Garfield Park (Chicago park)

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For the park and conservatory in Indianapolis, see Garfield Park (Indianapolis).
Garfield Park
Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago circa 1907 postcard (front).tiff
Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago circa 1907
Garfield Park (Chicago park) is located in Chicago
Garfield Park (Chicago park)
Location 100 N. Central Park Ave.
Chicago, Illinois
Coordinates 41°53′11″N 87°43′2″W / 41.88639°N 87.71722°W / 41.88639; -87.71722Coordinates: 41°53′11″N 87°43′2″W / 41.88639°N 87.71722°W / 41.88639; -87.71722
Built 1907
Architect William LeBaron Jenney, Hitchings and Company
Architectural style Exotic Revival, Colonial Revival
Governing body Chicago Park District
NRHP Reference # 93000837[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP August 31, 1993
Designated CL November 18, 2009

Garfield Park is a 184-acre (0.74 km2) site located in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago's West Side. It was designed as a pleasure ground by William LeBaron Jenney and is the oldest of the three great original Chicago West Side parks (Humboldt Park, Garfield, and Douglas Park).

It is home to the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest and most impressive conservatories in the United States. Often referred to as "landscape art under glass," the Garfield Park Conservatory occupies approximately 4.5 acres (18,000 m2) inside and out and contains a number of permanent plant exhibits incorporating specimens from around the world (including some cycads that are over 200 years old).

Park history[edit]

The Floral Arch, early 1900s
a view of the park
the fieldhouse
Garfield Park Band Shell

The first 40 acres (160,000 m2) segment of Garfield Park was formally opened to the public in August 1874. Originally known as Central Park, it was conceived as the centerpiece of the West Park System.

Jenney, now best known as the father of skyscrapers, was influenced by the French parks and boulevards he had seen and studied while living in Paris. That influence is reflected in his design of these Westside parks and the connecting boulevards. The park was renamed in 1881 in honor of slain President James A. Garfield.

In 1905, Jens Jensen, now known as the Dean of Prairie-style landscape architecture, was appointed as the superintendent of the West Park System where he experimented with design ideas and improvements to the deteriorated and unfinished sections of Garfield Park. Some of the most notable areas are the existing lawns which became the setting for development of the Prairie style of landscape architecture. His most notable work in Garfield Park can be seen in the formal flower garden south of Madison Street where he combined Prairie style elements with traditional formal elements and in the Conservatory.

Garfield Park was initially intended to be used for passive recreation such as strolling and picnicking. Jensen's expertise as an engineer led him to design a large lagoon as a means of draining the park site while creating the requisite water features. The lagoon was used for boating in summer and ice skating in winter.

Jensen's gardenesque approach to his parks endeared itself to those early park users as one of the first significant attempts at landscape art in Chicago. Throughout its history, Garfield Park has successfully responded to the changing demands placed on a highly used urban open space.

During the 1920s, a major addition was incorporated into Garfield Park: a grand, golden domed administration building for the West Park Commission designed by Michaelsen and Rognstad.

Following the 1934 consolidation of the separate Chicago parks commissions into the Chicago Park District, the "Golden Dome" became the park's fieldhouse and center of recreational programs and activities.

Despite additions and modifications in both landscape and buildings in Garfield Park, essential character-defining features such as historic roads and paths, buildings, structures, landforms, water features, and some plant materials still exist. Garfield Park remains as one of the best examples of William LeBaron Jenney's landscape architectural efforts in Chicago, and is a rich tapestry of the contributions of several nationally important designers, architects and artists.

Historic features of Garfield Park include architectural landscaping (flower gardens, water court, bridges, lagoons, and the Conservatory); notable architecture (the Golden Dome fieldhouse); the bandshell (or "gazebo" as it is locally known), designed in 1896 by J. L. Silsbee; and the golf shelter building, attributable to prairie school architect Hugh Gardner and built in 1907. There are also a number of historic sculptures and statues within the park.

Recreational features include baseball and soccer fields, tennis and basketball courts, a swimming pool, playgrounds and an ice skating rink. The Golden Dome houses an Olympic-sized gymnasium, gymnastic and fitness centers, boxing ring, and theater. Park patrons can participate in programs for everyone from senior citizens to pre-schoolers, including picnicking, outdoor concerts, and community festivals.

The Conservatory is easily accessible by public transportation through the Conservatory-Central Park Drive station on the Chicago Transit Authority's Green Line elevated train line.

Conservatory history[edit]

inside the Conservatory
view of the Conservatory Fern Room
a marker
Garfield Park Conservatory Cactus Room (now Desert House), June 15, 1997
A traditional Moroccan fountain inside the Conservatory
inside the Conservatory
living wall display at the Conservatory
inside the Conservatory Palm House

In the late 19th century, each of the three large West Side parks had its own small conservatory and propagation greenhouses. After 20 years of use, these conservatories fell into a state of disrepair and became obsolete.

In 1905, Chicago's West Park Commission's general superintendent and chief landscape architect, Jens Jensen, demolished the three smaller greenhouses in Humboldt, Douglas and Garfield Parks to create what was intended as "the largest publicly owned conservatory under one roof in the world" in Garfield Park. Many of the original plantings came from the three smaller Westside conservatories.

Constructed between 1906 and 1907, the Garfield Park Conservatory was designed by Jensen in collaboration with Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin and the New York engineering firm of Hitchings and Company. It represents a unique collaboration of architects, engineers, landscape architects, sculptors and artisans.

Jensen conceived the Conservatory as a series of naturalistic landscapes under glass, a revolutionary idea at the time. The simple yet strong shape of the structure, which is meant to emulate the haystacks of the Midwest, complements the collection of plants and foliage that it houses.

Today, the Conservatory still follows the original tenets of Jensen. One of the most popular rooms is the first presented to visitors, the Palm Room. In it over 7 dozen (84) different varieties of Palm trees can be found from the over 2,700 known to exist today. Of particular importance is the Double Coconut Palm first grown by employees of the Conservatory in 1959. The Double Coconut Palm is only found off the coast of South Africa in its native environment and produces what is believed to be the largest seed of any plant in the world weighing up to 50 lb (23 kg). The Double Coconut Palm at the Conservatory died of currently unknown causes in February 2012.[2] Because of the species' rarity in the wild, and the challenges of cultivation, it is not expected to be replaced.

After many decades of neglect, the conservatory underwent a multi-million dollar restoration in 1994.[3] The non-profit Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance formed to help maintain the structure and provide programs and services for visitors.[4]

In a hailstorm on the night of June 30, 2011 the Conservatory suffered catastrophic damage to glass in showrooms as well as production houses where plants are grown or stored. Five recently renovated showrooms contained laminated glass and therefore sustained less damage.[5] Some areas were reopened to the public on July 3.[6]

Plants on exhibit[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register of Historical Places – Illinois (IL), Cook County". National Register of Historic Places. Retrieved 2008-07-25. 
  2. ^ "Garfield Park Conservatory’s rare Double Coconut Palm dies". Sun Times. 2012-02-15. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 
  3. ^ "Garfield Park Conservatory". Chicago Park District. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  4. ^ "About Us". Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance. Retrieved 2011-04-18. 
  5. ^ "Garfield Park Conservatory seeks recovery aid after storm damages windows". WBEZ. 2011-07-01. Retrieved 2011-07-04. 
  6. ^ "Parts Garfield Park Conservatory reopen after hail damage". Chicago Tribune. 2011-07-03. Retrieved 2011-07-04. 


  • Historical Research and Garfield Park Article Copy: Julia S. Bachrach: Chicago Park District Historian

External links[edit]