Park Forest is a village located south of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, with a small southern portion in Will County, Illinois, United States. The village was originally designed as a planned community for veterans returning from World War II. As of the 2020 census, the village had a population of 21,687. Park Forest has multiple public and private schools. In addition to the arts and culture scene including Tall Grass Arts Association and the Illinois Theatre Center, residents also have access to a myriad of recreational opportunities for both children and adults such as the Park Forest Aqua Center. Notable people from Park Forest include the former artistic director of the Illinois Theatre Center, Etel Billig. Park Forest is bordered by Olympia Fields to the north, Chicago Heights to the east, University Park to the south, and Richton Park and Matteson to the west.
Developers Nathan Manilow, Carroll F. Sweet and Philip M. Klutznick held a press conference in the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago on October 28, 1946, to announce the planned development of a new self-governing community in Chicago's south suburbs. This project, soon to be referred to as Park Forest, was to be developed by American Community Builders (ACB). The village of Park Forest was partly designed by town planner Elbert Peets in the tradition of planned communities around the nation to provide housing for veterans returning from World War II.
Studs Terkel, in his oral history of World War II, The Good War, says Park Forest and other such middle-class suburbs grew out of the new prosperity after the war. First he quotes an unnamed GI, "The war changed our whole idea of how we wanted to live when we came back. We set our sights pretty high. . . . I am now what you'd call middle class." Terkel goes on: "The suburb, until [about 1946], had been the exclusive domain of the 'upper class.' It was where the rich lived. The rest of us were neighborhood folk. At war's end, a new kind of suburb came into being. . . . Thanks to the GI bill, two new names were added to American folksay: Levittown and Park Forest.
"A new middle class had emerged. Until now, the great many, even before the Depression, had had to scuffle from one payday to the next. . . . [Before there had only been one] car on the block. Now everybody was getting a car. Oh, it was exciting. (Terkel, p. 12)"
Park Forest was honored in 1954 as an "All-America City" for its citizens' help in the creation of Rich Township High School, on Sauk Trail. It was awarded this same honor again in 1976 for open housing and racial integration and initiatives. A village landmark was the Park Forest Plaza, an outdoor regional shopping center of over 50 stores and restaurants which included Sears, Marshall Fields and Goldblatt's.
In 1956, William H. Whyte, an editor at Fortune magazine, published a book called The Organization Man that defined the nature of corporate life for a generation. The book described how America (whose people, he said, had "led in the public worship of individualism") had recently turned into a nation of employees who "take the vows of organization life" and who had become "the dominant members of our society". Park Forest was one of the communities that figured most prominently in Whyte's study of the home life of "the organization man," and should be read by anyone seeking an insight into early Park Forest.
In 1951 and 1957, synagogues opened in Park Forest as Jews became 15% of the population. By 2013, both synagogues had moved outside the town. Although officially desegregated from its inception, Park Forest's first African-American family took residence there in 1959.
Park Forest is known for the "Scenic 10", a 10-mile (16 km) race held annually on Labor Day that attracts runners from around the globe. In 2008, the race was shortened to a 5-mile (8.0 km) course to attract more local runners and renamed the "Scenic Five".
On March 26, 2003, a meteor exploded over the Midwest, showering Park Forest with dozens of meteorite fragments. These fragments are currently on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. For further reading see Park Forest (meteorite).
According to the 2021 census gazetteer files, Park Forest has a total area of 4.96 square miles (12.85 km2), all land.
The village is generally bounded by U.S. Highway 30 on the north, Western Avenue on the east, Central Park Avenue on the west and Thorn Creek on the south. Parts of Park Forest are east of Western Avenue, however, including a subdivision called "Eastgate". Park Forest is bisected by the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway (now the Canadian National Railway) double-track main line, which was paralleled a little further north by the Michigan Central (New York Central) railroad. That rail line has been converted to a nature trail called Old Plank Trail. The beginning of the trail is at Western Avenue, and it runs through Park Forest west to Joliet.
Metra operates commuter railroad service to downtown Chicago. Stations bordering Park Forest include Richton Park (Sauk Trail at Governor's Hwy./Crawford Ave./Pulaski Rd.,) 211th Street (Lincoln Highway) and Matteson stations on the Metra Electric Line, which runs parallel to the Illinois Central Railroad Company (owned by Canadian National Railway Company) but on its own closely adjacent tracks
As of the 2020 census there were 21,687 people, 8,179 households, and 4,738 families residing in the village. The population density was 4,371.50 inhabitants per square mile (1,687.85/km2). There were 9,701 housing units at an average density of 1,955.45 per square mile (755.00/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 70.18% African American, 18.83% White, 0.25% Native American, 0.76% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.39% from other races, and 6.55% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.76% of the population.
There were 8,179 households, out of which 28.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 31.32% were married couples living together, 23.13% had a female householder with no husband present, and 42.07% were non-families. 39.47% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.91% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.38 and the average family size was 2.46.
The village's age distribution consisted of 22.9% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 29.8% from 25 to 44, 25.2% from 45 to 64, and 15.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 87.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 78.0 males.
The median income for a household in the village was $56,393, and the median income for a family was $65,507. Males had a median income of $41,744 versus $40,219 for females. The per capita income for the village was $26,078. About 5.8% of families and 12.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.7% of those under age 18 and 13.3% of those age 65 or over.
Park Forest is in Illinois's 2nd congressional district.
Presidents/Mayors of Park Forest:
School districts serving Park Forest include:
Arts and culture
The Illinois Theatre Center
The Illinois Theatre Center was established in 1976 by Steve and Etel Billig. At its inception, it was located in Park Forest's public library but was later moved to Downtown Park Forest in 1999. In addition to the main stage series of six plays, the theatre offers programs like The Drama School which provides acting classes for children, teens and adults.
Freedom Hall Performing Arts Theatre
Freedom Hall Performing Arts Theatre is a performing arts theatre and concert hall situated in Park Forest, Illinois. It offers a variety of concerts and theatre performances. Since the opening of Park Forest’s Cultural Arts Center in 1976, Freedom Hall Nathan Manilow Theatre has presented performance arts in the form of theater groups, recitals, lecture events, etc.
The Nathan Manilow Theatre has 287 seats. This theatre has presented a variety of events of all genres for more than thirty years. Such shows include Tom Dreessen, C.J Chenier, The Chicago City Ballet, The National Theatre of the Deaf, Joseph Holmes Chicago Dance Theatre, Tom Chapin, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, Corky Siegel, George Winston, The Second City Touring Company, John Houseman, Peter Mayer and many other performances. The goal of such performances is to present the finest cultural events for the Park Forest community and other residents of the Chicago area.
The 1950s Park Forest House Museum is meant to replicate an original home. It was built in 1947-1949 and now stands as a house has remained furnished the same way it originally was back in the years of 1948-1953, just as it was during the first five years that it was occupied by tenants. Visiting this site provides people with the ability to uniquely experience the history of Park Forest, a suburb built after the conclusion of World War II. Initially designed to help veterans and their families returning from the war, it would later become an attraction for enthusiasts of the era.
Visitors can open drawers, cupboards, and closets containing period treasures. Consistent with the way the house was furnished, dolls, toys, built-in bookcases and even a collection of clothes from that period may be found. One of the rooms even recreates a classroom from the very first school in the town.
Tall Grass Arts Association
Tall Grass Arts Association is located in downtown Park Forest Cultural Center; the Tall Grass Arts Association operates a regional art gallery where juried artists are invited to participate in the annual fine arts fair held in September in downtown Park Forest. Artists can display their work in the gallery at least once a year in addition to including their work in the Tall Grass Gift Shop.
Gallery Gift Shop
The Tall Grass Arts Association Gift Shop is a gift shop where juried artists display their works and make them available for the public. Their works include mixed media, ceramics, glass, metals, etc.
Park Forest offers a variety of recreational services to its residents and surrounding neighborhoods including the Park Forest Aqua Center, the Park Forest Tennis and Health Club, and park district classes and sports teams.
Park Forest Aqua Center
Park Forest Aqua Center has been a neighborhood institution since 1952. Both seasonal memberships and daily passes are available. Patrons can enjoy a beach pool for toddlers, the 160-foot water slide, 2 drop slides, a 15-foot aquatic climbing wall, and the East Pool, which is designed for adults to swim laps. Additionally, the Aqua Center also has a sand area and a concession stand.
Summer season opens to the public in the beginning of June and ends on Labor Day. Throughout the season, the Aqua Center offers special events, such as Members Only Kickoff, Hawaiian Night, Glow Swim, and Carnival Night. The Aqua Center also offers the following swim lesson programs:
Park Forest Aqua Center Contact Information
30 N. Orchard
Park Forest, IL 60466
708-747-9490 (in season)
708-748-2005 (off season)
Park Forest Tennis and Health Club
For over thirty years, the Park Forest Tennis and Health Club has offered residents a place to play tennis and workout. In addition to six indoor tennis courts and a fitness area, the Club also has saunas in the locker rooms, a courtside lounge, professional tennis instructors, racquet stringing, and a pro shop.
The Tennis and Health Club offers multiple types of tennis lessons. Group lessons are available for children and adults. The Club also offers private lessons and the Junior Excellence program, which is available to junior high and high school students who are interested in competing.
Park Forest Tennis and Health Club Contact Information
290 West wood Drive
Park Forest, IL 60466
Park District Programs
The Park Forest Park District runs seasonal programs open to both residents and non-residents and includes a variety of programs for all ages. The Park District offers sports, health & wellness, and dance programs, in addition to special day trips and art classes.
Department of Recreation, Parks & Community Health Contact Information
350 Victory Drive
Park Forest, IL 60466
Born 12-16-1932 Died March 28, 2012
Etel Billing was featured in films such as Running Scared, Stolen Summer, and Straight Talk. She was a long time resident of Park Forest Illinois. During her residency, she was the Artistic Director of the Illinois Theatre Center.
Kim Thayil is one of the founding members of the popular grunge band Soundgarden. Thayil attended Rich East Highschool in Park Forest, Illinois. He attended the highschool with Hiro Yamamoto, the bassist for Soundgarden. After which he moved to Washington state for college before moving to California.
Hiro Yamamoto the bass player for Soundgarden attended Rich East High School in Park Forest Illinois along with the lead guitarist Kim Thayil After which both went to college in Washington State until moving to California and pairing up with Soundgarden's lead singer Chris Cornel.
Born 4-4-1948 Died Nov, 11, 1972
Berry Oakley was the bassist for the popular band The Allman Brothers. Oakley grew up in Chicago suburb Park Forest. After his younger years in Park Forest he moved to Florida where he aligned with other founding members of the Allman Brothers.
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