What price, history?

Opinion: Editorials

June 25th, 2019 1:11 PM

By Editorial

Late Monday afternoon, officials at Riverside Elementary School District 96 informed parents that they'd made an unsolicited offer to buy the Hollywood House from the Hollywood Citizens Association, which has owned the land for 100 years.

The building, designed by William Drummond, who worked for both Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright before going it alone, will celebrate its 100th birthday next year. The property and the building are tied to the early history of Riverside and Brookfield.

The land was originally owned by Edith Rockefeller McCormick who, according to the Hollywood Citizens Association website, received it as a gift from her father, John D. Rockefeller. 

She owned quite a bit of land spanning both sides of the Des Plaines River north of Washington Avenue/Ridgewood Road/Forest Avenue. Much of it would later be donated to the Cook County Forest Preserve District for the construction of Brookfield Zoo.

The Hollywood Citizens Association, which was looking to build a kindergarten/primary school for residents of Hollywood, bought the little plot of land at the corner of Hollywood and Washington avenues from McCormick for $700.

Queene Ferry Coonley, who had established a kindergarten in Riverside near the Coonley family estate, hooked the Hollywood folks up with Drummond, who'd designed a gardener's cottage and a residence for her kindergarten teachers in Riverside.

She also kicked in $15,000 to help make the project a reality. The resulting Prairie-style building still has the original built-ins, timber ceiling beams, oak trim, fireplace and little stage.

It's really a charming building, still well-used by the public, one that has direct connections to the early history of the neighborhood.

So, losing a building like that isn't a decision that should be made lightly.

We understand the contemporary space requirements for Hollywood School, the awkwardness of a shared parking/play area (not to mention the odd ingress/egress situation to that parking lot) and the cramped playground area, which actually is on land owned by the Hollywood Citizens Association.

Hollywood School, which was built nine years after the Hollywood House, is a small building to be sure. Plans are to build an addition in 2020, and gaining additional property could provide some more flexibility.

The proposal on the table is to purchase the entire Hollywood Citizens Association property, which covers about 23,400 square feet, and demolish the Hollywood House. The school district has offered to let the community use the school in the future as a meeting place in order to compensate the neighborhood for the loss of its meeting hall.

That much, we think, would be the minimum accommodation the school district could make to the neighborhood. We're not here to tell the school or the HCA what to do with that property; it's a valuable asset to either group.

That history, though. It would be a shame to completely remove such a symbol of just how unique Hollywood is as a neighborhood that spans two villages and has its own identity apart from both.

This is a tricky one, for sure.

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