'The Park Is Gone, Keith': Staff Crushed By Burning Of Oak Forest Bowl

OAK FOREST, IL — A manager on duty at Oak Forest Bowl was in the office finishing up around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, when he heard screams from a coworker.

Ed Cubillan thought he was kidding—they have a playful dynamic, he said—and was at first in no hurry to leave the office. His coworker smelled smoke, he told Cubillan, and the two began looking for the source. As he neared the double doors leading from the pub into The Park, Cubillan saw the flames just outside. He thought, at first, he could try to put the fire out, he told Patch.

But a second look showed him the flames had grown, and time was running out.

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The exterior gate to the park was locked, as were the doors leading out to it, as was procedure for closing time. Police had already arrived, and spotted Cubillan inside the window. They locked eyes, Cubillan said, and then kicked into gear. Cubillan and his coworker made it out of the building uninjured. Oak Forest firefighters had already been dispatched to the scene, and Cubillan made a very difficult call.

“‘The Park is gone, Keith'” Cubillan said he told owner Keith Tadevich, thinking the fire was contained to the bar outside and outdoor recreation area. “‘The Park is on fire.’

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Initially, though, Cubillan thought it was just damage to the deck and bar area, and that it was salvageable. Tadevich consoled him, he said, saying they’d make do—that it was paramount that no one was hurt, and they would figure out the rest.

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As firefighters worked, Cubillan and Tadevich stood outside, and initially, the fire seemed to subside.

“It looked like it was getting contained already,” Cubillan told Patch. Both he and Tadevich began to think there would be some damage to the lounge, but nothing a good cleaning and airing out wouldn’t solve.

Then they spotted the smoldering on the roof in the rear of the building.

“You could see dark smoke on the roof,” Cubillan said. “Smoke was getting bigger and bigger … the flames were towering 20 to 30 feet above the trees.”

Within just an hour of starting, the fire had engulfed the entire building, Cubillan said, flames glowing through the windows of the iconic building on Cicero.

Firefighters staged an aerial attack, with assistance from as many as a dozen other departments. The roof collapsed, and walls crumbled. Umbrellas on tables in The Park melted from the heat.

The brick main entrance stood tall as crews worked. The sand volleyball pits were unscathed.

As crews battled the blaze, employees filed in to be near each other. They stood together with Cubillan and Tadevich as the latter tried to comfort his staff.

Tadevich is a fourth generation owner of the bowling alley, Cubillan said. The building has been in his family for decades. In addition to 32 bowling lanes, the business also offers food and drink at Jake’s Pub and Grill. Outdoor recreation area The Park hosts sand volleyball leagues six nights a week, as well as several bean bag leagues. Cubillan was unsure how many bowling leagues took to the lanes, rattling off at least a dozen on the phone with Patch.

It took more than four hours for the flames to die, with small hot spots popping back up well past 6 a.m. The state fire marshal was on scene, and the fire will be investigated to determine a cause.

As people woke to the news of the iconic business crumbling to ashes Saturday morning, many reminisced about the Oak Forest mainstay.

“This is devastating,” Shannon VonderHaar shared on social media. “I grew up here three nights a week and Saturday mornings. My parents met here. My first job was here. My sisters play volleyball here. I am heartbroken.

“Sending so much love and virtual bear hugs to my bowling family and the staff and owners.”

Jennifer Morrissey-Cooper remembered her family’s time in leagues at the alley. “That is so sad!” she said. “Our family has been on leagues there. My husband and I played volleyball there. Terrible loss.”

The Oak Forest-Crestwood Area Chamber of Commerce offered condolences to owner Keith Tadevich.

“Just devastating and a loss for words,” the chamber wrote on social media. “Oak Forest Bowl and The Park has been a family tradition and staple in our town. The most generous community supporters. Keith—please know we are here to help in any way we can.”

Cubillan is unsure where they go from here, he said. He was not sure if Tadevich intends to rebuild.

“We’re all just in such shock.”

Tadevich took to social media Saturday.

“Most importantly, we are glad no one was injured in the devastating fire that occurred last night at Oak Forest Bowl,” Tadevich wrote. “Please give us some time to get things straightened out and process what has happened.”

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