Park Forest, Illinois

Park Forest is a village located south of Chicago in Cook County, Illinois, with the 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.[3] As of the 2010 census, the village had a population of 21,975.[4] Park Forest has multiple public and private schools. In addition to the arts and culture scene including Tall Grass Arts Association[5] and the Illinois Theatre Center,[6] residents also have access to a myriad of recreational opportunities for both children and adults such as the Park Forest Aqua Center.[7] Notable people from Park Forest include the former artistic director of the Illinois Theatre Center, Etel Billig.[8] 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.

Park Forest, Illinois
"Live Grow Discover"
Location of Park Forest in Cook County, Illinois.
Location of Illinois in the United States
Coordinates: 41.492°N 87.674°W / 41.492; -87.674
CountryUnited States
CountiesCook, Will
TownshipRich Township (Cook)
Monee Township (Will)
  MayorJonathan Vanderbilt
  Village PresidentJohn Ostenburg
  Total4.96 sq mi (12.85 km2)
  Land4.96 sq mi (12.85 km2)
  Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
712 ft (217 m)
  Density4,389.48/sq mi (1,694.95/km2)
Time zoneUTC−6 (CST)
  Summer (DST)UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Code(s)
Area code(s)708
FIPS code17-57732
Wikimedia CommonsPark Forest, Illinois


Developers Nathan Manilow, Carroll F. Sweet and Philip M. Klutznick held a press conference in the Palmer House 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,[9] 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.[10] 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.[11]

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.[12]

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".[13][14]

On March 26, 2003, a meteor exploded over the Midwest, showering Park Forest with dozens of meteorite fragments.[15] These fragments are currently on display at the Field Museum in Chicago. For further reading see Park Forest (meteorite).


According to the 2010 census, Park Forest has a total area of 4.96 square miles (12.85 km2), all land.[16] 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.


Climate data for Park Forest, Illinois 1981–2010 normals, extremes 1952–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 65
Average high °F (°C) 30.6
Average low °F (°C) 15.6
Record low °F (°C) −27
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.99
Average snowfall inches (cm) 8.4
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10 9 11 12 12 10 9 9 9 10 11 11 123
Source: NOAA[17]


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[18]


Historical population
Est. 201821,429[2]−2.5%
U.S. Decennial Census[19]

As of the census of 2010, there were 21,975 people, 8,750 households, and 5,497 families residing in the village. The population density was 4,430.4 people per square mile (1,716.8/km2). There were 9,838 housing units at an average density of 1,983.5 per square mile (768.6/km2). The racial makeup of the village was 33.4% White, 59.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.8% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 2.1% some other race, and 3.6% from two or more races. 6.4% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.[4]

There were 8,750 households, out of which 33.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.6% were headed by married couples living together, 24.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.2% were non-families. 33.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.8% were someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46, and the average family size was 3.15.[4]

In the village, the population was spread out with 25.9% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 26.4% from 25 to 44, 27.1% from 45 to 64, and 12.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 81.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.6 males.[4]

For the period 2009-11, the estimated median annual income for a household in the village was $45,925, and the median income for a family was $53,977. Male full-time workers had a median income of $41,976 versus $36,451 for females. The per capita income for the village was $21,149. 18.8% of the population and 14.4% of families were below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 27.7% of those under the age of 18 and 11.5% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.[20]


Park Forest is in Illinois' 2nd congressional district.

Local Government:

Presidents/Mayors of Park Forest:

  • Dennis O'Harrow 04/23/1949-10/10/1950
  • Henry X. Dietch 10/10/1950-04/26/1955
  • Robert A. Dinerstein 04/26/1955-04/22/1961
  • Bernard G. Cunningham 04/22/1961-04/00/1971
  • Ralph G. Johnson 04/00/1971-04/00/1975
  • Mayer Singerman 04/00/1975-04/00/1981
  • Ronald Bean 04/00/1981-09/02/1986
  • Jerry Mathews 09/29/1986-04/00/1991
  • F. Patrick Kelly 04/00/1991-04/00-1999
  • John Ostenburg 04/00/1999–04/02/2019
  • Jonathan Vanderbilt 04/02/2019-Present


School districts serving Park Forest include:


  • 21st Century Primary Center
  • Michelle Obama School Of Technology And The Arts
  • Blackhawk Primary Center
  • Mohawk Primary Center
  • Illinois Middle School
  • Indiana Middle School
  • Talala Elementary Center-Closed
  • Algonquin Pre-Kindergarten Center[22]
  • Illinois Montessori Children's House-Closed
  • South Suburban Sda Christian School[23]
  • Rich Township High School[24]
    • Rich East High School
    • Rich South High School
    • Rich Central High School

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.[6]

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 main goal of such performances is to present the finest cultural events in Park Forest community as well as all of Chicago-land.[25]

Museum Home

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.[26]

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.[5]

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.[27]


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.[7] Additionally, the Aqua Center also has a sand area and a concession stand.[28]

Summer season opens to the public in the beginning of June and ends on Labor Day.[7] 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:[29]

  • Preschool + Parent
  • Preschool
  • Beginner
  • Advanced Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Advanced
  • Adult
  • Water Aerobics
  • Junior Lifeguards

Park Forest Aqua Center Contact Information[7]

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.[30]

Park Forest Tennis and Health Club Contact Information[30]

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.[31]

Department of Recreation, Parks & Community Health Contact Information[32]

Village Hall

350 Victory Drive

Park Forest, IL 60466

Phone: 708-748-2005

Fax: 708-503-8561


In celebration of the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial, the Park Forest was selected as one of the Illinois 200 Great Places[33] by the American Institute of Architects Illinois component (AIA Illinois).

Notable people

Etel Billig

  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.[8][34]

Kim Thayil


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 me moved to Washington state for college before moving to Californ.[35]

Hiro Yamamoto

 Birth -4-13-1961

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.[36]

Berry Oakley

 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.[37]

See also


  1. "2016 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved Jun 30, 2017.
  2. "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved July 29, 2019.
  3. "Park Forest Is Special". Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  4. "Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (DP-1): Park Forest village, Illinois". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  5. "Tall Grass Arts Association - About Us". Tall Grass Arts Association. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  6. "About ITC". Illinois Theatre Center. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  7. "Park Forest Aqua Center". Park Forest, IL. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  9. Studs Terkel, The Good War. Pantheon Books, NY, 1984
  12. .
  13. Scenic race down to 5, but still alive :: The SouthtownStar :: Matteson :: Park Forest :: University Park :: Richton Park ::
  14. Running Club Works With Village to Secure Future of Scenic 10
  15. APOD: 2003 May 6 - A Chicago Meteorite Fall
  16. "G001 - Geographic Identifiers - 2010 Census Summary File 1". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2015-12-25.
  17. "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
  19. "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  20. "Selected Economic Characteristics: 2009-2011 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates (DP03): Park Forest village, Illinois". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved March 18, 2013.
  21. Slowik, Ted. "District 227 board votes to close Rich East High School in Park Forest as part of consolidation plan". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  22. "Park Forest - Chicago Heights School District 163". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  23. "Welcome : South Suburban SDA Christian School Park Forest IL". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  24. "Rich Township High School District 227 Home". Retrieved 2019-12-09.
  25. "Freedom Hall". Park Forest, IL. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  26. "A Brief History". Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  27. "Tall Grass Arts Association - Gift Shop". Tall Grass Arts Association. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  28. "Park Forest Aqua Center". Chicago Parent. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  29. "Park Forest Aqua Center | Jeff Ellis Management". Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  30. "Park Forest Tennis and Health Club". Park Forest, IL. Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  31. "2019 Autumn Recreation Programs and More". Village of Park Forest.
  32. "Department of Recreation, Parks & Community Health | Park Forest, IL - Official Website". Retrieved 2019-12-04.
  33. Waldinger, Mike (January 30, 2018). "The proud history of architecture in Illinois". Springfield Business Journal. Retrieved 30 January 2018.
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