two classes. Now I know you're a former teacher. Fifty in a class seems large, but those classes were fifty per room and there were people clamoring to get in because they appreciated the value of the Catholic education.
I think that's one of the disappointments that we had in the community is the fact that St. Irenaeus School closed because the cost of operating the school just outran the capacity and ability of people to pay for it. Four of our children did graduate from St. Irenaeus grammar school and John who is our fifth child had five years, but Peter did not. Let's see if I can figure out how many years ago that was: John was in fifth grade so you would have had three and four, seven, and four is eleven, that must have been about twelve years ago, must have been about
Bernard G. Cunningham 21
1968 that the school closed. It was a hard thing and I think that the fact that they haven't had the parochial school is one reason the community has not remained as attractive as it once was. You have to ‑I don't mean to be preachy about this ‑‑ you have to continue to provide services or see that services are available or you lose residents. That's why, for the village, I promote good utility services, as well as transportation services, social services, nursing services, all those kinds of things I think make a difference in whether or not it stays an attractive community.
A. You know I have some reservations about oral history because I'm a mathematician and engineer. I believe in preciseness and I have an appreciation and a love for history and I like to make sure that it's accurate, too. But Scott Lucas, who was a former U.S. Senator from Illinois, used to tell a story that he really had three speeches for every occasion and I think perhaps that's kind of what this is. He said he used to prepare one speech before he went to the meeting and then he used to give another speech at the meeting and then he used to give a third speech on the way home. I think that one of the reasons that I would like to edit these remarks is that I feel that there will be other thoughts, a more precise way of stating it, or more factual, that will more clearly represent for any people who care to have these recollections. [To] make sure that they were as honest, precise, correct as I can make them.
Q. You stayed on Manitowac, you said, about four years.
A. I stayed on Manitowac for about four years and then we had -- at
that time, our fourth child and first daughter was born. Four children
Bernard G. Cunningham 22
and two parents in a two‑bedroom house can become rather confining. So, we explored opportunities for other housing and the house that we're in now, which is north of Sauk Trail, was being built. It had several advantages. We were just as close to transportation and to the plaza, the children could walk to St. Irenaeus School and to the other schools. Central Park was being talked about at that time and the house price was right ‑‑ one that I could afford. However, I ran into the situation of the housing market was good and the price was good for buyers ‑‑ it wasn't too good for sellers. We went through the trauma of having a vacant house and making two mortgage payments, one on the vacant house and one on the new one. We were finally fortunate to get a renter. Being a landlord has it pluses and minuses and one of the things, you'd hope you'd get the rent check before the mortgage payment was due, but we finally were able to sell that house after renting it for a couple of years. Then we had to sell on contract. We didn't make any money on the deal but we didn't lose any money either, and we got a larger house. Since we've been in this house, why, we've had two more children for a total of six and we had to put a major addition on this house so that our family could come and go and live together without their elbows in one another's eyes.
Q. Some of the things that you've described when you moved into Manitowac ‑‑ for example, you had duckboards, you had to put in your own lawn and you built your own garage ‑‑ did you go through some of those same things when you moved into this place?
A. Well, that's one of the things that made this house attractive, the
developer had upgraded his standards, with one exception. The developer
Bernard G. Cunningham 23
generally viewed the people who were in the rental units and the people who were in the homes area as his basic primary market for new home sales, so he was constantly upgrading the house. So he was going from a two‑bedroom to a three‑bedroom, or providing a house with more amenities. For example, these houses have one‑and‑a‑half baths. After you've had four small children in a one‑bath house the luxury of the extra bath is excellent. We had gone to the separate curb and gutter; we had gone from the old asphalt driveway to a new concrete driveway. There was more room in the house and, while the heating systems in effect were about the same, the houses were a little bit larger, [and] had the attached garage so I wouldn't have to go through pouring concrete again and working into the winter time. All the appliances were in the kitchen. So there were things in this house that we did not have in the other house.
I might add that it was just at the time that we moved from the one house to the other that I was running for the village board. I had been on the Recreation Board and ran for the village board and after the election I was then able to move from Manitowac Street to Rich Road and we've been living here ever since.
Before you put the addition on, this was basically three bedrooms?
A. It was a three‑bedroom house with a large living room, dining room,
and an extra large kitchen which also had the washer and dryer.
Q. Oh, it came with a washer and dryer?
A. It came with a washer and dryer. Well, you could buy the house with or without the washer and dryer and they had an open porch which was
Bernard G. Cunningham 24
behind the attached garage and some people screened [it]. We enclosed it for a while and finally we heated it and improved it as a regular room.
Q. It's quite a bit of difference between this house and Manitowac?
A. Well, yes, the floor space, in the Manitowac house was around 900 square feet with a separate garage and this house, before we put the addition on, I believe was about 1200 square feet and we put about a 600‑foot addition on it; so you have almost twice as much space here as we had on Manitowac Street.
Q. Mr. Cunningham, I want to take you back now to your first
involvement with village government.
A. Well, I think there were two things that precipitated some involvement. You see some things that you like and you see some things that you don't like and so you try to be for the things you like and against those which you think will downgrade the community. one of the things that came up shortly after we had moved to Manitowac Street was a proposal to build a kiddieland near the clock tower. Now this is before Goldblatt's or Sears came. Well, I had seen kiddielands built elsewhere and I just thought that was an inappropriate use for that particular land. When they had a hearing I went out and beefed about it and I discovered that the person who was trying to promote this thing as a kiddieland was really not accurate and correct. He happened to be describing a kiddieland which I had seen and was familiar with. Many of the plan commissioners knew nothing about it and so it taught me one of my first lessons ‑‑ be careful of the developer or the promoter. The second thing, of course, was Marquette Park where we got all agitated
Bernard G. Cunningham 25
about the fact that so little was provided for the physical improvement of the park and that there was a disproportionate amount being set aside for programs.
Q. Let me ask you to back up a minute and tell me what is a kiddieland?
A. A kiddieland is basically a small amusement park with a small
merry‑go‑round, a small railroad, one that I should say is bigger than the H.O. gauge trains that you see in a store, but they are trains with a small gasoline engine and cars which carry children up to eight or ten years old around in a circle. Maybe some ponies, a little roller coaster and maybe what they call an airplane swing ‑‑ it rotates ‑‑ plus anything else that the operator wishes to put on. And of course there always has to be popcorn, candy and peanuts.
Q. (Laughs) So you spoke out against the kiddieland?
Q. And then you were in favor of more physical facilities for ‑ specifically for Marquette Park ‑‑ but as for parks in general.
A. Well, yes, and you know I speak about cabin fever and I think it's an affliction which most mothers of young children have sooner or later. When I started to look around the village I wanted to see what else had been done, and the developer, in order to make the rental area more attractive, had at a number of sites installed swing sets, climbers, teeter‑totters and slides. So, I decided to go around and count how many swings, slides, teeter‑totters were available, and discovered that those devices were available in the rental area really as part of the housing package which the developer put together to keep the rental area filled up with tenants. There were none elsewhere in the village and
Bernard G. Cunningham 26
from the program that the recreation board was enunciating at that time it certainly didn't appear that they were going to plan for any swings. So, if you will, I took this special census report to a board meeting and made myself a couple of signs out of shirt cardboards to tell them that I thought the time had come to start thinking about providing equipment elsewhere in the village and did the usual "Mickey Mouse" of saying, "Well here you got two thousand children and only fifty swings and everybody sees forty kids trying to get on a single swing." You have to make it easy to visualize, simple for people to understand what facilities are needed and how, in effect, at that time the ones that were being used were only available to a portion of the taxpaying citizens of the community.
At that time, too, there was some, I don't know whether to call it a division, but there was a feeling that the people in the rental area, because they didn't have any long term commitment to the village beyond the term of their lease, were in one group and that the homeowners who were now buying their houses ‑‑ and even though today's terms that doesn't seem like a lot of money but that was a lot of money in those days ‑‑ they felt some pride of ownership and wanted to make sure that their tax bills were paying for what they wanted. There was one gentleman that I remember very well by the name of Joe Thomas who happened to be a civil engineer, as I recall, who wanted to build a garage. According to the building code at that time he was supposed to put down footings 42 inches, below the frost line and do a lot of other things which added tremendously to the cost of the garage. So he put together a package with other people, they formed a group called the
Bernard G. Cunningham 27
Homeowners Association and they lobbied with the village board to change the construction requirements to a more sensible code. I don't want anybody to get the idea that this was a downgrading of the code; I just think the requirements in the original code were excessive. I think building inspectors and code enforcement officials elsewhere agreed with us. The village finally modified it. When I got to build my garage foundation it just had to be, I think, all reinforced concrete slab with frost protection, but it didn't have to go to the frost line.
Q. With your first approach to the Parks and Recreation Commission how
did you then get tapped into being part of that Commission?
A. Well because a number of us on Manitowac Street had been so vocal about this, we. . . . Halberg Hanson was one of my neighbors and he and I happened to be particularly noisy, and Halberg said, "Well, they're looking for somebody for the recreation board. Why don't you put your name in? Of course, the village government was then with good reason cautious. Henry Deitch was then village president. They didn't know whether this character Cunningham was just a hell‑raiser or whether he was interested in doing something constructive. There were other members on the recreation board, some of them, if you will, the approved quiet types and so the original recreation board resigned and there was an all‑new board appointed.
At the same time, the recreation director, who was a fulltime employee, had an opportunity to become a recreation director elsewhere at a substantial increase in salary so we had an opportunity to see if we wanted that to be a fulltime job and we happened on to a rather, I think, attractive arrangement. The high school had just hired Greg
Bernard G. Cunningham 28
Sloan as its athletic director and basketball coach and he had had recreation experience, too, so we made him the part‑time recreation director. It worked out to be a good deal for Greg, we saved some money and because his full‑time job really was high school basketball, he wasn't all the time trying to figure some kind of a new program.
Just one thing, you can tell this has to be a constantly changing thing because we had a spinner or a mover and shaker in town who wanted an exercise class for women. She came to the recreation board and we said, "Well, you know we don't have any programs really for women over twenty‑one. Let's give that one a try." So ‑‑ remember there's no YMCA or YWCA or any of those kind of organizations out here ‑‑ we found someone ‑‑ and I think she was a gym teacher but I'm not sure of that ‑to put on a program at the Sauk Trail School. Well, we put notices in the paper and all that kind of thing and by word of mouth and finally after it came the appointed night, the gym teacher and our advocate show up. Well we blew it, we did something wrong with the publicity and so we did a couple of other things and absolutely nothing happened. Finally, after the third meeting, the advocate said, "I think it's wrong to continue a program where you only have one person in it," I think it was the times and circumstances. We had a lot of young women who had babies to take care of and they weren't interested in going to an exercise class in the evening, but today [there's] jazzercise or there's a thousand and one programs for women. But you have to continue to evaluate, to bring up old ideas and see if it's worthwhile checking them out again.
Bernard G. Cunningham 29
Q. Let me ask you to clarify something? You said that the developer donated the land for the park, but there weren't any improvements in the park. There weren't. . . .
A. Well, let's be fair. There were no improvements in the park. In other words, the park was there, the land was there, period. But there were sidewalks which ran by the park, there was a street that ran by the park, so that it was accessible, it wasn't out, you know. . . .
A. ‑‑ in a cornfield someplace. So that in that sense ‑‑ and he did the same thing with the school sites and it's one of the things that's aggravated me. Park Forest happens to be in several different school districts, but where in the case of Rich East, ACB provided water and sewer mains to the high school at no charge, provided sidewalks along one part of the site, in other cases, for example at the Westwood School, as a part of the conditions for the approval of that plat we required that the developer put sidewalks all around the site. That was an elementary and junior high school and we wanted to make sure that no matter what direction the children came from they would have a sidewalk to walk on. He bit his lip but put it in. There were other places in the school districts where those developers gave nothing. Though we had some places in the village where the developer did not put the sidewalk in along the park or along the school site until we came back and pointed that out to him that this requirement was a condition of plat approval and made him do it before we would go on to other things.
So we had some good and some bad aspects. For example, there's no drainage, there's no seating, no equipment, no trees, no planting, no
Bernard G. Cunningham 30
grass paths into the park. All that was done with village money and I think we then knew that we had to come up with some kind of a plan. So shortly after I was on the recreation program we interviewed some people who had a diversity of opinion on what the park should be and we finally selected a firm called McFadzean and Everly of Winnetka at the time. We had some work done by their man whose name was Art Schultz. He helped us come up with a park plan. He had had recreational experience and later became the Executive Director of the Illinois Parks Association. One of the things we tried to do in the village was when we had to go for a consultant, to go for a qualified firm, who would give us something unique.
The developer at that time was spending some money for p.r. [public relations] and he was using the firm of ‑‑ the first name is easy for me to remember, it was O'Brien, but I can't remember the other name ‑(laughter) It was Mayer and O'Brien who did an excellent job on getting Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post and all other magazines to do articles on Park Forest. There was a generally a good flack job being done. There was lots of p.r. in Park Forest and people who would be transferred here from elsewhere would come because they had seen the articles for the promotion. Even some of those articles continued after Mayer and O'Brien left the scene, and I think the recent efforts of the village, now at village expense, to resume that p.r. were good.
We had another thing that was going for us too. At that time the Fifth Army Headquarters was located in . . .
Q. In Chicago.
Bernard G. Cunningham 31
A. . . . in Chicago on South Lake Shore Drive in the old Chicago Beach Hotel. They had taken it over as the headquarters building. They had people who were being transferred here who would come out here to Park Forest. ACB had a certain number of units that they would reserve for Army personnel moving in and out. At that time, too, they were building some of the Nike sites around Chicago and there was, they had a requirement that the officers assigned to the site had to live, I think, within ten or fifteen minutes travel time of the site in case there was a scramble and they'd have to be able to get there in ten or fifteen minutes. Well, there was a Nike site in Homewood and there was one in Orland Park. The person who rented my house from me on Manitowac Street had that assignment as his job. Of course, one of the things that I didn't have to worry about ‑‑ this fellow had been in the service ‑‑ I wanted to know when he got in ‑‑ he's been in the service ten years. He's not going to blow anything that he has in the service by walking out on the rent or beating up on the property. So he was a good tenant and the developer found, too, that the people from the Fifth Army were good pay.
And for many years we had a very active Armed Forces Wives Club in the community. I think that there's something to be learned from those women ‑‑ that they, because of the fact that they're being moved here and there, had to be able to adjust to new circumstances and make new friends, and this was an opportunity to do it. I always marvel at that group, at the mental health of that group, if you will, that its members could adjust and compensate and participate in the community.
Bernard G. Cunningham 32
Q. So you had parks which were really open land. They weren't improved
in the sense of having equipment?
A. No, they had no equipment and again, I'm going to have to go by memory, but it was some time in 1954, I believe, that we went for a parks referendum. We combined this with our first library referendum and there was some malice there. We didn't want the library people going out for a referendum and the parks people going out for a referendum separately. We thought that if we packaged them, we not only cut down on the cost of an election, but the people who were likely to be "pro" for one might be "pro" for the other and we could build a base of support. About the same time they were having school tax referendums, it seemed like every year. Maybe the record won't show that, but very frequently; and again, the community generally supported those, very aggressive campaigns to get out voters and make sure the people voted for them. One of the major things that we did was to say what the money was going to be used for and we were able to do a pretty good job on getting the referendum passed, getting some bonds and, of course, with the bond funds then we could go ahead with doing some final planning on parks, a plan for each park.
These parcels were located at various locations around the village. None of them were what you would call prime land. It was either something wrong because it was a peat bog ‑‑ with the exception of Central Park, where there was some land close to Lakewood Boulevard that was suitable for building. . . . But we insisted that Central Park have an adequate entrance and, as a result, all those, what might have been ‑‑ lots, from the present library all the way to the first house west on
Bernard G. Cunningham 33
Lakewood Boulevard ‑‑ all those were donated to the village. There comes a time when you get to a little bit of "brinksmanship" and the developer agrees that he will give those lots up or put the sidewalk around the park or do something else because he wants to get the plat approved and start building.
Q. You submitted your name to join parks and recreation?
A. Yes, now there's a number of commissions in town. There's really only a couple which are statutorily authorized. And two of them are, the Plan Commission ‑‑ and generally the Zoning Board which may or may not be the same membership [as the Plan Commission], and the recreation board. Once you have the recreation tax levy you then have the recreation board and at that time it consisted of five people, the chairman and four members, and we started doing some very modest development in the parks.
I hope some one of these days that I'll clean out the back room, I'll find some of the early pictures that we took of the parks. Because after my first excursion counting swings and slides, why, I made a number of other excursions to parks to see what was going on and what was being done and not being done. Somonauk Park, which I think is one of our nicer parks, it's . . . .
Q. It's outstanding.
A. . . . it's a nice site. You wouldn't believe what that looked like when it was turned over to the village for ownership.
We became concerned about the increasing cost of maintenance. In the Lincolnwood subdivision, for example, we have one park which is just off of Orchard, which is not highly used; plus, on one side it backs up to
Bernard G. Cunningham 34
the railroad tracks and on the other side it backs up to Orchard Drive. It's a nice small park for people who live nearby. But in the other parks what we did was to increase the size of the school sites so it would be a combination school/park site. We did something else in Lincolnwood and, again, this was all associated with the need to go back and forth to work. We required the developer to donate land for what has turned out to be a three‑hundred‑and‑fifty (350) or four‑hundred (400) space parking lot adjacent to the I.C. ‑‑ if you want to make that work trip attractive why you make it easy for them to use the train. The developer didn't like it and a couple of people wanted us to sell it because that's fillable land and all that kind of thing, but it's a key thing I think for the people who live here.
Q. Very attractive.
Q. When you first became aware of what the parks situation was, was there equipment in any of the parks? Or just in the rentals?
A. Just in the rentals and those weren't parks. I've forgotten now what we called it. We had kind of an agreement too, after a time. The developer saw that the village was interested and we had, when I made that census of playground equipment, broken swings and things like that. We finally took over the maintenance of those and the developer gave us a lease on some of these small parks of the land where the swings and slides were. Then we began to maintain them with our own forces. You have swings that just break or are vandalized. At that time everybody was concerned about some person being hit in the head with a wood board swing seat, so we went to the so‑called rubberized swing seats which at least they won't give you splinters ‑they won't hurt you. Then we had
Bernard G. Cunningham 35
sand or something else under the swing so when the child fell it wouldn't be hurt. I think that that was a kind of a key move. We got something off the developer's back and on the other hand it put us in ‑this is some of the things your tax dollars are doing ‑‑ and over a period of time we finally equipped all the parks with some kind of facility. Central Park perhaps has the nicest selection, but (the others have) the basic swing set and a slide, teeter‑totter, so that children of that age group can be entertained by themselves.
Q. I take it, of course, after you had submitted your name that you were called and asked to serve on parks and recreation?
A. As I recall, I was interviewed by Henry Dietch and then subsequently I was appointed to serve and after I'd been on that for about eighteen months it was time for an election and there was one member of the village board who had in effect fought the second referendum for the parks tax levy. I hasten to add that I don't think he fought it for anti‑children reasons; he fought it for just his very conservative background. At least I hope that was his motive; I never explored it with him. I decided that somebody better take this bird on or we're never going to have anything in town. It turned out that he was elected, I was elected and another person was elected, a woman. However, one of the very pro‑members of the board, Dr. Cory, who later became president of High School District #227 and chairman of the recreation board got bounced off the village board at that time. But fortunately he was a resilient man and one who had an interest in community service and he ran for the high school board and was subsequently elected to the school district #227 board and then elected
Bernard G. Cunningham 36
as its president. Later he served as chairman of the recreation board. He shared the philosophy with a number of us that we had to so something with the parks and recreation and he did a fine job.
One other thing that happened at that time and again, I think it's one of the things that I think the village is missing these days: In the early days there were a lot of professional people who came to the community. Dr. Cory was a dentist. He was very much interested in the fluoridation of water and he was able to convince the private utility at that time, the Park Forest Water Company, to fluoridate the water. The result from my own family's experience . . . we've had minimum dental cavity problems in the children. The dentists who have examined the children now that they've grown up marvel at the quality of their teeth, so that's the kind of professional decision that was made.
We had another group in town that happened to be in the health services area. One is Bill Silverman, who recently resigned his position as the executive director of the Cook County Hospital Commission. Bill was working for Michael Reese Hospital and for others in jobs of increasing responsibility. He and Al Van Horn ‑‑ who happened to be from the American Association of Hospital Administrators. There was a great move to build a hospital in Park Forest. Well, Al and Bill were two of the people who with some other people who had similar skills studied the need for a hospital here. One happened to be a polltaker, another happened to be a computer analyst. They put together a very excellent survey and report. They determined that it would not be in Park Forest's best interests to build a hospital, that it would be better to encourage the continuous improvement of St. James and Ingalls hospitals
Bernard G. Cunningham 37
and that's the route that we took. We had that kind of professional input, and all this was volunteer service. I think Al. who went on to be the executive director of a hospital organization and Bill, who, as I say, just recently retired from the Cook County thing, their knowledge and their know‑how which was recognized later; we had the advantage of that when they were younger and were interested in community service. I don't get the same feeling either in the people who are running for the village board or some of the commissions, that we have that same quality of personnel. Now maybe that's some vanity there, but I'm disappointed in the quality of the people. I think part of that, too, goes with the pioneerism, if you will, of the early days. You just don't find that anymore.
Q. How long did you serve on parks and recreation?
A. My first ‑‑ going by recollection now from sometime in 1953 to 1955. I ran for the village board in April of 1955. After I was elected I had to resign [from the recreation board] because you can't serve as a trustee and as a member of [another] board, but‑Bob Dinerstein was elected village president at the time and he appointed me as liaison with the parks and recreation board and I spent my early days on the board with that particular ‑‑ Oh, excuse me, let me correct that, that's not right. Ruth Skaggs was the liaison with parks and recreation and I got the health council assignment and I was kind of peeved that I didn't get parks and recreation, but it didn't diminish my attention for that activity.
(End of tape 1)