At the intersection of Roselle and Schaumburg Roads in Schaumburg, Illinois, you’ll find one of America’s least impressive historic districts. I was en route to Oberweis, a Chicago-area chain ice cream parlor my wife and I like when we noticed a sign indicated that the strip mall that Oberweis was located in was called the “town square” and surrounding area was dubbed “Olde Schaumburg Centre” (OSC).
I lived in Chicago twice, and Schaumburg is often held up as a prototypically boring, soulless suburb, and I certainly was never aware of the fact that it had a historic district. When I saw the OSC sign, I looked around, but couldn’t see anything “olde” at all – just the typical, mundane collection of strip malls that nearly every suburb in America has these days. I parked the car, got my ice cream and then risked my life crossing busy Roselle Road in search of something, anything “olde.”I found a handful of century-old buildings across the street from the “Town Square” but one can’t help but notice that the history of the village founded by German immigrants in the 19th Century has been almost completely swallowed up by modern developments. The OSC’s website lists just 11 “historic” buildings and the anchor of the “Town Center” is an Applebee’s.
According to a plaque in a man-made lake across a vast parking lot next to the Oberweis, the strip mall dates to 1995. At the rate we’re going in this country, with strip malls being built from sea to shining sea, that could practically qualify the place for The National Register of Historic Places.
Outside of major American cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston and several others, the whole country might be just one big beige mélange of big box retailers by the time my children retire.
I don’t blame local officials in Schaumburg for trying to create a “village center,” and the fact that they are paying lip service about creating a “pedestrian orientation” is a good sign. And to be fair, there’s a nice park in the area and my kids enjoyed running around the fountain near the lake. But what’s the point of trying to market a thoroughly modern suburb as a historic place?