history of oriole park
The identity of the Oriole Park community is tied to the public park that was established in the center of the community in the early 1930s when the area was sparsely settled and semi-rural. About that time, the advent of newly affordable automobiles made it possible for families to not be totally dependent upon public transportation and to start settling in relatively undeveloped areas in the city in increasing numbers. The park that became known as Oriole Park was created by the Edison Park District, one of 22 independent park boards that were consolidated into the Chicago Park District in 1934. Several years before this consolidation took place, a committee from the 77th (Overhill) Avenue Improvement Club urged the Edison Park District to create a playground along Oriole Avenue Originally 2.29 acres of farmland were purchased and a fence was erected to prevent straying softballs from ruining the adjacent farmer’s crops. Later, 16.5 contiguous acres were purchased and gradually developed as recreational parkland through the late 40’s and early 50’s. A three room park fieldhouse was completed in 1953. Much later, in 1973, a much larger, fully functional field house with a gymnasium was completed.
Another significant, community identifier that was built about the same time that the park was in the early stages of development is Oriole Park Elementary School. The original building was a three- room, little red schoolhouse built in 1943 serving only the first three and half grades. Older students had to go to Garvy School. Construction of homes continued, bringing in more young families. A larger school building was completed in 1948 to accommodate K through 8 classrooms. Continued growth in enrollment required the addition of a contiguously attached annex to that building. It was completed in 1953, the same year the original, small park fieldhouse was completed. Even with the addition of the annex, the little red schoolhouse was kept in use, needed to house the first and second grades.
In the early days of the community, two, small family- run grocery stores served the community, a Royal Blue store on Foster Avenue and a Midwest Centrella store at the corner of Bryn Mawr Avenue and Overhill Avenue. However, many families had to travel to Jefferson Park to shop at the A&P store for large volume purchases. Later an A&P store and a National Foods store opened nearby on Harlem Avenue. Then, in the early 1960s, the Harlem-Foster Shopping Center opened to serve the community and surrounding area.
After the establishment of the shopping center, the Chicago Public Library (CPL) started a weekly Bookmobile service to the Center for the Oriole Park community. Then, in 1965, the CPL opened the Oriole Park sub-branch library in space leased in the shopping center. Five years later, in 1970, the sub-branch had to make way for the expansion of the adjacent Columbia National Bank. It was moved to a new 3,000 sq. ft. building at the corner of Foster Avenue and Oketo Avenue, on shopping center property, which was provided through a lease with the Jewel Company and the shopping center’s management. That space served the community for a long stretch of time, 34 years. Due to consistently high circulation numbers over the years, a much larger facility was sorely needed. Finally, in 2004, a 14,000 sq. ft. Oriole Park Branch Library building situated on the west side of Oriole Park School property was completed and dedicated. The building is also near the park fieldhouse. In effect, the Oriole Park community has a unique, cultural campus in its midst. Three public institutions, the school, library, and field house are situated on 22 contiguous acres of land at the center of the community.
The Oriole Park Community Club, over the years, has been consistently involved in making the case for all of these improvements through public meetings, petitions, and perseverance; all the while working closely with local elected officials.
The development of new housing in the community was largely initiated by the W. Buckley Corporation beginning in 1937. In 1938 there was only one sidewalk in Oriole Park, on the east side of Oriole Avenue. At that time, where the Oriole Park School was later constructed, a natural ice pond would form in the winter on which neighbors, young and old would skate by the light of a bonfire. There were older homes scattered around the area but many new homes were under construction after a brief lull following our country’s entry into World War II. At that time, there was nothing but small farms south of Foster Avenue and west of Canfield Avenue. Many of the new homes were Georgian style with many empty lots awaiting further development. Foster Avenue was paved with crushed rock. Higgins Road, west of Canfield Avenue was a two-lane farm road. There were horse riding stables close by on the border of the nearby forest preserves. There was a large swamp where the Harlem-Foster Shopping center now stands. Wartime ‘victory gardens’ were planted in vacant lots.
Cows were still grazing in a pasture near the corner of Harlem Avenue and Higgins Road. in 1943. Douglas Aircraft Corporation had built a huge assembly plant on Mannheim Road, on the site of present day O’Hare Airport, in which large wartime cargo planes were built for the Army Air Force. That area at the time was known as Orchard Place. O’Hare Airport is now otherwise known as ORD, the initials for Orchard and Douglas. That plant employed hundreds of people, many of whom decided to buy a home closer to work, in Oriole Park, at the edge of the city. At the time, Harlem Avenue was the city’s outer-belt highway, not the present-day I 294. The newly formed Oriole Park Community Club petitioned for an elementary school and for the initiation of house to house mail delivery. Mail had to be picked up in rural mail boxes at street corners. There were 60 mail boxes in a row on the north side of Higgins Road at Overhill Avenue. The streets were unimproved WPA type without curbs. To meet the needs of the Douglas workers, and many others seeking new housing, townhouses were built in the southeast quadrant of the community on curvilinear streets in a suburban pattern.
Following that, in the postwar period, ranch-type homes were built on remaining farmland. Each new development over the years had its own unique name for sales promotion, courtesy of the developers. The housing developments were named Oriole Park Village, Oriole Park Gardens, Bryn Mawr-Higgins, Canfield Ridge and Foster Heights. In due course, with its distinct, arterial, geographical boundaries and its public institutions, the community eventually became identified simply as Oriole Park. These geographical boundaries are Higgins Road (north), Foster Avenue (south) (plus the several-block peninsula of homes, within city limits, that protrudes south into Norridge), Harlem Avenue (east), and Canfield Avenue (west).
Over the years, the community filled-in with homes having a mixture of housing styles. A trend to newer housing has continued with tear-downs, rebuilds and additions, including the addition of second floors to what were previously ranch style homes. Oriole Park remains a desirable community to live in, as is evidenced by the young families who continue to move in and keep giving it a more youthful flavor on balance.
Contributed by Allan J. Firak. Featured on the Northwest Chicago Historical Society website.