Going yard

Prospective buyers check out what’s available at Cat Nap from the Heart’s annual yard sale, which benefits the shelter on 31st Street, where many La Grange Park businesses are found. (Warren Skalski/ Photo for the Chicago Tribune / July 16, 2011)

Note to movie location scouts: La Grange Park offers the perennially Normal Rockwell-ish streetscapes you want for movies set in the 20th century.

Its dog-walking, baseball-playing, flag-waving residents would make congenial extras as they come and go from the front porches of their four-square houses. That's the southwest side of this S-shaped village.

The northeast side is another movie set. This one's backdrop features post-World War II brick houses and a cast of young mothers texting while chasing their kids. Seniors placidly watch it all from lawn chairs in their driveways.

Thirteen miles west of the Loop, La Grange Park is a small, bedroom community in Cook County, population of about 13,600.

"Many of our residents are people like me who grew up here, then came back to raise their kids here," said village President James Discipio, a Berwyn dentist by day.

A La Grange Park native knows what Poet's Corner is and where to find Superman ice cream (answers: a tiny slice of village-owned land and Maple Avenue Creamery.)

Thanks to low crime rates and a small population, neighbors know one another and kids run freely from house to house. La Grange Park lacks a downtown, so the parks are where people congregate.

"Something about a cow kicking over a vase of roses," Discipio said with a laugh when asked about La Grange Park's "Village of Roses" vestigial moniker. The village abandoned its annual rose show when residents no longer cultivated enough of the beautiful flowers to comprise a show. Now they are more likely to grow prairie grasses and support the Cool Village Commission's sustainability events.

In 2002, the village board established the Youth Commission for students in grades seven to 12.

"We meet the night before the Village Board meeting and review everything on (the board's) agenda," said Grant Lundahl, 18, who served on the commission for the last two years. "We send a representative to each board meeting to say how we voted on each issue. We voted to keep Adopt-a-Cop, for example, because we thought it was important to the younger kids."

"Ninety percent of the time, the kids are right on," said Discipio.

Having the Youth Commission says a lot about La Grange Park's small-town atmosphere, said Lundahl.

"You can really get involved here," he said. "Even the kids have input. It taught me how different it is to run a village than to run the federal government, which is what we learn in school.

"I think when I'm older, I'll continue my involvement in local government. Living here has taught me that what I say makes a difference."


Originally called The Park, the village owes its origin to the speakeasy in Pete Swanson's home in 1892. Disapproving neighbors incorporated the village to make it dry. Equally conservative immigrants sold land to other Germans "to keep it from coming into the hands of an Irishman," according to "La Grange Park: Reflections of the Past." Then came Italians, Czechoslovakians and, yes, the Irish.

Charles Joern built the Village Market in the 1950s, which was hailed as a one-stop shop for the housewife who could buy shoes, millinery, food and linens at one place. It remains the largest center of commerce here, with a Jewel-Osco , Panera Bread and Phillip's Flowers & Gifts.

Joern also was one of La Grange Park's early residential builders of note, having developed the Edgewood Park subdivision (now the village's southwest corner, between Woodland and Ogden avenues ). His innovative Joern System employed building materials typically limited to commercial buildings, such as poured-concrete floors, cinder-block walls and steel support beams. A plaque on a boulder at Poet's Corner pays him homage.

Tucked into the older part of town is the American Nuclear Society. A mystery to many of its neighbors, this professional association is important to people who can define "isotope."