A ‘crash course’ in Oak Lawn’s history
By Mike Nolan email@example.com August 12, 2012 9:22PM
Kevin Korst, history coordinator at the Oak Lawn library, has written a book about the town's local history. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
A book detailing Oak Lawn’s history compiled by Kevin Korst, the public library’s local history coordinator, is available for sale for $21.99 at the reception booth at the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave. Proceeds from the sale will benefit the library’s foundation.
Updated: September 14, 2012 6:02AM
Hired more than four years ago as the local history coordinator for the Oak Lawn Public Library, Kevin Korst admits he knew virtually nothing about the history of the village, first settled in the 1840s.
That changed in a hurry when, a year ago, Korst started work on a book about the village’s roots and development. “Images of America: Oak Lawn” went on sale on Aug. 6 at the library, with proceeds benefiting the Oak Lawn Community Library Foundation.
Featuring more than 200 photos culled from the library’s collection, the book introduces chapters with a brief introductory text. The book is segmented into subject areas including the development of village churches, businesses, schools and government.
An exhibit to help promote the book will open Aug. 11 at the library, 9427 S. Raymond Ave., and Korst will participate in a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 18 at the Walgreens at the northeast corner of 95th Street and Cicero Avenue in Oak Lawn. That store will carry the book and it also will be available on Amazon, Korst said.
Korst said he pored over the library’s collection of 5,000 historic images, winnowing down that number to get a representative sampling for the book, which begins when the community was known as Black Oaks. It wouldn’t be called Oak Lawn until the early 1880s, and in early February in 1909, 63 residents gathered in Larsen’s Hall on 95th Street to vote to incorporate the village, according to the book.
Flipping through the pages, readers will see a photo of Wilhelm Brandt’s tavern on 95th Street, which, in 1913, was the site of the “Battle of Oak Lawn.” Korst explains it began when a group of off-duty Chicago cops barged into a dance uninvited and started a ruckus, then returned a bit later with on-duty officers. A few of the officers drew their revolvers and fired some shots, but nobody was seriously hurt and Chicago’s mayor ordered an investigation, Korst said.
There are photos of the Coral Theater, on 95th Street near Cicero, which was the village’s first indoor movie theater. It was torn down in the 1980s.
“They used to show movies outside, on a wall of Behrend’s Hardware store,” Korst said. “A lot of Oak Lawn residents have really good memories of the Coral.”
Behrend’s is where a parking lot, south of the municipal center and west of the library, is now located.
Photos of popular restaurants such as Jack Kilty’s and Banana’s Steak House recall a time before fast food chains and going out for a family dinner was a big deal.
“People remember getting dressed up and going out,” Korst said. “It was a bit more formal.”
He described his research for the book as a “crash course” in the village’s history, and that the work gave him a better understanding of Oak Lawn’s formation.
“It gave me a better appreciation for how the community has changed over the last 150 years,” Korst said. “It was a good experience.”
Korst said he interviewed longtime residents to get a first-person account of historic landmarks and events, including the April 21, 1967, tornado that killed 33 people and injured 500. Several photos of the tornado’s aftermath are included in the book — including one of a family’s wedding album embedded in a tree.
The book notes that some survivors of the tornado were veterans of World War II, who, at the time, described the destruction as akin to what they witnessed in London or Berlin.
“You know it was devastating by looking at the photos, but people who were interviewed at the time or who I talked to described it as having that kind of feel to it,” Korst said.
Korst, 29, grew up in Plainfield and now lives in Romeoville. He has a master’s degree in American history from Eastern Illinois University, and previously worked at the Joliet Area Historical Museum.
Since coming to the library in 2008, Korst has been involved in an initiative to scan and digitize the library’s collection of historic photos and making them available online at the library’s website. So far, 3,500 images are online, and through the first seven months of this year there have been 4,000 searches, including students working on research papers and one former Oak Lawn couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and trying to recall where in the village they first met, Korst said.