Community Profile: Cook County
Mount Prospect invites families
Suburb’s housing and schools offer a range of options
Three-year-old Laughton Joyce of Mount Prospect enjoys a cupcake at Central Continental Bakery, a favorite stop for commuters heading to the nearby Metra trains. (Shaun Sartin/Photos for the Chicago Tribune / March 9, 2010)
Originally settled by Germans, Mount Prospect is now a multicultural medley of 50,000-plus residents that has, by intention, kept elements of its past while gearing for the future. As it moves into the 21st century, it blends old and new.
At its nexus are the Metra train station and a campus that includes the new village hall and renovated public library. This oldest part of town, known as "the triangle," is defined by Central Road, U.S. Highway 14 and Illinois Highway 83. It also includes new town houses and residences above storefronts, some 19th century houses and mom-and-pop stores.
Radiating beyond the triangle are neighborhoods with early-20th-century bungalows, and mid-century ranches, which multiplied here after World War II. Before that, say the history books, bags of onions from Mount Prospect's many onion-drying sheds and milk cans from its dairy farms outnumbered commuters.
Teardowns have come to town slowly (about 50 in the last five years) and are dispersed among the neighborhoods. Although the village's ordinances dictate size and mass of new houses, there is no design-review committee. "The housing stock has to be able to regenerate itself," says Mayor Irvana Wilks. "Some of the older houses serve today's families, but some don't."
Mount Prospect's most charming houses are the storybook Tudors that line Wa Pella Avenue. This neighborhood wins the prize for the most unique street names (Go Wando, We Go, I Oka, Na Wa Ta), thanks to a group of 1927 Camp Fire Girls who labeled them with Native American words.
Many of the highest-priced houses ring the Mount Prospect Golf Course, where Christine and Paul Predick hired Smart Group in Mount Prospect to build their new house on a teardown lot in 2006. The empty-nesters "re-sized," says Christine, after their children left home. "We needed fewer bedrooms, but more entertaining space," says Christine. "We're the ones who host the holiday dinners in our family. We didn't want to buy a condo because I didn't want to give up my garden."
After raising their family in Arlington Heights, the Predicks chose Mount Prospect because it is close to their long-time friends and an easy commute to their son's home in Chicago.
Buyers of existing houses can find a range of housing prices in Mount Prospect, reports Realtor Jim Regan of Re/Max Suburban in Mount Prospect. Recent sales ranged from a 1950s three-bedroom brick ranch that sold for $248,000, to a new five-bedroom house that went for $1.4 million.
Especially abundant are Mount Prospect's mid-century houses, which are remodelers' heaven today. Ranches are getting second stories, garages acquiring second stalls, and old kitchens and bathrooms are filling trash bins.
Schools are the big draw for homebuyers here, but they must check their real estate tax bills to figure out which of the many school and park districts they are in.
The elementary schools in District 57 in Mount Prospect's center feed into Prospect High School, which is known for its Marching Knights band and usually ranks among the top 30 Chicago-area high schools in average ACT scores. In addition to public schools, Mount Prospect has several parochial schools.
The biggest news in town is the rebuilding of Randhurst Shopping Center, which baby boomers remember as their teen hangout. Gone are the original indoor mall and the bomb shelter that was under it. Under construction is an upscale outdoor mall, dubbed a "lifestyle center" a la the Arboretum of South Barrington, in its place. Meanwhile, the big-box stores and chain restaurants that encircle it remain open for business.
Situated a few miles north of the Northwest Tollway, Mount Prospect is a half-hour drive to Chicago on a clear day. Most of Mount Prospect's residents, in fact, work in Cook County (Chicago or nearby suburbs). Large employers within town include CVS Caremark and Robert Bosch Corp.
Weekends, Mount Prospect families frequent the village's ball fields, tennis courts, golf courses, health clubs, swimming pools, skate park and bowling alley. Teens gather at FA Skates and Snowboards and at Capannari Ice Cream. Couples with babysitters head to the Blues Bar for live music or sip pomegranate lemon martinis at Retro Bistro.
The village's annual events include the Fine Arts Festival/Blues Fest, Fourth of July Fireworks, Christmas Housewalk, Midsummer Downtown Block Party, Fall Festival/Oktoberfest and several parades. Weekly summer events include a classic car show and farmers' market.
Mount Prospect is no longer a small town, so crime happens. There were nine homicides in the last 20 years. Recent police logs, though, consisted of more stolen GPS devices and speeding tickets than violent crimes.
You cannot describe Mount Prospect without mentioning the Busses. One of the village's first German families, the Busses are still here in quantity (22 Busse households in the telephone book, not counting businesses ranging from a veterinary clinic to a law firm) and spirit (streets are named for family members). Busse-Thomas Flowers & Greenhouses is still in the family.
Ezra Eggleston, though, gets credit for naming the village ("Mount" for its high elevation and "Prospect" to promote the area's assets) and building its first train station.
Although German names still prevail here, Mount Prospect has become a port-of-entry for a new wave of immigrants. Thirty-one percent of residents are foreign-born. Merchants reflect this diversity, from the Central Continental Bakery (which sells 50,000 paczkis during its annual paczki week) to the ethnic restaurants that allow you to "go to any country you want to for lunch," says Mayor Wilks.
The non-profit Community Connections Center opened in 2009 to link immigrants to village services and offers classes ranging from parent education to English. It includes a branch of the public library. On its staff are a bilingual community service police officer and a social worker.
Diversity is one reason BusinessWeek.com named Mount Prospect the "Best Place in America to Raise Kids" for 2009. Other reasons include affordable housing, a relatively low crime rate and good schools. The Web site wasn't accurate when it said Mount Prospect lacks McMansions, because it does have a few, but it was fair to say it is the kind of place "where residents have been known to share power generators after storms and take turns cooking meals for sick friends and acquaintances."
Looking to the future, the village's long-range plan calls for more of the same — maintaining Mount Prospect's heterogeneity in people, housing and business.
"This is a place where you can raise your family, start a new business, then stay after you retire," says Wilks. The faces of Mount Prospect have changed, and there are lots more of them, but their goals endure.