Douglas Park: Revitalizing
Jensen's Landscape

by Julia S. Bachrach, Chicago Park District

Such a garden will be a shine to which one may come for rest from the strife and noise of the man-built city.
Jens Jensen, 1930

 

Douglas Park was a living laboratory for the evolution of Jensenís landscape design style. Jensen began improving Douglas Park in 1906, soon after his appointment as General Superintendent and Chief Landscape Architect to the West Park Commission. Although the park was approximately 35 years old, it was only partially finished, and many of the completed parts of the landscape suffered from deterioration. Douglas Park was the southernmost of the three original parks of the West Park Commission, chartered by state legislation in 1869. It was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), a United States Senator best remembered for his superb oratorical skills during an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency against Abraham Lincoln.

William Le Baron Jenney, a renowned architect, engineer and landscape designer, completed original plans for Douglas Park in 1871. Jenneyís engineering expertise was especially helpful for transforming Douglas Parkís poor natural site into parkland. In fact, the natural conditions were so marshy that Jenney added tons of sand and manure brought in from the Chicago Stock Yards. In the center of the landscape, Jenney created a picturesque lake. A small section of the park was formally opened in 1879, attracting boaters and picnickers. By 1896, Douglas Park featured one of the cityís first public facilities with an outdoor gymnasium, swimming pool, and natatorium.

Despite these improvements, the West Park Commission was riddled with political graft, and its parks had all become dilapidated by the turn of the century. Although Jensen had worked his way up from laborer to superintendent of Humboldt Park, his efforts to fight the corruption led to his dismissal in 1900. Fortunately, in 1905, reform-minded Governor Charles S. Deneen replaced the entire board with progressive and honest citizens. Jensen was selected as the new General Superintendent for the West Park System. The neglect to the parks, and a newly approved $2 million bond issue, provided Jensen with a significant opportunity to make Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas parks a living laboratory for his evolving design style.

In Douglas Park, Jensen sited a long formal garden along Ogden Avenue at Sacramento Drive, where the diagonal roadway and streetcar line divided the park into two separate landscapes. A Prairie-style pavilion, Flower Hall, marks the garden entrance with a grand archway, colonade and reflecting pool. The garden formality becomes more naturalistic as undulating perennial beds line a simple center meadow, bordered by a soft-edged lily pool. Unique Prairie-style concrete benches face the garden and line an oval-shaped outer path.

Now, almost one hundred years later, the Chicago Park District has undertaken a major project to revitalize Jensenís impressive garden. The work has included cleaning and carefully patching the concrete elements in the formal garden that were crumbling and covered with graffiti. The Flower Hall concrete pavilion was restored and its original ornamental grillwork reconstructed. The reflecting pool, dry for many years, has been repaired, filled with water, and planted with lilies, irises, water hyacinths and rushes. Simi-larly, the gardenís long inoperable Prairie-style light fixtures have been Unique Prairie-style concrete benches face the garden and line an oval-shaped outer path. Now, almost one hundred years later, the Chicago Park District has undertaken a major project to revitalize Jensenís impressive garden. The work has included cleaning and carefully patching the concrete elements in the formal garden that were crumbling and covered with Park featured one of the cityís first public facilities with an outdoor gymnasium, swimming pool, and natatorium. Despite these improvements, the West Park Commission was riddled with political graft, and its parks had all become dilapidated by the turn of the century. Although Jensen had worked his way up from laborer to superintendent of Douglas Park was the southernmost of the three original parks of the West Park Commission, chartered by state legislation in 1869. It was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), a United States Senator best remembered for repaired and restored and a long-missing pergola is being reconstructed along Marshall Boulevard.

On Saturday, June 30, 2001, Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated these significant improvements to historic Douglas Park as well as a new miniature golf course, an instructional junior golf course, field house upgrades, and Jensenís revitalized landscape elements. Douglas Park awaits your visit.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pergola and fountain at Douglas Park, 1921.