Wander Ride: Garfield Park
Welcome to Garfield Park! Garfield, Humbolt, and Douglass Park are the three major Chicago West Side Parks. Garfield Park is the furthest west on the Chicago Boulevard system. It is also the oldest and largest (184acres) of the three parks. The park opened in 1874 as Central Park. It was renamed after the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. The park has seen a lot of change over the years but is still widely used today.
Garfield Park was originally designed by William Jenny. Jenny is best known for building the first American Skyscraper (the Home Insurance Building that stood in Chicago’s Loop neighborhood until the 1930s). Jenny was born in Massachusetts but studied at an architecture school in Paris. He was influenced by the park and boulevards in Paris. You can see reflections of this in Garfield Park. After school, Jenny came home to join the Union army as an engineer. When the Civil War ended, he went on to teach architecture. One of his students was Daniel Burnham. Jenny’s ashes are spread in the Eternal Silence section of Graceland Cemetery.
In 1905, Jens Jenson was appointed superintendent of the West Park system. Jensen is considered the dean of Praire Style Landscaping. His goal was to imitate nature without copying it and create spaces that gave park patrons deep emotional connections to the area. Jensen tried unique approaches with landscaping, including using plants that were considered weeds at the time. He would plant and arrange them in formations that resembled their natural growth patterns.
Garfield Park is home to Chicago’s famous Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest Green Houses in the United States. Originally each West Side park had its own small conservatory. These fell into disrepair and Jensen decided to destroy them and build one large conservatory. This conservatory is one of my favorite places to visit (especially in the middle of a Chicago winter). They have a permanent plant exhibits including ferns, palms and desert cacti plus a variety of flowering plants from all over the world. You can also find tropical cycads that are over 200 years old here. And that only scratches the surface of what this conservatory contains.
Another visually striking feature of Garfield Park is the Historic Golden Dome building designed by architecture firm, Michaelsen and Rognstad. Michaelesn and Rognstad was a two men firm established by two Chicago Norweigan residents. They are known for their fanciful jazz age buildings. You can still find many of their buildings around Chicago today. The Golden Dome is covered in real gold (23 karat) tiles. Chicago is lucky to have this field house still standing and in working condition. During the early 90’s it was severely dilapidated and you couldn’t walk through without plaster falling. This golden-domed building was built in the late 1920s and used as a police department. Today it is used as a park field house and activities center. It contains a Gymnasium, auditorium, dance studio, fitness center, ballroom, boxing ring, and more. You can sign up for a variety of classes and services in this Field House.
A smaller but equally interesting structure is the Garfield Park Bandshell. This was constructed in 1896 by Joseph Silsbee, Frank Lloyd Wright’s first employer. During this time, Americans were fascinated by foreign cultures. This bandshell references Islamic architecture with its octagon marble structure. You can also see colorful mosaic tile panels decorating the bandshell.
Originally this bandshell sat adjacent to a racetrack. The outside of the track was meant for horses while the inside was meant for bike racing. The racetrack was demolished in 1905 and replaced with a golf course. The golf course was replaced by the Floral Community Gardens, also called the floral arch. The gardens combined prairie style landscaping with traditional elements seen in the Conservatory. Unfortunately, there is not much to see in the floral gardens today. It was destroyed by a fire in the early 80s.
There are several ways to get to Garfield Park by bike. The most scenic way is to follow the Chicago Boulevard System. You can also enter from Lake Street, West Maddison Street, West Jackson Blvd, or W Congress Parkway.
OOFD's Wander Ride Series
We know with COVID 19 many folks are craving some outside time. Some of the go to trails are not open or crowded as heck, so not the best to ride in as you try to stay socially distant. Instead, use our city's incredible bike lanes to cruise a new neighborhood. By the way, out of the 77, how many have you been to? Get out there. Explore this city. Ride its streets to soak in its mourning and enclosure and distance.
Find that interesting neighborhood you've heard of. Seek out that place that carries weight of our history. Stroll that cemetery or park for the first time. Take the back streets to get there. Wiggle around the city on two wheels and keep exploring. Use The Reader's Mellow Map and Openland's Get Outside Map. And check out our Bike Camping hopes and dreams. We'll do our best to keep you inspired enough to wanna immerse and educate yourself in the beauty that is our home, Chicago.
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