Cruise Illinois Highway 64 or 38 through
and its neighboring towns and you see what amounts to a continuous, miles-long strip mall. But, tucked between those two highways is the other Lombard — the quiet, residential community where residents queue for their free lilac bushes each spring, where Santa Claus arrives by fire truck and where the village's "party wagon" delivers free supplies to summer block parties.
"We have a safe, small-town feeling like in the town where I grew up in southern
, but my husband can get to his job in
in just a half-hour," says Jennifer Seebach, as she waits for her daughter to finish dance class at Lombard's Sunset Knoll Recreation Center. Like many of Lombard's residents, Seebach and her husband, Jim, bought their first house here because it was affordable. A stay-at-home mom with three children, Seebach says she appreciates her neighbors, the parks and the park district offerings.
Instead of identifying themselves with a name of a subdivision, most of Lombard's nearly 44,000 residents just say they live "in Lombard," reports village president William Mueller, who traces his family roots here to 1884 and stills pals around with his high-school friends. Except for six condominium buildings that have sprouted at the center of town in the last 10 years, the majority of Lombard's housing is modest, single-family houses, appealing to young newcomers like Seebach.
Originally called Babcock's Grove, Lombard was named after Josiah Lombard when it incorporated in 1869. Ironically, Lombard owned land here, but never lived here. Fortunately for street-sign makers, the village wasn't named for the more prominent Hammerschmidt family, who owned the company that produced the bricks for many of the village's early houses and stores. "Hammerschmidt" did become the name of a street and school, though.
In the 16 years he has been Lombard's village president, Mueller has increased the fire and police staffs and ushered in new businesses, stores and the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center, a hotel/conference center which, in turn, helped increase sales tax revenue. If he wins the election in April, Mueller's focus, he says, will be downtown revitalization. Like many of Chicago's older suburbs, Lombard lost most of its downtown retailers when the mega-malls came to town. (In Lombard's case, it was the arrival of Yorktown Center in 1968.)
"Some of the old-timers say, 'Bring back the five-and-dime so I can buy a spool of thread.' But now people go to the mall to buy those things," says Mueller. "Now, we look to the downtown for a library, restaurants, churches, parks and other places where people can gather."
Also on Mueller's to-do list is the consideration of annexation of unincorporated land on Lombard's south side, although the village is landlocked otherwise. Mueller says it isn't realistic to expect much residential growth here in the next few years, considering the state of the economy, though the village's long-range plan projects that this could add 8,000 people to its ranks.
While some towns hire consultants to create themes, Lombard has had one for a century — lilacs. Each spring, Lombard turns purple when thousands of its signature bushes bloom. Lilac-mania started here in 1910, when Col. William Plum brought back two lilac bushes from France. He cultivated a lilac garden at his Lombard home, which he bequeathed to the village. Now, the property is Lilacia Park and includes 1,200 lilac bushes. Each May, the village hosts the Lilac Parade, Lilac Ball and Lilac Time Arts & Craft Fair, and chooses a Lilac Queen.
Most Lombard residents can walk to community activities because its downtown and Lilacia Park are at its core. Surrounding its original downtown is a ring of 19th Century houses, although not many are for sale at any given point. They include an 1881 Italianate known as the "Little Orphan Annie House" because it belonged to Annie comic strip creator Harold Gray.
The next ring, built in the early 1900s, includes bungalows, Cape Cods and farmhouse-style houses with real estate descriptions that range from "nicely restored" to "fixer-upper." A recent sale in this group includes a 1924 five-bedroom bungalow that sold for $385,000.
This ring also features one of the Chicago area's largest and most diverse collection of catalog houses, according to Elgin-based architectural historian Rebecca Hunter, who has written several books on the topic. They include about 100 houses made from kits from
, Roebuck & Co., Gordon-Van Tine Co., Harris Brothers and Aladdin Co..
Lombard also has 25 Lustron houses, made from 1948 to 1950, and is home to the man who wrote a book about these prefabricated, enameled-steel houses, Thomas Fetters.
Radiating out from the older neighborhoods is a circle of post-
raised ranches, tri-levels and ranches, most with mature trees and generous yards. So many houses were built in Lombard during this era, in fact, that policemen were posted on
night to guard the partially-built homes from pranksters. A recent sale in this market was a 1972 three-bedroom tri-level that sold for $315,000.
Thanks to the failing economy, bargain shoppers have a wide selection (129 in January) of foreclosure homes. "We're seeing them now at all price levels," reports Peggy Kozak, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Lombard. "Some need work, some don't."
At the higher end of Lombard's housing price scale are its teardowns. Unlike suburbs such as Hinsdale, though, Lombard has not experienced teardown mania. Its 329 teardowns in the last 10 years are sprinkled among its neighborhoods. Buyers who want a new house but don't want to oversee construction can find one for resale, such as the four-bedroom, Victorian-style one that sold for $925,000 in 2008.
Planted among the neighborhoods are Lombard's 17 parks. Although Lombard extends into five school districts, many of the village's elementary schoolchildren can walk to school.
True to its German roots, Lombard has a private-school lineup that includes Lutheran as well as Catholic schools.
College students can choose from the campuses that surround Lombard, including the College of DuPage,
and National-Lewis University.
"Safe" is a key selling point for buyers like Seebach, and Lombard lives up to its promise. Its police log includes one murder in the last five years. Speeding tickets and DUI citations account for the bulk of its officers' work.
With so many multi-generation families in town, the village cherishes its history. Schoolchildren visit the 1839 Sheldon Peck Homestead, named for the folk artist who owned it, or the Maple Street Chapel, dedicated in 1870, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Lombard's famous sons range from Morris the Cat, who lived here with Bob Martwick, to Ellen Martin, the first woman in Illinois to vote and thereby cause an election judge to have a "spasm" in the process, say village records. More recently, Lombard is proud of
astronaut Daniel Tani.