Park Ridge Park District, Historical Society spar over cottage
The Park Ridge Historical Society would like a free lease to use the Youth Campus' Solomon Cottage if the property is acquired by the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District. | Jennifer Johnson~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 8, 2013 6:17AM
PARK RIDGE — Losing Park Ridge’s historic Solomon Cottage isn’t something Paul Adlaf wants to think about.
But the building’s future hinges on what voters have to say this April and if an agreement can be reached with Park Ridge Recreation and Park District officials — or whomever is the eventual owner of the property.
The Park Ridge Historical Society has long envisioned the 105-year-old building at the former Park Ridge Youth Campus, 733 N. Prospect Ave., as a local history center, made possible through community donations. Recently the society asked the Park District for a 50-year, no-cost lease of Solomon Cottage in the event that the April 9 referendum seeking to purchase the 11-acre Youth Campus is successful.
But Park Board commissioners, who discussed the proposal during two February meetings, are hesitant to enter into such an agreement.
“I was very strongly against a ‘free lease,’ as were the other commissioners,” Park District Board president Rick Biagi said. “We feel there’s value to having the Historical Society there, but it needs to done without imposing on the taxpayers.”
The Historical Society and Park District staff have both been asked to research how other partnerships between historical societies and park district work, something Adlaf said will be done.
“It would be a tragedy to tear down that building,” Adlaf, president of the Historical Society, said.
The Park District recently proposed that the Historical Society be treated as an affiliate, much like local sports teams. These teams use Park District-owned properties and pay a per-capita tax to the Park District.
The proposed affiliate agreement with the Historical Society also called for the society to pay the Park District $110,000 to be used for renovations to make Solomon Cottage fit for occupancy.
But Adlaf, as well as Historical Society Vice President John Murphy, do not believe affiliate status is best in this particular case. Murphy explained that if the society accepts historical artifacts as donations, they need to be available to the public for an extended period of time.
“If we can’t give the assurances that the donations will be there for (the donators’) children or grandchildren, we can’t get this off the ground,” Murphy said.
He added that the Historical Society wants a long-term agreement with the Park District and assurances that “you won’t kick us out.”
Biagi said allowing an outside entity to use a Park District-owned building — which Solomon Cottage would be if the April 9 referendum passes — and not pay to do so is a “disservice to taxpayers.” Biagi believes an affiliate relationship is best and one that has “worked out well for decades” with other groups.
“(The Historical Society) would kick in money to improve the building and we would give them first priority for use of the building,” Biagi explained.
He did express concern that the Park District was spending money to have a proposed agreement drafted with the Historical Society before the election has even occurred.
Solomon Cottage, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, was constructed in 1908, the first building on the site that would become known as the Park Ridge Youth Campus. It was named for Hannah Greenebaum Solomon who, according to the Youth Campus, led a financial reorganization effort of the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, as the Youth Campus was once known, and served on the school’s board. She was also the founder and first president of the National Council of Jewish Women.
If the Park District’s referendum seeking to acquire the former Youth Campus through a property-tax increase fails, the property will be put back on the real-estate market.
Natalie Hayes contributed to this story