SEP 10, 2014
Townhouses to replace history for one Park Ridge family
Park Ridge Herald - Advocate
The owner of the old barn didn’t need it any more — but Earl Dean, hired to demolish it in the mid-1940s, had other plans.
Always one to find new uses for someone else’s unwanted building materials, Dean dismantled the massive building piece by piece, hauling several tons of white concrete blocks and piles of thick wooden beams from the Park Ridge School for Girls farm to his one-acre piece of property just outside the city limits.
Behind the two-story, white frame home he built for his growing family just a few years earlier in 1940, Dean reassembled the barn to look much like it did when it stood on the other side of town. He used it to store hay and the oats he once grew on his land, and moved horses in for a time, before equipment from the family’s asphalt business and other side projects began filling up the space.
Eventually, it would become the last standing, working barn in Park Ridge.
As Earl Dean and his wife, Rose, built their homestead along what was once a two-lane dirt road running past Town of Maine Cemetery, they would — consciously or not — fill it with fragments of Park Ridge history.
But that history is about to disappear.
No longer in need of the property and weighed down by the burden of property taxes for the large lots stretching from 100 to 110 S. Dee Road, Earl Dean’s family is selling the land. Lexington Homes plans to tear down the barn and the three houses Earl Dean built and replace them with 16 townhouses.
It’s bittersweet for Dean’s surviving sons, who spent the bulk of their lives on the property, whether living there or working for the family business, Dean and Sons.
“It was our family center,” said Jerry Dean, the youngest of the six boys, recalling how the land served as both home and work, drawing dozens of extended family members during holidays.
“Everyone is taking [the sale] in their own way,” he added. “I think for the older ones it’s much more difficult to let it go.”
Wayne Dean, the second-eldest of the Dean sons, who moved to Dee Road when he was four years old, admits he’s saddened by the pending sale — but he’s also pragmatic.
“Since 1940 it’s been here, but we know it has to go. We can’t afford it,” he said.
Though there are no plans to save the barn a second time, the Park Ridge Historical Society will be keeping at least a piece of it. The Dean family has donated the barn’s trolley, used to lift hay into the hayloft, to the Historical Society for its collection.
“It will be a dynamite exhibit in our new history center,” said Historical Society President Paul Adlaf, referencing the old Solomon Cottage at the Park Ridge Youth Campus, the place where the barn originated. The society hopes to create a center that will feature various items from the city’s past.
Though the exact age of the barn isn’t known, Adlaf estimates it could date back to the late 1800s, judging from the type of cement blocks that were used for the walls. The trolley itself has a patent date of 1903 stamped on it, Adlaf added.
An avid recycler before the term was a household word, Earl Dean was known for repurposing materials that others did not want. Hired to demolish Central School, which was damaged during a fire in the 1930s, Dean salvaged what usable materials he could and later incorporated lumber and pieces of wooden floor into the second house he built in 1951, right next to the family’s old house. Dean and Rose would live in that home until their deaths — his in 1980, hers in 1995. As adults, some of their sons would make use of the first house at various points in their lives.
In 1947, Earl Dean used wood from an old Army barracks to build the third house on the family land, located at 110 S. Dee. He planned on selling the house and making $10,000, Wayne Dean said, until someone told him the cemetery across the street wasn’t a good selling point.
“He took off the market right there and kept it,” Wayne said. It would become an income-producer for the family as a rental property.
When the Dean family moved to Dee Road 74 years ago, their land wasn’t even part of the city of Park Ridge. On the outskirts of the then-sleepy town, it was surrounded by greenhouses to the north (where condominiums and a Shell gas station now sit), a horse stable at the northeast corner of Dee and Touhy, and prairie with picnic groves to the west and south.
“It was off the beaten path,” recalled Wayne Dean of the family’s land.
The heavily wooded Cook County Forest Preserve just behind the property was mostly grassland back then, he said, and one area, where condos line Talcott Road today, was home to an amusement park that operated on weekends all summer long.
The Dean brothers — Dick, Wayne, David, Ken, Tom and Jerry — each worked at the carnival over the years, tending to the pony ride and running other amusements.
“Because we knew the person who ran the kiddie park, we would give my brother Tom the pony to take care of during the week,” said Jerry Dean.
And there was something else in the area as well.
“There were a lot of taverns back then,” Wayne Dean noted, ticking off a handful of bars that dotted the rural, gravel roads of Touhy Avenue and Talcott Road, including one where Park Ridge Animal Hospital now stands.
As post-World War II development came to Park Ridge and the city annexed these areas, the taverns disappeared, leaving Park Ridge a “dry” community for many years. Even today, stand-alone bars remains prohibited.
Earl Dean, meanwhile, made his living doing various work in the area, from running a coal delivery business to collecting ash from fire places to landscaping and demolition work. In 1951, he started Dean and Sons Asphalt Paving, which closed in 2004 upon the retirement of the brothers still involved in the business.
Like their father, the Dean children like to build things themselves. They fashioned a clubhouse in the backyard and, when their father built an addition onto the main house, the brothers decided their house needed one as well. Jerry Dean recalls Wayne building a model railroad in the backyard, assembling train cars that were the right size for children to ride on. The train had a prominent place in the backyard and even a small hill over which it would ride.
“We were the envy of a lot of our friends because we had a train in our backyard that we could actually ride on,” Jerry said. “It was pretty spectacular.”
The family also helped the city of Park Ridge plow its streets before the Public Works Department had enough equipment to take on the job. To quicken the work of loading up snow, the brothers built what Jerry describes as a “truck-sized snowblower.” They would also create their own dump truck, built to carry about four wheelbarrows full of asphalt for their paving business, out of a tiny Crosley car and two car transmissions, Jerry said.
Wayne Dean also launched his own side business, building wooden center boards for sailboats and dollies to carry furniture from 1961 to 1981. He used an addition on the family’s first house as a woodworking shop, also creating wooden pieces of art for his long-time parish, St. Stephen Catholic Church in Des Plaines.
Today, the rest of the family, including new generations of Dean grandchildren and great-grandchildren, are preparing to say goodbye to their little piece of Park Ridge.
“There’s a lot of sentimentality,” Jerry Dean said. “We were just in the barn last night and there’s a cast-iron spiral staircase in it. All of us lined up on it and took a picture. So many family pictures are taken on a staircase. It was just a spur of the moment thing.”
"After a year searching for a place to live (Chicago and Suburbs), I couldn't be happier with our choice to go with Lexington Homes."
- Keith Christensen