Recorded on April 13, 2012. Length: 26 Minutes.
JH: Good Morning, today is April 13, 2012. Welcome to Northbrook Voices, an oral history project sponsored by the Northbrook Public Library and the Northbrook Historical Society. Today I am pleased to welcome Ron Dahlquist who has lived in Northbrook since 1968. Ron grew up in Glenview but he has some interesting things to tell us about Northbrook. Ron, we are glad to have you here today and first I would like you to tell me about growing up in Glenview.
RD: Well, we moved there right when the war started and I can remember sitting on the ground there when Pearl Harbor was bombed and my parents were very upset about that. I grew up there and went to District 34, the old school, which was similar to the Northbrook school right on Waukegan Road. I graduated from 8th grade but there was no high school for Glenview at that time. We had a choice of going to high school in Maine, Niles or New Trier Township. Most people chose New Trier. I spent four years there and after I graduated I went to Carlton College for two years and then on to Cornell University to study architecture for four years.
JH: So you have practiced architecture all of your working life?
RD: That is correct.
JH: And your dad was an architect as well?
RD: That is correct.
JH: And your dad had some connections to Northbrook, the growth of Northbrook. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that?
RD: I think the first job that he had in Northbrook right after the war was to do some GI Housing on Illinois Road. There were about two blocks of these houses which were quite small houses. There were six different plans as I recall. He alternated so you couldn’t see one block of homes, all of the same plan. What got me started as an architect was he had me trace these plans onto cloth to be a permanent record of what the plans are. I got an initiation to architecture and housing in Northbrook. Our office was downtown across from the Tribune Tower at the time and I had to take a bus there where I worked two days a week.
JH: So you took a bus from Glenview all the way to the Tribune Tower?
RD: That’s right.
JH: Was that the Glenview Bus Company?
RD: I think it was the Glenview Bus Company. There wasn’t much in Glenview. We didn’t have any movies or anything like that so we had to go to Evanston even to see a film. There wasn’t a lot going on.
JH: Very similar to Northbrook at that time.
RD: Yes, and they still are very similar.
JH: Your father also built some other buildings that people would be very familiar with today.
RD: Yes, he did the basic buildings in downtown – both sides of Cherry Lane. That was around 1958. I didn’t have much to do with that as I was studying architecture at Cornell at the time. I didn’t have a lot to do with actual original planning of the buildings.
JH: So your father was the original architect for the two shopping centers in the downtown area. You have continued in architecture. Am I correct that you have continued working with the shopping center?
RD: Yes, with the south side, Heitmann is the owner. We have worked on the updating of the buildings including removing all the original ceramic tile which was very cheap looking but was the style at the time of the construction. When Sunset was there, they wanted to increase the size of their store. They expanded into four little 15 foot wide stores and then took over the south end of the center. The last thing we did was adding a partial second floor to provide an employee break room. We still do work for that shopping center. My son Sven now is the architect for the center. He has done the Rosen Eye Center and Koenig & Strey. Sometimes the tenants have their own architect but we often get to do the interior buildout for the center.
JH: So, it is a long time relationship with the shopping center. After architectural school, you got married and moved to Northbrook. Why did you choose Northbrook?
RD: Well, our offices were at Glenview and Waukegan Road right above Wyatt & Coons which became Koenig & Strey in a very nice colonial style building which my father had designed. We looked in Glenview but couldn’t find anything we really liked. In Northbrook we found a house we liked. It was an open plan house with cathedral ceilings. We are still living there and raised our sons Sven and Nels there.
JH: With sons Sven and Nels, it sounds like there is a heritage there?
RD: We wanted to continue the Swedish heritage so chose those names with normal middle names in case we ever go to war with Sweden which I don’t think is likely.
JH: And they are both married.
RD: They are both married. Nels and his wife just had twins. They live in Galena which is interesting. Sven and his wife have a boy and a girl. We are enjoying them very much.
JH: It’s kind of nice to be a grandparent. Let’s go back to the high school – what year did you graduate?
RD: I graduated in 1953. I was active basically in the singing groups there. I was interested in being a chemist. I studied science for two years at Carlton College and then I switched to architecture after working in a research lab and deciding the field was too limited as far as meeting people – it was sort of monastic.
JH: At the time there was no high school in what is now District 225. There was a high school in Northbrook that students could go to or they could attend other high schools in the area and then they built the first Glenbrook High School. You were telling me about your thesis, from college?
RD: Right. One of the requirements to graduate was to do a thesis. To get a client and develop a program and do a building for this client, pick a site, etc. I was lucky enough to know the superintendent of School District 34 and have him as my client and I planned a high school for Glenview. It was based on precast concrete. I won a prize from the New York State Architectural Assoc. for exploring the concept of using precast concrete for school buildings.
JH: Do you remember where your site was?
RD: Yes, the site was where Maryhaven is now. There was no Maryhaven at that time. That would be at Lake Avenue and Waukegan Road.
JH: That is very close to one of the sites they considered for building the first Glenbrook High School.
RD: I didn’t know that.
JH: And it was shortly thereafter that they built Glenbrook South?
RD: Yes, that is true.
JH: When you came to Northbrook tell us about your involvement with the community.
RD: Well, I wasn’t too involved until I got into Rotary. I joined Rotary in 1973, five years after we moved here. My sponsor was Ron Bernardi. As a result of business associations, etc., he was kind enough to sponsor me and I have been in the club for 38 years. I have enjoyed it very much. The club has grown and changed a great deal over the years. I don’t know what else I can say about it.
JH: Tell me a little bit about Rotary.
RD: Well, Rotary does a lot of projects both locally and around the world. Our club is a big one, the biggest in the Northern Illinois District. I write a newsletter for it every week which I enjoy very much. It has been a very fine experience to be in Rotary, to meet new people and feel that you are accomplishing something for the community.
JH: Can you tell me a little bit about some of the people you have met in Rotary who were important to the community?
RD: Ron Bernardi of course. I was very surprised to find an old friend and classmate in the club that I had known at New Trier in German Class – Sam Harris. We have renewed our acquaintance and become good friends.
JH: Are there others you met through the club that are no longer with us?
RD: Yes, there are a number who are gone now – Tom Shedore, for instance; Chet Bloden who was active with the Chamber.
JH: Tom Shedore – what did he do?
RD: He was basically retired when I knew him, very active Rotarian that we miss very much. And, of course, the Thiels. We miss Ken but see Alta from time to time.
JH: Did Rotary have something to do with starting the YMCA in Northbrook?
RD: That was before my time. Springman was the superintendent in Glenview whose name I could not recall earlier.
JH: Supt. Springman was the head of the elementary school district in Glenview. I believe that is who the junior high is named for.
RD: That’s right. My father planned the junior high and also additions to two of the elementary schools in Glenview.
JH: Your firm still does school architectural work?
RD: About 50% of our work is related to schools – not so much new school buildings but alterations and additions to existing schools. We are working with about four school districts right now. A lot of the work is life safety work.
JH: Did we talk about why you settled in Northbrook?
RD: The reason was that it was close to Glenview where my office was. I kept my office where my dad had it at that time.
JH: Was there any thing remarkable about the architecture of Northbrook when you moved here? How has the architecture of the Village changed?
RD: One of the things that is very nice about Northbrook is the scale of it. It is a residential community and it kind of has that aura of scale of a residential community. There hasn’t been that effort to change it and make it more urban as has been tried in Deerfield or Highland Park. We have managed to maintain the community as it is.
JH: Is there any architecture in Northbrook that stands out?
RD: There is always an argument as to whether architecture is an art or a craft. I’ve always said it was a craft (my son disagrees). I don’t know if there are any pieces of art in Northbrook but there are some very well crafted buildings. I can’t think of anything that is really superb.
JH: Your firm also helped out the Historical Society a few years back by designing the memorial.
RD: That was a very enjoyable project. With your help, Judy, I think we came up with a nice design for a memorial to residents who served and gave their lives in war for our country. I often go and sit there and watch the water flow in the stream. It is a great place to think and meditate.
JH: It is a peaceful location and there are many who come there as you just described.
RD: I’m glad to hear that because usually there is no one there. That’s part of the reason I sit there.
JH: No, quite often there are people sitting there. What has Northbrook meant to you as a village in which to live and raise your family?
RD: Well, I think my sons have been gotten a very fine education and have gone on to college. They have had good friendship with other families. I think it was a fine place to grow up – lots of opportunities which they took advantage of. Northbrook has some advantages over Glenview – one being an underpass to get from one side of the village to the other. Glenview doesn’t have that. Deerfield does. Another advantage is that downtown has a big park which is kind of a center. A nice place to go.
JH: Was your wife involved in organizations when the kids were growing up?
RD: She was involved in some of the school work. She was a teacher and did some substitute teaching so that kept her pretty busy.
JH: You mentioned your one son is an architect in your firm . What does your other son do?
RD: He is an industrial designer. He has a website and sells things on his website. He recently relocated to Galena. He is trying to get straightened out with his new house there which is very interesting.
JH: Was he involved with the arts?
RD: Yes, he is very artistic. When we changed from the porcelain enamel and put the awnings up at the shopping center, he actually was the designer for that and came up with the idea.
JH: You told me you spend lots of time here in the library. Are you enjoying the collection or working here or what do you enjoy about the library?
RD: Well, I get my DVDs here for each weekend and also enjoy the concerts they have here on Sunday afternoons. And I am here maybe three times a week.
JH: What do you think about the library?
RD: I think it is a very welcoming library. I am not sure I agree with the architectural style. That is something I would have done differently but the interior is very nice. I am really looking forward to what they plan to do with the auditorium as it will be a great improvement. There is a problem with parking as everyone knows. The increased capacity of the auditorium will be very, very nice.
JH: The library has been a cultural center of our community presenting music, film, lectures, etc. and you said you participate as an audience member in the Sunday concerts. So, the increased size of the auditorium will help for those events.
RD: The increased seating will be good for the concerts but also many other events and not just for Northbrook but the area because we have people coming from other communities which is part of the reason there is a parking problem. Chad Raymond has shown me the plans and I think he is definitely on the right track. The concerts and events they are having are listed in the Tribune and on WFMT for greater exposure.
JH: You said that in high school you were involved with music. Do you still enjoy singing?
RD: I still sing with the North Shore Choral Society for the last 20 years. I kind of lost it while getting my education but I have picked it up and enjoy it very much.
JH: Music does touch your soul and add dimension to ones life. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about?
RD: No, I think not. I have enjoyed talking with you. This is a wonderful program and I hope that my comments have been helpful to this program.
JH: Thank you, Ron, for participating in Northbrook Voices. Your memories of life in Northbrook and the story of some of the ways your father helped build our community add a unique and personal perspective about the history of our village. Thank you very much.