German Village's big weekend is coming up in just a few short days, and while the society staff and Haus und Garten Committee volunteers are hard at work crossing the T's and dotting the I's, it's fun to take a look back and see what some of the homes we're showcasing today were in their earlier lives. With just a quick skim of the PreTour invitation, loads of interesting neighborhood history jumps out at me.

German Village's big weekend is coming up in just a few short days, and while the society staff and Haus und Garten Committee volunteers are hard at work crossing the T's and dotting the I's, it's fun to take a look back and see what some of the homes we're showcasing today were in their earlier lives. With just a quick skim of the PreTour invitation, loads of interesting neighborhood history jumps out at me.

Several of our businesses and their unique commercial architecture will be showcased -- Bakery Gingham, Brown Bag Deli, DesignSmith, Easy Street, and Pistachia Vera (and I don't know about you, but I love that Amanda Ellis of Bakery Gingham has kept the hanger on her front door in homage of the space's former use as a dry cleaner).

And then, of course, there are the buildings with unlikely commercial history and usage -- the German Village Guest House and Keny Gallery, which are businesses but in obviously residential structures, and Andy Schiffman's dinner at 133 East Beck Street, which is a residence but in an obviously commercial structure (Silberman's Grocery).

There are several PreTour dinner locations that showcase the opportunities for new construction in and around our historic district: the home at 639 Mohawk Street, which was showcased two years ago for our PreTour cocktail party; the home at 184 East Beck Street, which respects those surrounding it so well; the Treetops at German Village on South Pearl Street that might have some of the best views of our fair Village around, and the home at 179 East Deshler Avenue that compliments those around it while enjoying spectacular views of Schiller Park. Each of these projects will show diners just how precise, diligent, and deliberate new construction projects are in German Village. After all, they will be forever compared to our historic building stock, and those are high expectations to live up to.

One PreTour home was lived-in by the same family for nearly 100 years. Adam Fornof was born in Wersau, Dieburg, Hesse-Darmstadt, Germany and lived with his family at 67 Deshler Avenue. Fornof survived the horrors of the Andersonville Prison Camp (Georgia) during the Civil War, but perhaps only by chance. Fornof was taken with other soldiers for a prisoner exchange, but as there were not enough Confederate soldiers to exchange, he was one of the Union soldiers ordered back to Andersonville.

He remarked later in life that one experience in that prison was enough, and he was determined never to go back alive. He managed to escape while on the way back to the prison, but being unfamiliar with the territory, wandered for four days before realizing that he'd traveled in a circle. Fortunately, he found his regiment and was thereafter discharged and naturalized as a United States citizen.

When Fornof died in 1912, he left his home to his son Peter, who then left the family home to his sister Katharine. Katharine never married and lived at 67 Deshler Avenue until her death in 1974, at which point the house was sold as settlement of the estate and for the first time since its construction, occupied by a person outside the Fornof family.

Another PreTour dinner site was the long-time home of a local political activist and big-time family matriarch. Roxie Chambers, of 121 East Whittier Street, moved with her husband Boston Chambers into their home shortly after they were married in 1903. Her husband died shortly thereafter, and Roxie took in boarders to help bring in enough income to raise her two children in the house. She directed talent shows at Stewart Avenue Elementary School, was a charter member of the Republican Women's Glee Club when it was formed in 1923, and worked as an assistant for Mayor Rhodes. In her 70s, Roxie was heavily involved in Eisenhower's campaign for the presidency and attended his inauguration in Washington.

From a family account given to the society several years ago, Roxie had as much character and personality as her name implies, and the Chambers family shared many a boisterous meal around her table. Just as PreTour guests will do this Saturday night. Tickets are still available, but they are limited. Call 221-8888 asap to make your reservation.

Each of this year's dinner locations has a unique story to tell -- as will each dinner itself. And remember, what happens in German Village, stays in German Village!

Jody Graichen is director of Historical Preservation Programs for the German Village Society and columnist for ThisWeek Community Newspapers.