Read any story about King Heating and Air Conditioning in Oak Forest, Ill., and the company’s trademark rooftop tin man, and you’re almost certain to be inundated with Wizard of Oz references.
Look up the company through Google and you will find newspaper articles and TV reports with scripts that mention the Yellow Brick Road, munchkins and how there is no place like home.
It’s just too easy. Updating a story we wrote in July 2007 (See “Sign of trouble”) on King Heating and its famous tin man gives me a chance to resurrect them and pepper my column with them as well.
Looks like Oak Forest, Ill., has a heart after all.
Four years after a zoning law led to its removal, it appears the village of Oak Forest has granted a variance to the sign ordinance that forced King Heating and Air Conditioning’s trademark tin man off the building’s roof four years ago. At the time, King Heating owner Tim Willson claimed the village was demanding the tin man stay grounded after he had removed him for some minor restoration work and perhaps a bit of oil for his rusty joints. Oak Forest officials said the upgrades Willson was performing on his building’s exterior at the time removed his grandfather status and meant the tin man would have to be relocated.
He even said Oak Forest was fining his longtime business $200,000 - a charge village officials denied when I spoke to them for our story.
More than metalBut Willson fought back, enlisting the support of neighborhood residents and more than a few media outlets as he sought to save what many called a community icon. Seeing the humor in the situation and its media appeal, almost every interview with Willson included a reference to the “Wizard of Oz.”
He eventually lost his battle with city, but the tin man’s “funeral” attracted heavy Chicago-area media coverage as well as protestors dressed as “Dorothy,” “Scarecrow” and other characters from the well-known novel and film.
After months of discussion, a newly shined up tin man returned in a May 7 ceremony that shows Willson hasn’t forgotten how to use the media to his company’s advantage. Customers were treated to pizza, beverages and one last chance to get their picture with the mascot while he still had both feet on the ground.
Willson said a new mayor - and the many King Heating customers who never forgot the tin man - helped win the reluctant village council’s approval.
“The community really was behind it,” he told me. “It was kind of like a David and Goliath battle.”
And while they may not be as strong as the biblical slingshot, King’s tin man is now fixed to the roof with aircraft cable. Not that it was necessary: Willson is quick to point out that until it was removed in 2007, the tin man had never fallen in 38 years on the job.
For King Heating and its tin man, there really is no place like home - especially if that home is a roof.