Monday, December 28, 2015

My Favorite Photos of 2015

Time for this once again. It seems to be an every-other-year sorta thing, which is too bad, for I made some great photographs in 2014, and instead of compiling them here for presentation, had the mistaken impression I'd make them into a one-off monograph of my photos for the year. . . .which I never completed.

Nearly every one of these photos was taken outside my North Texas backyard. Apart mostly from AvGeeking trip to DFW airport, I didn't shoot much near home. For me, I did a fair amount of travelling in 2015: California, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and New York. Five trips by air, which is more than I'd probably ever made. Cheap flights. Earn miles. Save em up for next year. 

I certainly didn't push myself photographically as I had in 2014. Looking strictly at the number of frames actually archived, I shot 600 more of em in 2015 than I did in 2014--but that tells me nothing, given the sheer number of frames I made photographing airplane approaches. Quantity does not equal quality.

You'll notice that most folks pick their "top 10." It was easy to get to a top 27, then a top 18, and even down to a top 15--but there I stopped. It isn't that I couldn't sweat it down to 10--for whatever reasons--mostly emotional I guess--I stopped at 15. So there they are, presented in chronological order, along with a little about each photo.

Altamont Commuter Express/California
Made a long-weekend trip to Central California to attend the last Winterail rail photo exhibition in California--after a 37 year run in the Stockton/Modesto area it's moving on for the next phase of its life in Oregon in 2016. I'd attended roughly half of 'em, including the first one in 1978, so wanted to be there for the finale. I stayed with my friend Joe Brice in Lodi, and unlike most other trips to Winterail, spent some time photographing railroads in the local area. We got up before dawn to try to catch the California Northern's "West Side job" out of Tracy; while waiting in vain for it to show up (it never did), I photographed an ACE commuter train at the UP/CN diamond at Lyoth. I nearly didn't get this: using a new-ish camera, I forgot to check if the "motor drive" was on. It wasn't. I got this one frame, but I thought it was a dandy. Fuji X100s, 35m (equiv) 1/640th @  f4 ISO 800.

Chicago Transit Authority/ Chicago
In Chicago for the annual Center for Railroad Photography & Art "Conversations" presentation in suburban Lake Forest, my traveling mate Lance Lassen and I stayed the first night out at O'Hare to do a bit of plane spotting and catch the CTA into the city for a bit of street photography. Right off the train from the airport at rush hour. Amazing city, especially to people watch. Fuji 100s 35mm (equiv),  1/50 @ f4 ISO 1600.

The Green Mill/Chicago
Dragged Lance to the Northside for a quick visit and a blast-o at The Green Mill, venerable Chicago speak easy and jazz club. Now inhabited by hipsters who've carried on the Jazz traditions. Very cool place. Very dark. Wanted to try the quintessential Chicago Liquor, Malort. Did my shot. Will never do it again.
Fuji X100S 35mm (equiv) 1/20 @ f2.8 ISO 6400.

B52 engine pod/Barksdale AFB, Lousiana
Took my youngest one on an overnight trip to Shreveport for the nearby Barksdale Air Force Base air show. Nothing you wouldn't see at your basic airshow, except Barksdale is home for half the nation's fleet of B52 heavy bombers, and my burgeoning av geekiness required getting close to these huge death machines, the youngest of which is about my age. I was disappointed with just a couple of fly-bys; made up for it with a close visual inspection of the planes, including this sculpted object d'art, one of four twin-jet engine pods slung from the Big Ugly Fat Fucker's swept wings. Fuji XE2, 160mm (equiv) 1/55 @ f/14 ISO 400.

Living Room Interior/Dallas Modern Home Tour
Wife Mary and I are into mid-century design/homes/furnishings, and we took in the yearly White Rock modern home tour in Dallas, featuring a half-dozen or so new or preserved or renovated modern homes. This is the living room of one such restored home, decorated with vintage art and furniture and fixtures. I recall seeing this portrait of an unknown man for sale previously in a local vintage resale shop. Fuji X-E2, 24mm (equiv) 1/50 @ f2.8 ISO 800.

Dusk Landing/Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
2015 was the year my interest in aviation photography really took off. Har har. Anyway, I spent far more time runway-side than I did track-side as I really got into photographing aircraft, mainly passenger and freight jetliners. For the most part, it's been meat-and-potatoes stuff: flying 3/4 wedge type landing and take offs. Occasionally I branched out into the more artistic and difficult realms, such as dusk pan shots. Prepare to take LOTS of frames and do a LOT of editing. This was an early effort, Spirit Airways landing in July. Fuji X-E2, 200mm (equiv) 1/13 @ f4.5 ISO 1600.

Oldest son Eliot/Lake Michigan Dunes
Summer vacation was a trip into Milwaukee and a big loop around the south end of the lake to Detroit and back across the lake into Wisconsin. We spent an afternoon at Warren Dunes State Park. My son Eliot and I climbed up the several-hundred-foot high sand dune: quite an exercise. Near the top, I saw him in a pensive moment. It kind of sums up to me the indecision he must be going through as a teenager. I wouldn't want to be in his place.  Iphone5s, 4.15mm 1/4600 @ f2.2, ISO 32

Out on a Date/Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI
Another photo from the family vacation; we ate lunch in the restored diner inside the Ford Museum. Food was pretty below average, but atmosphere was great. This couple was in the booth in front of us, and managed to take a few candid frames of this cute young couple on a date, tentative staring in each other's eyes, holding hands, discussing parents and music and trying to find a common ground. The Diner dates from the 20s; some dating rituals are timeless as well. Fuji X100S 35m (equiv)  1/70@f2.8 ISO 3200.

USS United States/Philadelphia
Fall trip to the east to photograph old diesels was looking mighty grim upon arrival in Philly: hurricane blowing up the east coast looked like it might wash our plans away: pouring rain and 50mph winds. While awaiting arrival of the rest of our group, I went down to the Delaware River docks and paid my respects the the USS United States, world's fastest passenger liner, docked here for years and years while money is raised to preserve her. Paint peeling, locked up behind barbed wire gates: seems so close and yet so out of reach. Shame to see her like this. Fuji X-E2, 70mm (equiv) 1/1500 @ f/8 ISO 800.

Bath & Hammondsport Railway/ Avoca, New York
To me, context is important in railroad photographs. I shy away from basic wedge shots whenever I can--there's always that part of me working as a photojournalist. So it was chasing this small local freight up the valley north from Bath, New York. Our carload of foamers piled out along state road 415. I ran down the road to incorporate a milk farm in the shot, when suddenly a woman walked down her driveway to get the daily mail. She was a bit curious about the carload of photographers, but warmed to the idea of me including her in the photo. She got her mail, i got my shot. I gave her my card to get in touch for a print; she never wrote. Too bad--I'm sure she'd like it. Fuji X-E2, 40mm (equiv) 1/250 f9.0 ISO 400.

 Engineer Mike Matteson/Olean, New York
Spent a couple of days chasing the big Alcos on Western New York & Pennsylvania railroad out of Olean, New York. Thanks to the graces of president Carl Belke and general manager Kylie McLaughlin, I rode half of the southbound trip of the Driftwood Turn with engineer Mike Matteson. Here's a guy who loves his job, and finds joy in giving visiting photographers a patented Alco "smoke show" whenever possible. Here's Mike blasting south through Weston Mills, leaving Olean. Fuji X-E2 16mm (equiv) 1/15 @ f/14 ISO 400.

Under the Gardeau Road Bridge/Keating Summit, NY
The old iron bridge over the former Pennsylvania Railroad Buffalo line has been there for maybe a century, but its days are numbered now--closed to traffic. The one lane structure seems solid, for it doesn't shake or rattle as 12,000 horsepower of Alco locomotives blasts it one more time as the southbound Western New York & Pennsylvania Driftwood Turn tops Keating Summit. Fuji X-E2 24mm (equiv) 1/800 @f3.6 ISO 800.

 Teenager, Callow Hill Neighborhood/Philadelphia
We ended our trip to the east coast with an afternoon of photography along SEPTA's Route 15 line in Philadelphia, notable for its rebuilt PCC cars. It's huge Callow Hill carbarns take up an entire city block in West Philly, a lower-middle-class neighborhood of mostly African-Americans. The three of us--white, middle-class, self-described liberals--felt conspicuously out of place wandering the streets at dusk. We were certainly a curiosity to this teenager, about my son Eliot's age. He wondered why we were interested in the trolleys and how our cameras worked. I let him try taking a few photos with my camera, then asked him for his portrait--maybe my favorite image from the eastern trip. I still can't help wonder how much different his life is from my son's--if the things my son thinks he is entitled to match up at all with what this young man wants in life. Fuji X-E2 35mm (equiv), 1/4 @ f6.4 ISO 1250.

Break at the End of the Line/Philadelphia
Those Callow Hill trolleys go as far east as Frankford Avenue, along the Delaware River. Cars lay over around 10 minutes, giving the driver time to check his text messages before heading back west into town along Girard Avenue. I like the layers of texttures and colors in this photo. Fuji X-E2 35mm (equiv) 1/640 @ f5.6 ISO 400.

Rainy Day/DFW Airport
Last trip of the year: right after Thanksgiving to Minneapolis to watch planes, to escape the cold drenching rains in Texas. This is an impressionistic little view out the window of our MD-80 as we pushed back from gate, the pavement glossy under the rain. Fuji X-E2 70mm (equiv) 1/210 @ f5.6 ISO 1600.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Vale Stewart Lindsay Anderson

Sad news last week. Stewart Lindsay Anderson, Australian railwayman, author, photographer and publisher, died after a seven-year fight with cancer in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on October 11.  He was 51. He leaves behind his wife, Helen, daughters Alison and Eleanor, and a world-wide collection of friends he’d acquired during many journeys overseas in pursuit of railway photography.

Born in rural eastern Victoria in 1964, “Stewie” was enchanted by railroads by age four, and a move to Melbourne in 1982 to study civil drafting—accompanied by a new 35mm camera—introduced him to railroaders who were also railroad photographers. A flat economy and encouragement from his new friends found him hired by V/Line as a locomotive assistant in April, 1984. This was the beginning of a lifelong career, culminating in promotion to locomotive driver, most recently driving VLocity diesel m.u. trains on regional routes out of Melbourne. Stewart was deeply involved in union activities and committees on the railway to improve working conditions of his fellow railwaymen.

But it was rail photography that got deep in his soul, co-authoring the all-color “Liveries in the Landscape” in 1999, in addition to contributions to untold magazines and books by other authors. Stewart was creator, publisher and editor of the richly-produced “Australian Railways Illustrated,” which ended a five-year run in 2015. In the final weeks of his life, he completed a lifelong goal of a full-color monograph of his railway photos, to be titled “Rolling Thunder” and due soon off the press.

Though he would dismiss mention of his courage in facing cancer with a modest “it is what it is, mate,” Stewart was a hero to many for his strength and perseverance during the battle with cancer that eventually took his life. His rail photography projects—the book, the magazine and extensive travels to North America—kept him motivated to get through the next round of chemotherapy and surgery that loomed over and over again. “I won’t let the bastard beat me,” he’d tell those asking about his health. His networking with short line managers in the U.S. generated more friendships and opened doors on his visits, and he was always game to take a day off work to show overseas photographers around Victoria.

Stewart was a man of unbounded optimism. He’d joke that the day he married Helen was the only day he wore long pants, and lightly chastised his fair-weather-only photography friends by saying “you will not get the shot if you’re not there.”

He was a good friend, and I'll miss him greatly. We thought of each other as "Brothers of a different hemisphere," and kept in touch between his visits to the US via Skype, trading stories about railroading, rail photography, and politics.

In Australia, and in North America, there are few places one can travel where Stewart Anderson’s footprints haven’t been there first. Rest in Peace, Stewie—and high greens to the barracks.

Stewie using the roof of his Nissan to good advantage, chasing the Mineral Sands towards Hopeton, VIC in 2012.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Pair of Amazing Supercells: April 26, 2014 Comanche, Erath and Eastland Counties

Way back when, in the late 1990s, I was a pretty dedicated storm chaser. The title of this blog, in fact, had its genesis from a website I maintained consisting primarily of storm chase reports. But time marched on--marriage, family, other responsibilities, and the idea of hopping in a car and driving 700 miles over a weekend chasing storms passed by the wayside.

The past year or so, the idea of getting out and seeing the atmosphere in turmoil has gotten more appealing, and much easier (though many will disagree with me) with wireless technology we couldn't have dreamed of in 1996. The downside of this, of course, is that even the casual storm chaser  has more information at their fingertips than ever before, which results in traffic jams, unsafe driving situations, and the increased chances that someone who doesn't know what they're doing will get into trouble poking at the bear.

I'll make the disclaimer here that I don't purport to be a meteorologist, nor a storm researcher. I once studied the atmosphere intently before chasing, did hand charts, looked at upper air charts and models. I don't do that anymore. I'm content with driving to see a beautiful storm, flanking it to reposition for more photographs, and to enjoy the "Wonder of Nature." And be safe, stay out of the way of the nasty parts, and try to be aware of a storm's evolution.

All this is a long introduction to this report of Sunday's storm chase. It had been an active week for severe weather in North Texas, but obligations have prevented me from chasing. I was due back at work Sunday evening, but forecasters proved an early afternoon event not far west of DFW, so I was more than game to head out, accompanied by Travis Berryman and Jim Hollis.

That morning, the Storm Prediction Center gave the area between the Red River, Interstate 35 and the Hill Country an "Enhanced" risk for severe weather, mostly heavy rain, high winds and large hail, with a better chance for "a few strong tornados" south of I-20. Before we headed out, SPC had upgraded the risk to "Moderate," the first time I'd seen such a designation this spring.

I'll admit we were traveling a little light for technology. A tattered copy of The Roads of Texas--very old school. A car radio, but no knowledge of what the best AM/FM stations to listen to would be. And a trio of smart phones. I was running both the Radar Scope and Storm Spotter apps--when the connection is there, it is truly amazing to have such information right there, all the time. The was unheard of years ago at the turn of the century, where the MOST advanced chasers had perhaps satellite internet; otherwise, you grabbed data when and where you could: truck stops, hotel lobbies, maybe a public library.  Going out into this, I'd recommend carrying a good scanning radio to listen to SKYWARN spotters. We didn't even have that--need to put it on the list for the next chase.

By 1230, small rain showers had popped up around 50 miles West of Fort Worth, but the real action would be a little west of Abilene, where already robust storms had fired up off the Dryline. This is where we needed to be. Before 1400, a handful of large cells had arrayed north-to-south  from roughly Paducah to just near Ballinger, south of Abilene. We were westbound on I-20, which would give us quick access westward and lots of access north or south to intercept these storms, which at the time were moving north-east at around 30mph.

Nearing Ranger, a storm north and west of Abilene was growing more intense, and at 1350, the National Weather service issued a tornado warning on the storm due to radar indicated rotation. Far out! We could leave the freeway and head northwest and intercept it easily. The there was the storm to the south of the interstate that was just as intriguing, though not yet warned tornadic. Which to chase? This storm would be easier to intercept, and was moving right for us, and being south of I-20, would be in more unstable air more conducive to rotating updrafts--a good thing. We stopped for refreshments at Eastland, and by the time we returned to the car, at 1432, it had been upgraded from a Severe Thunderstorm to a Tornado Warning.

Radar of our two possible targets at 1344 as we neared Ranger, TX, just off to the radar to the right. Both storms are showing a yellow outline--severe thunderstorm warning. The would soon be upgraded to Tornado Warnings.

Now we're approaching our storm (our location is the blue circle with cross-hatches), southbound at Carbon at 1444. The storm has a pronounced hook. We 're headed to Rising Star to intercept. Note the trajectory of the storm: no longer going northeast, but taking a "right turn". Right-turning supercells are more efficient tornado producers.

We headed southwest towards Rising Star, about a dozen miles or so, and with each turn in the highway and glimpse at the storm through the mesquite trees, our anticipating grew. We had a great view of the structure of the storm: above and behind up, the big anvil top shooting east; the stout updraft tower;  and to the north, a "beaver tail," a long thin cloud showing the conveyor belt of inflow air this storm was ingesting to grow larger. This is my favorite part of the chase: approaching a new storm, dark to the west, getting closer to the point you can see under the rain free updraft base, which will serve as the "hot spot" for any tornado development. And for a little bit, we're the only ones we see on the storm. The usual contingent of chasers is either closer to Rising Star or haven't yet jumped onto this storm.

 A half-dozen miles northeast of Rising Star, 1503. Base of the storm is still 10 miles away. Clearly visible is the wall could under the rain-free base and the explosive updraft tower.  All is still. The only sound is the rumble of thunder. The rain and hail are to our north (right of photo).

Looking to the east from the same location. you can see the eastward-racing anvil overhead, essentially the exhaust pipe from this heat-transfer machine we're chasing.

A few miles further down the road south and east at 1507. Rising Star is near that mesa in the distance. 

Panorama of the whole scene at 1519. Visible to the right is the "beaver tail," a spotting feature of a robust Supercell thunderstorm. 

At this point, 1527, we're in an ideal position: just east of the hook. South of the rain and heavy hail core, with a great view into the notch and hook to the left. We're feeling a lot of warm air flowing INTO the storm, feeding it further.  Now the storm is headed straight east and gathering steam. . . .we can't stay here long before this is no longer a safe place to be. We head south and east to maintain our position.

Eleven minutes later, 1536, and to our left we can see sheets of rain rapidly moving from our right to the left. The wind is now blowing in our faces, probably 30-40 miles per hour. And under the wall cloud, we begin to se the beginnings of a tornado, with dust on the ground swirling upward. We've got a tornado!  Though within another minute, we'll be in that rain and our view of the tornado will be gone. This will be confirmed by the NSW Fort Worth as an EF-0 intensity storm, short lived, less than a couple miles in length, maybe 50 yards wide and around 70mph speed.

Now look at the storm: it's exhibiting what's called a "Screaming Eagle" signature, with the talons (hook) and spread wings (heavy rain core spreading east.  We're driving south east towards Comanche, trying to stay out of its way. The storm is heading towards DeLeon and then Dublin. Road options are limited. With luck we can get to Dublin ahead of it. . . 

Seen north of us near Comanche at 1551, the tornado on the ground is obscured by sheets of rain wrapping counter-clockwise around the mesocyclone. You can see the green of the hail above the updraft.

At 1603, we're a bit north of Comanche taking the view above. Now the storm continues to turn right. The folks in De Leon are getting buried in hail; Dublin is next on the target. We briefly consider punching north into Dublin to go east towards Hico. . . 

. . . but coming north out of Comanche, it's clear that we won't make it. We drive into the rain a couple miles beyond this view, but it's counter-clockwise, a heavy deluge, and easily 50mph winds. This is is the beginning of a "core punch," and we don't want an encounter with either large hail or a tornado. Several chasers had windows broken out and sheet metal damage. We didn't want that. We turn around and angle south-east towards Highway 36 and a route to Hico ahead of the storm.

This is as close as we got to the "nasty stuff." As can be seen from our Blue Circle location, we're right on the edge of the tornado circulation. . . 

And as can be seen from this Storm Velocity radar scan, we're RIGHT on the edge of the mesocyclone (the close proximity of green and red colors indicates intense inbound and outbound winds) This was the storm's peak of intensity. Hail was as big as tennis balls, and the town of Dublin was buried in a couple of inches of smaller hail.

After regaining Hwy 36, we pulled the second-worse chaser boo-boo: didn't keep track of where we were going, and got away from the storm. We'd meant to cut across to another highway into Glen Rose, but missed the turn and ended up in Hamilton. By then, the storm was nearly 20 miles north of us and we were hopelessly out of position. But we were able to get this nice view of the "knuckles" hanging under the storm's anvil at 1703.

By this point, the storm was weakening. By the time we got into Glen Rose, it had collapsed and was hardly recognizable anymore. There were other storms to the west, and I had the feeling that the storm behind this one--traveling along its same enhanced instability boundary--was stealing energy from this storm. Since I had to work in a few hours, we decided to head towards Grandbury for dinner before heading home. A few miles north of Glen Rose, however, a tornado warning was issued for the storm to the west. Should we? It wasn't dark yet, and I didn't have to be home THAT early. . .we turned around to Glen Rose and headed west towards the storm leaving Stephenville, got a view of it: A HONKER STACKED-PLATE MOTHERSHIP MONSTER! We found a rise a half-dozen miles west of Glen Rose and watched it approach at 1900. It was mesmerizing.

Hey, cows--behind you!

Of all the supercells, an approaching High Precipitation storm can be among the most beautiful. Sculptured clouds like a wedding cake. A beautiful view under the updraft tower. The menacing shelf cloud ahead of the rain, behind which likes the Dark Heart of Nature: possibly a tornado, but certainly torrential rain, big hail and high winds. We watched it approach a cattle pen. The cows didn't seem that concerned.

After 20 minutes or so, the storm was moving on east. I had an idea for a photo, at the fiberglass dinosaur park along the river. Good idea, but a few minutes too late. This storm was gusting out as well and losing its steam. . . .time for home!

Behind this storm, spaced about an hour apart just like the one in front of it, was a THIRD big supercell following the same track. Each storm successively tapped better and better air before falling apart. . .this one, however, was the last in the parade, and lived the longest, eventually moving into Johnson County and laying down a mile-wide stovepipe tornado.  Thankfully--no injuries or deaths, which really is the headline from this day of photogenic sparkles across the corridor south of I30. We love big storms, and especially when they don't injure or kill.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Park Forest: America's original GI town.

Aerial view of Park Forest, taken by my dad, Louis Kooistra, from  friend's small plane in 1954. We're looking roughly northward; the street looping through the photo from upper left to upper right is Shabbona Drive; the land that will become Talala Elementary school dominates the view. My first home is under construction at this time--it's the 10th home from the right on the north side of Shabbona.

This is a write-up I did for a mid-century-centric web site last year following a visit to the neighborhood I was born in: Park Forest, Illinois. This article never made it to print, but I thought some readers might like to see it, anyway, before the information about the PFHS museum became too stale.

Tourists visiting Chicago don’t need to be reminded of the city’s enormous influence on American architecture in the 20th Century.  One doesn’t need a guidebook (though there are dozens) or a walking tour (again, there are dozens) to recognize the works of Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright, architects’ whose iconic works defined the city. Chicago is truly America’s first city for architectural history.

Hardly on the consciousness of though, of those who care about architecture and its social influence on American culture is the community of Park Forest, a village of around 20,000 about 30 miles southwest of downtown.

Park Forest’s significance in post-World War II American cannot be understated, for while tens of thousands of new homes sprouted on the fringes of American cities as middle-class suburbs, Park Forest was the first fully-planned post-war community, carved from unincorporated land by developers who trusted its young residents in creating a local government, school districts, and churches where none existed before. Park Forest was a test-tube for sociologists, city planners, business philosophers, mass-producers of homes, and the location of one of the nation’s first shopping centers. Park Forest was the birthplace of what readers of this site would recognize as “mid-century modest.” The ideas and concepts pioneered in Park Forest were to be followed and copied across the United States for the next quarter century.

Thanks to a small but dedicated group of volunteers led by archivist Jane Nicoll, Park Forest’s history has been kept alive through a growing archive and a museum located in one of the Park Forest’s few remaining unmodified apartment buildings, recreating life for residents of what some have called America’s “original GI town” for its large number of returning war veterans. 

 Park Forest Historical Society museum, 141 Forest Blvd, is housed in one of the original 1948-built apartment buildings.

Operated by the Park Forest Historical Society, the museum is off the beaten paths of mainstream architectural must-sees in Chicagoland, but in the cultural scheme of things is no less significant, given Park Forest’s role in the transformation of society and the development of suburbs and the suburban lifestyle.

The two-story museum at 141 Forest Blvd. in downtown Park Forest, is housed in one of the original apartment buildings constructed by American Community Builders in 1948, and decorated as it might have appeared when the first residents occupied it during Park Forests’ earliest years.

Vintage furniture, accessories, children’s toys, books, clothing, vintage photographs,  and preserved news clippings give the visitor an idea of what life in what has been called “America’s Original GI Town” was like soon after Carroll Sweet, Nathan Manilow and Phillip Klutznik acquired 2400 acres of farmland and a golf course in unincorporated Will and Cook counties in 1946.

Jane Nicoll, PFHS curator and #1 booster of Park Forest history, in the museum's dining room, filled with period furniture and items of daily life.

The PFHS has also amassed a huge amount of archival material: movies, oral histories, photographs, documents and blueprints, housed in nearby St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

Envisioned as a community of single-family dwellings, Park Forest was initially developed as a cluster of 3000 apartment units to satisfy local zoning and FHA financing requirements. The apartments also brought an immediate influx of residents able to support the 225,000 sq. ft. Park Forest Plaza shopping center, which may have been difficult otherwise had a comparatively slower trickle of population arrived to occupy individual homes. There were no schools for the first couple of years, children attending classes in converted apartment units.

 The trend-setting open-air Park Forest Plaza shopping center in 1954. These buildings are still here, however by the 1980s, loss of business to neighboring super Malls found the pedestrian plazas removed and replaced by streets and curb-side parking.

 PFHS' collection fairly strains the available space in the archive room at St. Mary's Catholic church.

By 1950, Park Forest was a huge success. Initial phases of modest 2- and 3-bedroom frame homes had sold out, and newer neighborhoods were going up featuring more modern low-slope roofed homes with integrated carports that doubled as covered patios for entertainment. A nearby railroad spur brought in building supplies, and components for homes were pre-fabricated and then trucked to the home site, allowing at its peak 10 homes to be completed daily. ACB urged community involvement, and the young community voted on incorporating as a village and wrote their own laws, created funding for schools, public works and law enforcement, and formed dozens of clubs and organizations to keep its residents busy and socially engaged.

Park Forest was such a phenomenal success that it attracted the attention of Fortune Magazine editor William H. Whyte Jr., whose seminal business study “The Orgnaization Man” prominently featured  the community as an example of post-war suburban life and how it was shaped by the many mid-level corporate managers who applied the principles of corporate collectivism to their home life.

 Tastefully-maintained and upgraded (with set-back second-story addition) ACB 3-bedroom home built circa 1954. Originally around 1200 square feet, it retains its carport.

A similar ACB home built for my parents in 1954, 226 Shabbona Drive. Under the VA loan program, my father put $1500 down on a $14,500 home, paying 4.5% interest for 25-years--about a $75/month mortgage. The American dream certainly was affordable back then!

From a perspective in the 21st Century, Park Forest today doesn’t seem that unusual. Its winding streets of mature trees crowd in around houses that seem small by contemporary standards. The shopping center has been radically remade, its large anchor stores abandoned and then razed. But a drive through the neighborhood reveals a place that seems comfortable and familiar to those of an age to remember this type of surburban life in America. And that experience is reinforced that much further by a visit to this small but wonderful museum with the creaky wood floors, vintage steel cabinets in the kitchen, and small but cozy bedrooms upstairs.

The Park Forest House Museum is opened Wednesday and Saturday from 1030am to 330pm at 141 Forest Park Blvd. in Park Forest, IL. The museum may be toured by groups at other times; check with Jane Nicoll, 708-481-4252, archivist, to make an appointment.

A small admission fee is required, but additional donations are always welcome. The museum also has an assortment of books, calendars and other materials related to Park Forest for sale, including Gregory C. Randall’s “American’s Original GI Town,” a deeply researched book on the development and history of Park Forest and its influence on post-war suburban development.

Original steel-cabinet kitchen in the PFHS museum apartment.

 Steel-cabinet kitchen in my parent's first house, 226 Shabbona Drive, circa 1957.