Cultural Elements --- Park Forest House Museum
Some of these items and images were found in the House Museum, others were not; but they were a part of the fabric of the times, or those to come shortly after Park Forest was incorporated as a Village in 1949.
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"The people who went to Park Forest went there because it was the best housing for the money....Once there, however, they created something over and above the original bargain. Together they developed a social atmosphere of striking vigor...." Willima H. Whyte, Jr., in The Organization Man.
William H. Whyte, who died in January of 1999, wrote his classic book, The Organization Man, first published in 1956, after studying the phenomena of Park Forest for four Fortune Magazine articles, which ran in May, June July and August of 1953. Photographer, Dan Weiner acompanied Mr. Whyte, and took what have become iconic photographs of mid-20th Century Suburbia. Whyte interviewed many early Park Forest residents. He commented on the achievements, on the strengths and weaknesses of "our town" and we've not stopped commenting on his book since. Nor have many scholars who continue to study Park Forest. In short, Whyte was one of the people who first put Park Forest on the "Literary and Sociological map." Early Park Foresters were high achievers--in and out of the "Organization," or corporate culture. They brought their skills to the community to help build schools, churches, and a first of its kind shopping center--one of the first shopping centers in the country. Park Forest won its first "All America City" award in 1954 based on this 'can-do" spirit in building a new high school and high school district-- Rich Township High School District. But the trend and spirit of achievement was set for generations to come--Park Forest again won an " All America City" award in 1977. The Village reached the finals in the All America City competitions in the 1990s and early 2000's. Park Foresters still capture that early spirit as they roll up their sleeves to accomplish the task at hand. Elaine Umland-Brownlee, 1999, updated Jane Nicoll, 2009.
The 1950s Park Forest House Museum has issues of the Fortune Magazine series for study purposes. They have a bound collection on display where the issues from May and June can be read, and where you can see some of the most famous Park Forest photographs by Dan Weiner. The museum also has a bindeer with some of the notecards and postcards made from Dan Weiner's photographs. Mr. Weiner's work can be seen in the book, America Worked.
Returning veterans of World War II comprised 85 per cent of Park Forest's early residents. Park Forest offered affordable housing with its rental units, with 3010 units built between October 1947 and October 1949. By 1950, renters looked to move into and buy a dream house of their own. Park Forest offered them affordable homes within two years of its incorporation--by 1951. How many dreams were built and planned over cups of coffee!
Indeed, mothers in the rental units, tending thier children, made "kaffeeclatching" a high art! Jo Maeyama, an early resident, commented in her OH! Park Forest oral history interview, "I think in any new community, any place where people are struggling to see something grow, it doesn't matter what is being created, there is a tremendous amount of this feeling generated, simply because you're participating in a creative process. And Park Forest was a creative process... And it was so wonderful to have our men back again, to have our families intact, and to be present at the birthing process, almost, of this new village, was just a wonderful creative thing."
OH! Park Forest, An Oral History of Park Forest, transcripts are available to check out at the Park Forest Public Library. Several of the transcripts are online in the digital project, "Park Forest: An Illinois Planned Community." You can link directly to the Illinois Digital Archive, Park Forest records, click here. You can also link to the project through our home page and links pages.
Click on OH! Park Forest to see the list and status of transcripts.