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Exploring Highland Park Mysteries

This week, Ed Brill looks for answers about random oddities in Highland Park.

Most weeks, I view my Patch column as an opportunity to educate. This week, though, I am hoping that the tables will turn, and you will do the educating. 

Why? I have been doing a lot of driving around town in the last few weeks, and have encountered several random oddities that deserve exploration. Unfortunately, I can't find closure in the pages of The Google for these wonders, so I have placed them into the public consciousness for discussion, and, perhaps, enlightenment.

1. Is anything ever going to happen with the old Highland House Restaurant space at US 41 and Half Day Road?

It has been eight years -- EIGHT years! -- since this restaurant last opened its doors.The former Sunday morning gathering spot for motorcycle enthusiasts (and greasy spoon for everyone else) was a fixture of US41 for over fifty years. If I recall correctly, the Highland House closed due to a family dispute. Presumably, the family that owns it is still paying taxes and otherwise doing whatever basic upkeep is needed to avoid condemnation, but come on. A primo spot at the intersection of a state and federal highway shouldn't sit empty and forlorn for this long. When will it be time to move on? They already missed the chance to build Highland Park's first Taco Bell.

2. Where did all these used car dealers on US41 come from, and is it really likely someone will buy military surplus equipment from one of them?

I drive US41 through town a lot. It is a source of endless fascination, with the contrast between 1950's businesses constructed when the highway was new and sleek, modern car dealers and retailers. The transition is ongoing--Highland Park has recently approved plans to tear down the old cement mixing plant at US41 and Park Avenue; this corner will become a strip mall with a CVS and a Starbucks. Traffic is going to be interesting, but it will certainly be better than the eyesore rusting away today. Until the project starts, though, someone has been selling spruce trees from this lot -- spruce trees! Does anyone really drive by on US41 and think, "oh, yeah, I need a tree, let me somehow get that phone number down?"

Anyway, near that US41 and Park Avenue intersection is one of several used car dealers in Highland Park. We seem to have a lot of them, and their inventory is somewhat specialized. M&I Motors seems to carry all the nicer used cars, Quality Auto has some trucks, and then there's Motorsource. Located next to the Krav Maga Center, some of their inventory is visible from the highway. That seems to include several military surplus vehicles. My question is, does anyone really drive through Highland Park thinking, hmm, I'd really like to pick up a used troop transport jeep today? Maybe I am missing a demographic.

3. Why do we call it County Line Road, and why don't we want people turning right on it?

Most everywhere else, including the official designation on most of the road signs, the street at Highland Park's southern border is referred to as "Lake-Cook Road." For whatever reason, though, Highland Park records and officials always refer to it as "County Line Road." Poor Google Maps has to struggle to display both names. Couldn't we get with the program?

Regardless of what it is called, in the southwest corner of Highland Park, access to Lake-Cook Road is restricted. Heading southbound on Ridge, you'll see a curious sign, advising that right turns onto County Line are not permitted between 8 AM and 4 PM on school days. The restriction is more puzzling when you get to Lake-Cook itself, because even during those hours, the traffic signal will happily display a green right turn arrow.

The restriction is a relic of when Northbrook Court opened. Residents in Highland Park understandably did not want traffic coming off US41 and through the neighborhood to get to the mall. But this was before the Clavey Road underpass for US41 and the railroad underpass for Lake Cook Road. I can't imagine any driver exiting US41 southbound at Clavey, somehow navigating into the neighborhood, and then turning right onto Lake-Cook to get into the mall, thinking this would somehow be a faster route. Meanwhile, local residents are impacted. This restriction was recently reconsidered by the Transportation Commission; in my opinion, for time and fuel economy reasons, it's time for it to go.

4. Why do we have a University Avenue with no University?

This one doesn't need any further explanation, does it? To me, this is an odd choice for a street name in a purely residential neighborhood in a town that has no University.

5. Why is there a sign at the entrance to the High Ridge subdivision advertising a model home and contact phone number?

If the subdivision was new, maybe the sign would make sense. Perhaps someone driving by would want to know more about owning a nice home in a nice part of town. However, the subdivision is more than three decades old. The phone number has traces on the Internet, and might indeed have been the builder's office phone at the time the development was built. Today, it is definitely not. As for the model home -- I had to actually google this, the address on the sign is NOT located in High Ridge! It is somewhere near the Highland Park High School football field. Perhaps that is why the address looks like it was updated with a label over the original sign; either way, I doubt our neighbors at 1271 Hilary really want to be bothered today with prospective home buyers. So why is this sign still here?

Please, help me restore my sleep to normal patterns. Can you help answer any of these Highland Park mysteries?

Jody Schwartz November 09, 2011 at 01:38 PM
My number one HP mystery is about the "shoe tree" on Ridge Road. How did it get started? How long ago? Who took it down a few years ago and who started it up again? I love it!
Ed Brill November 09, 2011 at 03:29 PM
where is that?
Steve Handwerker November 09, 2011 at 05:13 PM
ahhhhhhh, yes, yes! The shoe tree! That is exactly at the intersection of Ridge Road and Berkeley Road! That has been there since the 1970's, as I remember. Basically, people/someone threw a pair of shoes up there tied together by the laces, and they hang from a branch high above the street.
Elizabeth February 23, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I have an answer to question #4 4. Why do we have a University Avenue with no University? According to "Pioneer to Commuter - The Story of Highland Park" published in 1958 by the HP Rotary Club (page 177), when Krenn & Dato planned their Highlands development they originally restricted the sale of lots on University Avenue to members of the elite University Club of Chicago. http://www.ucco.com/default.aspx?p=DynamicModule&PageId=325134&ssid=219344&vnf=1
Ed Brill February 23, 2012 at 04:34 PM
That is so cool! Thank you for the great find!

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