Ten years ago, I took my camera, pen, and a clipboard of lined notebook paper in hand, ready to jot down my observations and random thoughts, made at a single vantage point in Brookfield. I thought that this might prove to be an invaluable tool for the future”a record of a part of Brookfield at a particular time.
Have you ever tried, deliberately, to capture a moment in time, to be able to recall a scene before you, by putting it into words? Have you ever decided to sit down alone and give yourself enough time to do this? I did, back on Thursday, June 27, 1996.
It was a late, slow, summer afternoon, and I took my place underneath a black maple tree on the southeast corner of Prairie and Brookfield avenues. I sat down on the green grass and looked out at the bit of Brookfield before me, ready to take notes, the first of which was simply: “Sitting beneath the maple tree about 30 feet east of the crossing at Prairie Avenue, north of the tracks.”
So, on the late summer afternoon of Tuesday, June 27, 2006, an exact decade later, I again sat beneath that same black maple tree, which was somewhat more grown than it had been 10 years ago. As before, I brought along my camera, pen and a clipboard of paper. I had decided, this time, not to make random observations, but more careful ones, comparing the Brookfield of today with the Brookfield of yesterday.
The first difference came from behind me, and it was one of sound. The loudspeakers around the Brookfield train station were noisily announcing that a scheduled train would be late. I hadn’t recalled such a thing happening 10 years ago. And I had written down everything back then. I have heard these announcements made so often in the last four or five years, that I wonder if any commuter train ever comes in on time.
Looking to my right, east down Brookfield Avenue, I take note of the physical changes. First off, I see that the white Tribune sign, which had advertised village events, is gone. That eyesore was removed on Sunday, March 11, 2001 by men of the Brookfield Public Works Department. Now a tiny park with benches and flowers replaces it.
Closer by, a tree is gone, which used to be just across the sidewalk leading up onto the north platform. It used to be next to a telephone pole. Maybe that’s why it’s gone.
The old Forest Avenue Service Station, with its distinctive Spanish tile roof is gone, a victim of the construction of the present 6-story condominium building. The picturesque vacant lot just west of the gas station is gone, as is the Alonzi’s Villa restaurant and the parking lot to its west.
Rootbuster’s Sewer and Plumbing Service is no longer at 8836 Brookfield Ave., replaced today by the Loca Mocha Cafe.
Directly in front of me, two wooden bus benches, which used to advertise Flowers By Gall and Hollywood Motors are gone. These wide benches have been replaced by one solitary standard black decorative metal bench, the kind used in LaGrange, Oak Park and even Galena. On the new bench sits a man in long blue jeans and a wide-striped shirt, and he’s shouting into his cellphone so loudly that I can almost hear what he’s saying from across the street.
Domenica’s Hair Salon, at 8840 Brookfield Ave., is still at the same location, although the sign on the window has become larger and more impressive. Ten years ago, Pace bus #2206, Route 331, passed by the salon on its way from the village hall parking lot to the Cumberland CTA station. Today, a new version of the bus, #6306, does the same.
The severe, black covering on the sides of the Heads Up Coffeehouse, at 3755 Grand Blvd., are gone, replaced by varying decorative false fronts and awnings. A major change to this building is the corner clock tower, which began life as the Clock Tower Cafe, on Saturday, March 31, 2001, and then closed after the village elections in April. Next it was the Luna restaurant, and now it is known as the Trattoria Gemelli restaurant.
Looking northerly down Grand Boulevard, many changes are apparent. Today there are artistic flags on both sides of the street lights, and flower planters, too. As to be expected, trees have grown higher and leafier. The road surface has received a new coat of asphalt. Old wooden-sided trash bins have been replaced by decorative metal ones matching the style of the metal benches.
Way down on the boulevard’s west side, the Exhibit 1 Photographics sign was up in 1996. Atop the sign was the square clock, left over from the pre-1972 days when the building was home to the First National Bank of Brookfield, at 3720 Grand Blvd. Today the sign is gone, and the bank/photographic studio has been replaced by the Paisan’s Pizzeria restaurant.
The next big change is the vanished American Video sign. Monday, evening, June 23, 2003, Fisher’s Pharmacy, of 8900 Fairview Ave., closed its door forever. Shortly after that, the American Video store, the second video store to operate in the village, also went out of business.
Speaking of Fisher’s, that place has really changed in the last decade. On that June day in 1996, Fisher’s was a hotbed of activity compared to now. I wrote what I saw:
“There is one lone child”a girl with long, long brown hair, and a yellow T-shirt that covers her knees. She parks her unlocked 20-inch bike by leaning it on a wooden bus bench and pushes the doorbar into Fisher’s Pharmacy.
“A small boy, with a red, white and blue … cap dumps his green bike … in front of Fisher’s, and enters the store with the easy trust of youth that his bike is safe like that. His red shirt, too big for him, flaps about his body. …
Today any child going alone into that building would be sent right back out again, since it is now the Salt Creek Wine Bar. Fisher’s old building has changed, too, with dark green awnings on a new brick facade, done by Porter and Sons Masonry, who almost no sooner finished the fine work, when the drug store went out of business.
Years ago, I never saw a liquor delivery truck parked outside of Fisher’s, but today there is one, belonging to the SWS Liquors of Bolingbrook. On Fairview Avenue, the side of the truck facing me boldly advertises Bacardi Rum.
Some things never change. When trains cause the crossing gates to go down during rush hour, a long line of cars forms up Grand Boulevard, sometimes extending up as far as the next block. This time, however, the crossing gates go down for about 10 seconds, then rise again, without any train going by. I was not too surprised when, less than a minute later, the gates went down again, and a train did go by. I have noticed this “false alarm” phenomenon happening at other train crossings over the past few years.
The speed limit sign of 20 mph is the same, too, as is the mailbox that still remains in place outside the Salt Creek Wine Bar.
West, down Brookfield Avenue, along the railroad tracks, telephone poles and their wires have been recently removed, allowing a less congested view. In 1996, a solid line of poles stretched into the distance.
Behind me, trains hiss and squeak and shudder to a halt, disgorging passengers returning home. That has not changed, although the train engines and passenger cars have become more modern.
As in 1996, in 2006 I also noticed that: “The sun’s path has been making me move on eastward, farther and more, so that the maple tree’s leaves no longer shelter me from the piercing hot rays. I yield to nature, and so take my leave.”
So, on either side of a 10 year span, ended an observation of Brookfield, by a particular person, in a particular place, at a particular time. Will someone 10, 20, or even a 100 years from now do as I have done?
Too many times history is related as a series of extraordinary and special events. Too few times are examples of common day-to-day life reported, of people just plain living, of the world just passing calmly before one’s eyes. And that is no less important.