Uncovering Northlake’s history
Edgar Gamboa does genealogy research on a computer database Aug. 20 at the Northlake Public Library. | Rob Hart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 14, 2013 6:13AM
When area residents decided to incorporate what became the city of Northlake, the vote was closer than you might think.
“Some people thought it should be part of Elmhurst,” said Edgar Gamboa, who lives in Northlake. “Some people wanted to go with Melrose Park. 561 voted yes and 429 voted no.”
Gamboa spent about six months researching the history of Northlake and gathering historical photos. This week, Arcadia Publishing released Gamboa’s book: Images of America - Northlake.
“There’s no formal historical society here in town,” Gamboa said. “I feel like I’m breaking ground.”
Gamboa, 37, moved to Northlake with his family at age 14. Part of his inspiration for the book is to document the changing face of Northlake.
“In the last 15 years, we’ve had a lot more different kinds of minority groups, primarily Mexican-Americans, moving into the area,” Gamboa said. “I think I serve as a link between the older generation and some of the younger people.”
Gamboa’s book tells how Albert Amlings, a Chicago florist, originally owned much of Northlake — about 200 acres north of North Avenue. Amlings sold it to members of the Oak Park Country Club. Along with some farmland, the property was turned into the Westward Ho golf club in 1923.
“Where the fourth hole on the golf course used to sit, that’s where Villa Scalabrini sits now.” Gamboa said.
Around World War II, Buick opened a weapons plant in nearby Melrose Park. They needed workers and the workers needed homes. Hundreds of shell homes were soon built.
“During weekends people would drive out from Chicago and work on the carpentry, plumbing and electrical work,” Gamboa said.
In 1957 the golf course was sold to Villa Scalabrini and Automatic Electric, a manufacturer of telephone parts.
“They had 11,000 workers at the time,” Gamboa said. “Northlake has about 10,000 residents. That’s almost like the town doubling in size during the day.”
In the 1960s development sped up. Gamboa credits then-Mayor Ed Neri for much of it. Though Neri was indicted and spent time in prison for embezzlement, Gamboa describes him as a visionary.
“I think he was symbolic of Cook County,” Gamboa said. “He had this idea of building and growing and programs. Streetlights going up and building strip malls. He was the catalyst of the little shopping centers. At this time the town gained a lot of its population.”
Northlake gained attention for other reasons in the 1960s.
In 1966 the Keely & Miller Brothers circus was performing in neighboring Franklin Park. A low-flying plane from O’Hare startled two elephants, and the animals fled. One, a 6,500 pounder named Kay, headed to Northlake, where it startled residents as it ran through fences and trampled flowerbeds.
Another incident was more tragic. In October 1967, three armed men entered Northlake Bank and robbed it, killing two Northlake Police officers in the process.
“The nation focused on Northlake,” Gamboa said.
In the late 1960s the O’Hareport Hotel was built at 401 W. Lake St on the promise of an exit being built from I-294. That interchange never materialized, and after a few years the hotel was sold. The building later became Concord Place Retirement Home.
The book costs $21.99 and is available at Northlake City Hall, Arcadiapublishing.com, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com. Gamboa also plans to give two lectures — in English and Spanish — on the history of Northlake at the Northlake Library in March.