|The intersection of Lake & Marion in downtown Oak Park|
There may not be any scientific reason that the town was home to two of our country’s greatest artists, but their genius certainly wasn’t groomed in poverty. Oak Park was, and remains, one of the most beautiful communities you’ll come across. Modern mansions mix almost seamlessly with hundred-year old residences of striking beauty. The downtown continues to thrive with shops, restaurants, and a vintage movie palace.
|Looking southward down Marion Street|
The boundaries: Unlike virtually every other Chicago suburb (many of which look like an ink blot), the City of Oak Park is a perfect box. The boundaries of the city are North Avenue to the north, Roosevelt Road to the south, Austin Boulevard to the east, and Harlem Avenue to the west.
The downtown is another interesting beast. Most downtowns are also called “central business districts” because they’re, well, centralized within the community. Oak Park’s downtown is AS FAR WEST AS YOU CAN GO within the town. It starts west at Harlem Avenue and runs a few blocks east to about Kenilworth Avenue. Lake Street runs right through the heart of the downtown. There’s a large commercial district west of Harlem Avenue that is more of a strip center and doesn’t really match the downtown feel of Oak Park. That’s because west of Oak Park is actually River Forest north of the train tracks, and becomes Forest Park south of the tracks. Oak Park, Forest Park, River Forest…got it? Good.
Population make-up: The population of Oak Park dropped slightly as of the 2010 Census. The 2010 population was 51,878 down 1.2% from 2000. The racial make-up of Oak Park as of last year was 63.8% white, 21.2% black, 6.8% Hispanic, and 4.8% Asian.
|Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio|
Although the population has decreased noticeably from its 1940 high of 66,000 residents, Oak Park has held its position as one of Chicagoland’s most beloved destinations. In 2010, the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District was named one of the APA’s (American Planning Association) “10 Great Neighborhoods”. Despite the westward growth of the Chicago metro area, Oak Park remains one of its true gems.
Getting there: By “L”, you’ve got multiple options. The Green Line will take you right to downtown if you get off at Harlem/Lake or the Oak Park stop. There are also Green Line stops at Ridgeland and Austin. The Blue Line makes stops in the southern part of town at Harlem, Oak Park, and Austin.
CTA bus isn’t likely your best option, but you can get there going east-west via North (72) and Lake (20). Going north-south you can take Harlem (90), Ridgeland (86), and Austin (91). There are also multiple PACE routes that will get you around Oak Park: 305, 311, 315, 318, and 320.
Aripo's Venezuelan Arepa House (118 N. Marion Street)
|"Come to Aripo's!" -Laura|
Michael’s Take: I liked this place, and if I spent a lot of time in Oak Park, would count on being back multiple times. In a relatively pricey shopping district, it stands out as inexpensive as it is unfamiliar. I went with La Nuestra, which is Spanish for “crispy tortilla-like pocket bread stuffed with shredded beef, black beans, fried plantains, and small chunks of white cheese”. It’s definitely filling and only ran me $5.50.
|Ahhh, so THAT'S an arepa. SO filling.|
Anything Else We Missed: They deliver Tuesday through Saturday from 3:00pm until 7:30pm on weekdays, and until 8:30pm on weekends. So if you wanna be the first of your friends to say “ughhh, man, I need my arepa fix” but you’re too lazy to leave your place (amiright Adam?), then just let the arepas come to YOU. Note: you may need to live in the greater Oak Park vicinity. Arepas will likely not come to you unless you call Aripo’s.
Poor Phil’s Shell Bar (139 S. Marion Street)
|The patio is open at Poor Phil's.|
Michael’s Take: I liked Poor Phil’s. It had some great beers on tap, many of which I’d never heard of. The atmosphere is upbeat. They have a few TVs above the bar, so you can come to watch the game. The crowd is a comfortable mix of people too. The location is nice, just down the street from what would be considered “downtown” Oak Park.
|Your options are not limited.|
Anything Else We Missed: Although it’s known as being one of the few “bar” bars in Oak Park, it does serve food. Talking to a few locals, apparently it has pretty good seafood. There are also happy hour specials, so if you’re working in Oak Park, you don’t have to head right back to Chicago on Friday.
Unity Temple (875 Lake Street)
|Beautiful and imposing, the Unity Temple|
The concrete structure is truly a temple with elevated pillars and tiny windows. The only color is the green located within the planters. Yet there’s a simple minimalist beauty to what may appear drab upon first look. Starting below and looking upward the detail of the pillars and roofs begins to show. There’s a beautiful symmetry to both portions of the temple, revealing seemingly not one, but two interconnected structures.
|The Unity Temple's beautiful interior|
The genius of Frank Lloyd Wright may be best exemplified in this structure. With limited time and finances, he was able to create a memorable house of worship. The Unity Temple embraces humility with majesty. It is a testament of the architect’s appreciation of both God and the craft he mastered.
The Unity Temple still holds services by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, over 100 years after its completion. As any monument that has survived over a century, it is in constant need of renovation. You can help support its restoration by joining or donating to the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. Also, you can tour the Unity Temple for $10 on most days of the year. It’s well worth the visit.
|Three levels of seating face the altar at the Unity Temple.|
Marion Street Cheese Market (100 S. Marion Street)
It's a great place to buy a bunch of unique cheeses, and so much more...
|Here are some of your cheese options.|
Laura’s Take: A cheese shop in America – nice to see! Their case of cheese is beautifully displayed with attractive labels for each cheese. The fromagière (I made that word up) was as knowledgeable about the flavors and origins of all the cheese as she should’ve been, and she let us try two or three. It’s good to know about places like this in case you love bizarre cheese yourself or are doing something special for a party. Our server mentioned that they do cater.
Anything Else We Missed: Chocolate, beer, nuts, pretzels, wine, they have all this too. Oh yeah, and there’s a restaurant. On Tuesday nights you can get a three-course meal for $33. Wednesday night they have cheese and wine flights as well.
Oak Park: The Final Tally
|Bustling Lake Street in downtown Oak Park.|