Ask 411: The Aitken Building

Appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of the Gazette

In February we received this query from a long-time Winnetkan.

Q: I’d always heard that buildings were moved from what is now Hubbard Woods Park when they needed to clear the land. Is this true, and if so, where did they end up?

Yes, this is one urban legend that can be verified. A headline in the Winnetka Talk on January 27, 1923 trumpeted, “Aitken Block Proves Builder’s Genius.” A large photo shows the northwest corner of Gage and Green Bay Road (then called Linden) looking much as it does today. Three accompanying photos document the move of a Gage Street building across Green Bay and its transformation into a section of the large structure that became the Aitken Block.
When the Winnetka Park District condemned the buildings along Gage Street between Green Bay and the railroad tracks to clear the land for a park, they solicited bids to move them from the property. The Winnetka Talk reported that William Aitken, who by 1921 was well known as a home builder on the North Shore, “gave the Winnetka Park District $5,000 for the Forberg Building, containing a grocery, the Hubbard Woods post office, Odhner’s Tailor shop, a real estate office [Aitken’s] and two apartments. He moved the structure at a cost of $6,000, and at his own expense graded the prospective park site previously covered by the building.” The 55-by-95-foot structure was moved across Green Bay Road to the western part of Aitken’s corner property. He extensively remodeled it in a Tudor style that blended seamlessly with new construction on both sides that continued to the corner and extended north along Green Bay.
Aitken was proud of keeping the post office in continuous operation throughout the process of moving and construction. According to the same Winnetka Talk article, “Aitken decided that if Uncle Sam wanted to continue to do business ‘at the old stand,’ well, he could arrange it, that’s all….while the post office was ‘on wheels’ he provided heat by electricity, although it was necessary to cut the wiring almost daily while the journey was underway.” (The post office did not stay in this location for long, however; by 1927 it had moved back across Green Bay to a newly constructed building on the south side of Gage Street across from the park, where it remained until closing in 2009.
The Aitken Building quickly filled with other tenants that included the Hearthstone Tea and Candy Shop, G.L. Zick’s dry goods, the Hubbard Woods Bake Shop, the Woodland grocery store, the Frances Hat Shop, and a barber shop. By 1927 there had been quite a bit of turnover, with a pharmacy in place of the tea room, but Zick’s and the bakery were still there, and there has been a barbershop at 1083 Gage Street ever since.
The residential aspect of the building also merited front-page treatment in the Winnetka Talk. The second floor contained six four-room kitchenettes that were intended for local teachers. Said the Talk on July 15, 1922: “The scarcity of rooming places in Winnetka has made the problem of housing the teachers a serious one and the new apartments, it is thought, will do much to relieve the situation.” A few weeks later the headline urged readers to “Search the Attic!” The Winnetka Parent-Teacher Association put out an “urgent appeal for donations of furniture, rugs and draperies” so that “these women who devote themselves so earnestly and generously to the training of our children may have happy and comfortable homes while they are with us!” The Talk noted that the new apartments, which had all been leased even before completion, would provide “facilities for home cooking and real homelife as distinguished from the frequently quite unsatisfactory rooming and boarding existence.” An article on August 19 noted that the building would not be ready on time, and asked residents to provide temporary accommodations for the 11 teachers who were waiting to move in.
Though delayed, the building was completed in the fall of 1922 and has been a major landmark in Hubbard Woods ever since.

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