You can say one thing about Samuel Eberly Gross, the founder of Brookfield, when it came to drawing up his model suburb on the prairie southwest of Chicago: The guy thought big.
Not content to simply plop down a grid and subdivide it, Gross planned elm-lined boulevards cutting dramatically through the village and creating complicated intersections like the one he drew, somewhat diabolically, where four streets intersected to create Eight Corners.
When the only modes of transportation were horses and bicycles, getting through Eight Corners probably wasn’t a big deal, even without a traffic circle there to guide traffic in a particular direction.
Later a trolley line came down Broadway Avenue and motorized vehicles started making things dicey. By the time the 1950s rolled around and cars started to proliferate in the Chicago suburbs, village officials knew they needed something to improve safety in what at the time was a thriving shopping hub.
The idea that the traffic circle at Eight Corners should serve as the site of a war memorial didn’t come until more than a decade after the circle was built – solely as a traffic control structure.
In the early 1970s, officials dedicated the Veterans Memorial Circle, installing a fountain and ringing it with monuments honoring those who served from the Spanish-American War to Vietnam, in addition to a specific monument listing those who died in service of the nation.
In retrospect, that decision looks to have been the wrong one.
The memorial itself, in another setting, would be wonderful. But the setting is the entire problem.
While designating the circle as a veterans’ memorial and maintaining a fountain there in the future is entirely appropriate, the circle’s future ought to be as a passive memorial.
The other monuments should be moved to Veterans Memorial Park, two blocks away at Grand and Sunnyside, and incorporated into a contemplative setting that encourages visitors to reflect on the sacrifice of those honored there.
Simply put, the circle is a danger to pedestrians and they shouldn’t be encouraged to cross the ring road to get to the memorial. There are no marked crosswalks or signage alerting drivers to watch for anyone crossing over to the circle.
And, frankly, we’re not sure such signage would be noticed. It’s tough enough for drivers to concentrate on the multiple vehicle access points to their left to notice or react to a pedestrian who may be crossing to their right.
We tried crossing recently at about 6:30 p.m. on a weekday. It’s risky for someone able bodied, much less an elderly or disabled veteran who may want to visit. And once there, it’s not much of a setting for contemplation with cars whizzing around the circle, close by.
Under present conditions, the village’s oldest war memorial is isolated and unapproachable. That shouldn’t be the case. There are ways to maintain the circle as a monument to veterans while moving the active memorial site to the park specifically created less than two decades ago for that purpose.