Birdhouses symbolize keeping house in order
In 1927, the Northbrook School foundation is easily recognizable as a backdrop for these probably fourth grade students. | Photo courtesy of Northbrook Historical Society
How long have you been a resident of Northbrook?
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:37PM
Crestwood Place, the Village of Northbrook-owned senior apartment living complex at 1000 Waukegan Road, features a pitched roof.
Its south wing gray foundation, part of the original Shermerville School (1911), serves as a timeless outdoors photographic backdrop for schoolchildren posing in 1927.
Said Judy Hughes, Northbrook Historical Society president: “Crestwood Place is a remarkable place in more than name only.
“If the walls could talk, they would tell stories about decades of childhood laughter, learning and play.
“Since Crestwood Place opened, some of those same children moved into apartments crafted from their classrooms,” Hughes added.
“It (façade) was probably limestone,” said the licensed architect in John Kollar, a Crestwood Place resident who recently discussed his handmade birdhouses near that building foundation.
That same grayscale stone, with its four textured foundation rows topped by a smooth ribbon of rock, is recognizable in a Northbrook School image where fourth graders smiled with birdhouse projects.
Kollar, born and raised in Northfield, lived in Winnetka for 12 years.
“Limestone block,” he affirmed, chatting from his Permobil power chair on a lovely early June morning.
“It’s easier to cut, there’s a big limestone quarry down in Glenview, that’s probably where they (early builders) got it from.
“It’s the same quarry where they got the rock for making the concrete for the runways at the Glenview Naval Air Station.
“I used to play in it where Valley Lo is now, which is why it’s low ‘cause it’s the bottom of the quarry,” Kollar said, chuckling.
Kollar, holding two of his handcrafted houses, once considered selling them in the Chicago Botanic Garden gift shop.
With details like screened vent holes, many purchasers prefer displaying them indoors. Kollar’s brother Mark keeps one two blocks away in his Northbrook Estates yard.
“The thing’s built like a brick sh__house,” said Kollar, laughing.
A birdhouse label (many sold for charity) said: “The birdhouse has been skillfully made by disabled veterans.”
Kollar’s birdhouses have raised money for inclusion body myositis, a progressive muscle disease which he has.
A larger birdhouse features a name plate. In the 1927 photograph, signs adorn the same spot over the timeless front hole.
“Building birdhouses is a tradition that will probably never end.
“Man has been building birdhouses since the time of the Greeks and the Egyptians.”
Kollar, with his Vietnam-era drill sergeant veteran hands, recalled former residential workshops.
“Oh, I miss it terribly,” said Kollar, who then pointed to an apartment window from his sidewalk perch.
“I have a (Gustav Stickley, American furniture manufacturer reproduction) table (upstairs), the whole thing’s all solid oak, it has no screws in it, it’s all tenon fit and wood pegs.”
Kollar’s woodworking passion took flight in Northfield, “during the post war suburban building boom (when) my brother and I would constantly explore and play around all the new homes being built.
“We built tree forts and wooden toy boats with the scrap lumber we found at the building sites.
“We had a pond in our back yard where we’d float the boats on sultry summer days and ice skate on during the winter.”
Kollar “learned how buildings were put together.
“My best friend’s dad was a blacksmith,” he said.
“We’d often sit by his dad’s forge at night and watch him hammer hot glowing metal bars into horse shoes. The process was fascinating to me.”
Kollar, a North Shore Country Day School student, earned a college scholarship for his metal sculptures.
“I gradually acquired the tools and equipment for a well equipped woodworking shop where I built a number of furniture items for myself and friends,” said Kollar, who shopped Northbrook industrial park locations to open Kollar Design Studios to market his birdhouses.
Then the economy changed.
Kollar’s Facebook page features birdhouse photos, his friends often complimenting.
But chatting in person with neighbors was a recent challenge with a Crestwood Place petition causing tension. Petitioners sought eviction and removal of two (resident) Senior Services Commission members.
“It gets me so upset I can’t even think,” said Kollar, of issues likely being further studied this summer.
“It’s criminal, the building used to be very happy,” Kollar said, shaking his head, his voice pitched.
“You know what, can’t we all get along?”
But maybe that’s all behind him.
While Kollar spoke of his birdhouses, which are perhaps a symbol of keeping one’s house in order, he often smiled.
Birds chirped on a sunny blue sky day. One resident walked by, whistling.
His hands held dear two pitched birdhouses near a rocky foundation, its grayscale 1927 imagery offering proof that joy can prevail here.