If most people know Brookfield because of its connection to Brookfield Zoo, its most distinctive work of architecture is instantly recognizable to anyone who has driven through town along Ogden Avenue.
Even more than 50 years after it was built at 9009 Ogden Ave., the brashly modern, circular, glazed brick and polished steel-and-glass Brookfield Federal Savings – now a branch for Citibank – stands out.
It was designed by Bill Pavlecic, a LaGrange architect who died Sept. 15 at the age of 95 at LaGrange Memorial Hospital.
Pavlecic studied architecture at the feet of Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology, and landed his first job with the firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. He later founded his own firm, William Pavlecic & Associates, which he headed for 55 years.
The firm became well-known for its church designs, 27 in all, including St. Gall Church (1956) in Chicago’s Gage Park neighborhood.
Brookfield Federal Savings was completed in 1961. Pavlecic’s son, Jim, who is also an architect and LaGrange resident, was a boy when the bank was designed and built.
He has fond memories of one of his father’s signature works.
“I grew up in that building,” said Jim Pavlecic, who remembered that Brookfield Federal held the mortgage on the family home. He and his dad would drive to Brookfield on Saturdays to pay the mortgage in person.
Pavlecic recalled that getting the measurements right for the structural columns for the circular building was so important that his father nailed a $100 bill to the center point and told the concrete contractor the money was his if all the bolts lined up perfectly
He also recalled the time, about 15 years or so ago, when the owner was changing out the air-conditioning system. A worked drilled a hole in the concrete floor to allow condensation to escape and was horrified when a geyser of water shot up through the floor.
His dad explained that the bank’s basement had been designed to be water-tight. The concrete foundation was encased in a steel sheath and the bank, essentially, was a boat floating on a sea of groundwater.
Pavlecic also remembered that while workers were digging the foundation of the bank, they ran into an enormous boulder that prior soil borings had missed. The rock was glacial till, left behind after glaciers receded from the area. They needed dynamite to get it out of the middle of what would be the bank’s basement.
Although the bank has a number of striking features, from the stainless-steel exterior columns, reminiscent of Crown Hall at IIT, to the suspended interior staircase and mezzanine, Pavlecic said his favorite design element isn’t visible from Ogden Avenue.
He said it’s the staircase that wraps around the red glazed-brick smokestack at the rear of the building, a humble utility staircase to the second floor given a star turn.
“I’m very proud of that particular building,” Pavlecic said. “And I’m happy to see the current caretakers have been sympathetic toward it.”
Pavlecic says he hopes that will continue in the future. The building is on the market for $4,990,000.