About a year ago, in Brookfield, there was some talk about putting an inn within the confines of Kiwanis Park, at about where the present village hall now stands.
Had that little scenario come true, villagers would now be facing the prospect of finding another location for a new village hall. Since its early days when it was known as Grossdale, Brookfield has had its village halls in many locations.
The first official meetings of the newly incorporated Grossdale were held at newly elected village Trustee Paine Harrington’s home, once located in the vicinity of 8828 Brookfield Ave., where the six-story condominium building now stands.
The Harrington home burnt down on July 7, 1897, in the village’s greatest fire calamity, and no photo has ever been found of the three-story structure. Yet, in its way, it had served as the village’s first municipal meeting place, on Jan. 2, 1894.
For the second meeting, President William Buhs and his board met here, too, but after so many villagers crowded into the Harrington home, it was deemed necessary to temporarily adjourn the meeting and take it up again in the school room of the Grossdale Pavilion, on the corner of Prairie and Brookfield avenues. The school room was used free of charge for this one time, and then a rental of $5 a month was paid to the building’s owner, Samuel Eberly Gross, who was also the village’s founder.
In time, a Council Room, separate from the school room, was set up and located on the second floor of the Pavilion. This, then, became the center of the village’s municipal activities. For a time, a curved sign on the Pavilion’s front porch roof proclaimed the building as being “Grossdale Hall.” Three years later, the Council Room’s rental had risen to $10 a month.
Then came the disastrous fire of July 7, 1897, and the wood frame Pavilion burnt to the ground. A band of brave men dared the flames and rushed into the building, determined to save the village records, kept locked in a steel safe. They physically lifted the safe and threw it out a west window into the dirt road, Prairie Avenue.
A new meeting place was needed, quickly. The village officials held emergency meetings in I. Jacobson’s vacant store building, on the southeast corner of Prairie Avenue and Burlington Boulevard (today the site of the Irish Times restaurant). The rental here was $8 a month, and this served as the village hall for the next two years.
In 1898, a new hall site was chosen, at the corners of Forest and Brookfield avenues. On Dec. 15, 1898, architect H.H. Richards was the first to submit a contract for the new municipal building, which may have spurred the board into action, causing them to make the decision to advertise for bids on the project. After a few more bids trickled in, Richards still won out. Perhaps the fact that he had already built the S.E. Gross Grammar School, in 1894-95, lent credibility to his reputation.
On Dec. 22, 1898, the village approved, after three readings and an amendment, the borrowing of $3,000 to build the new hall. Richards went to work, and so did village resident George Fox, who was awarded the stonemasonry contract.
The last meeting at Jacobson’s store was held on June 1, 1899, with the next meeting occurring on June 8, in the new village hall. This building was constructed with brick, probably because the burning of the old wood frame hall was still fresh in everyone’s minds.
Life settled down to a comfortable pace in the village, secure in the knowledge that the new fireproof hall would last for many decades. But, less than a year-and-a-half later, this complacency was shattered. An exact date is unavailable, but sometime between Nov. 23-25, 1900, the village hall suffered a fire, but it was not nearly as bad as the Pavilion fire had been. The hall’s brick frame and much interior woodwork survived. The building was repaired, and once again in use.
Bricks were removed from the middle of the hall in 1916 so that the fire department’s new motorized “Old International” truck could drive right in, park, and, when fire calls came in, could zoom right out again the other side.
Lightning struck the lone tower on the hall during a violent storm on the night of Aug. 2, 1935. The flames were quickly put out, but the tower was never rebuilt.
Readers of the Feb. 7, 1946 Brookfield Magnet newspaper got a look at a design for a new village hall, to be erected on the site of the old hall, west of Salt Creek.
This was to be a two-story structure, with larger quarters and better lighting. Also included, as part of a local post-war building program, was a new public works garage, to be located north of the Brookfield Health Center, on the corner of Southview and Maple avenues. If this had been built, generations of children would not have enjoyed the North Maple Playground, now designated as a tot lot.
The $130,000 bond issue was championed by Village President Carl Hayford, who spoke of the old building as being “not only a black eye to the community, but also inadequate for the needs of the fastest growing community in the southwest suburbs.”
In the latter, he was correct. The old village hall had been built to serve the needs of 1,200 villagers back around the turn of the century. Now the village population was over 10 times that number.
Faced with the prospect of already mounting taxes, the people voted against the project, with a final total of only 90 for it and 1,436 against. Reported the Magnet, “Some voters dressed the Board down openly for even considering the erection of public buildings when materials and labor are needed so badly right now for housing.”
The project died an instant death, which was, perhaps, just as well, considering that the new hall would’ve looked like an ornamentally-challenged rectangular concrete box.
Six years later, in 1952, another plan was proposed wherein a new, canopy-covered entrance on Forest Avenue would be created, at the point where the old fire engines used to drive directly into the village hall. The front entrance on Brookfield Avenue would be closed. It was called “an inexpensive remodeling,” and was never done. It appears that any work done would have been merely cosmetic.
Village officials again tried for a new building in 1957, at a site in Kiwanis Park, along Brookfield Avenue. These were the optimistic 1950s, when any kind of venture seemed possible. The need for a new hall was still obvious. Maybe officials thought the time was ripe, so they initially planned for a $600,000 building, of one story in height, including a gymnasium/basketball court with a 20-foot high ceiling.
A front page editorial column in the Jan. 17, 1957 Citizen stated that “no one will deny the need for a new village hall. The present building was erected in the ’80s, and long ago it was outdated. It was, and still is, the village’s headquarters, which was originally predicated on a population of 2,000 inhabitants.”
Despite the Citizen’s erroneous figures, it was right about some things: the building was old and overcrowded.
A brochure, titled “A Better Brookfield Is Your Business,” was assembled and sent out to villagers, giving as much information as possible, so that they, too, could understand the need for a new hall. Maybe a little too much information was presented. Now voters were being asked to vote for a $695,000 bond issue, instead of a $600,000 one.
Located extremely close to Salt Creek, the T-shaped building reportedly would have had approximately 300 feet of frontage. Make no mistake, this would have been a very wide building. Maybe some people worried about flooding. Purely modern in style, the building was shown as a sleek one-story structure of glass and fieldstone with a wide front courtyard.
The fire department would have been housed in the western-most third of the building, with village offices and a circular court room in the center. The police department would have been housed in the east wing of the building. An attached Public Works garage is shown extending north from the village offices. The architectural firm for the project was Pavlecic & Kovacavic.
The vote on the new building was held on April 16, 1957, and the bond issue was defeated. All 10 precincts had voted overwhelmingly against the project by a margin of 1,593 to 4,091.
Residents received their next notice that another new building might be forthcoming, through the Brookfield Beacon newsletter, issued by the village in February 1972. Village President Phil Hollinger, Jr. wrote that “we have received a number of letters asking that the village board consider a new municipal building. We know the need is great. We’re sure you know it, too. We are not sending any fancy, colored or printed brochures to ‘sell’ you a new municipal building.”
In the newsletter, 18 photos of crowded and dangerous conditions were shown, and this straightforward approach seems to have worked better than in 1957. In addition, a two-day open house at the old village hall helped to convince the voters to finally pass a referendum for a new building, in April 1972.
The low bidder for the new hall was A.K. Berg of South Holland and completion date was to be in August 1973. But, due to shortages, strikes and weather, the hall was finished three months late, in November. During the first week of December, records, furniture and equipment were moved into the new building, just on the other side of the creek.
On Feb. 3, 1974, the new village hall was officially dedicated to the people of Brookfield “who saw the need and responded to it in typical Brookfield spirit.”
But what about the old building? Even back in July 1973, some people thought it could be renovated and kept intact, possibly being used as a sort of historical museum. But repairs would cost too much, what with a new roof needed, chimney work to be done, a furnace needed to be repaired and new radiators installed.
Then there was the matter of ongoing maintenance to be considered. Some residents began circulating petitions, arguing in favor of saving the historical building. It was no use; there were too many reasons why this plan would not work, and they all involved money.
The Times newspaper printed the old hall’s “eulogy” on January 9, 1974:
“They started tearing down the old Brookfield village hall on Dec. 31, and by this Friday [Jan. 11], it is anticipated that it will be hauled away ‘to the mill.’ Edwin Rose, vice-president of the Cleveland Wrecking Company … said the hall was ‘just a typical building.’ There were no unanticipated obstacles, no hidden treasure in the archives, not even anything unusual or memorable.”
Which just goes to show that wrecking companies don’t know everything. Some people took 75-five-year-old bricks from the rubble as souvenirs, so, though the bricks themselves were not unusual, they really were treasures; the treasures of memory.