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Where the Sheep Used to Graze and the Games Never Came

Welcome to day two of our week-long look at Chicago's Emerald Necklace. We're picking up right where we left off on Monday afternoon, taking a brief stroll west down the Midway Plaisance to Washington Park.

Positioned just one mile West of Jackson Park, Washington Park's 372 acres are realized closely within the 1869 plans by Frederick Law Olmsted for the original "South Park" (which included Washington Park to the west and Jackson Park to the East). When Olmsted first examined the property, he saw a field filled with bare trees and decided to maintain its character by creating a pastoral meadow surrounded by trees, hence the vast open spaces of the park. (Which, coincidentally, fulfilled Olmsted's belief that parks should not only provide release from urban tensions but also serve as democratic places, areas for assembly.) His plan for maintaining the natural character of the park called for sheep to graze as a means of keeping the grass short. Real estate magnate Paul Cornell (founder of Hyde Park) later convinced Olmsted to include sporting areas, although Olmsted wanted a more natural, pure feel to the park, including a naturally edged 13-acre lake in the Southern half of the park.

Unlike Jackson Park, which housed the many temporary structures of the World's Columbian Exposition, the structures built in Washington Park were meant as permanent additions to the park, maintained well after the fires of Jackson Park ravaged the remaining structures of the fair. Unfortunately, they were not protected from the destructive hands of man, and in the mid 1930s the Washington Park Conservatory at 56th and Cottage Grove, constructed in 1897, was razed, along with conservatories at Douglas and Humboldt Parks, amid financial shortcomings. Despite this loss, three original buildings by architect Daniel Burnham currently survive in the park. These include the 1880 limestone round stables, the 1881 refectory, and the 1910 administrative headquarters for the South Park Commission. Today, the administrative building houses the DuSable Museum of African-American History.

Through its entire history, Washington Park might be most well known for its place in Chicago's failed bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The park was chosen as the site for the 95,000-seat Olympic stadium and the venue for indoor aquatics. This was met with much apprehension from the public who sought to preserve Olmsted's vision for the park and its status as a national landmark (the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the summer of 2004).

Current features of the park include the aforementioned DuSable Museum of African-American History, the recently restored Fountain of Time, seventeen ball fields, cricket fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, jogging trails, Walter H. Dyett High School and a fieldhouse complex featuring gathering spaces, a fitness center and full aquatic facilities.

Featured Properties

Bounded by the community areas of Grand Boulevard to the North, Hyde Park to the East, Woodlawn to the South and Washington Park to the West, most neighborhoods around Washington Park have seen their fair share of hard times and failed urban renewal projects. Many vintage properties have been razed and left vacant or replaced with low quality "bland boxes." With that comes a distinct mix of properties that both display the promise for a better future and the crushing realities of present day.

To showcase these two sides of Washington Park property we selected two properties within a single block of one another, each located on Martin Luther King Drive looking East over the park.

The first is a home we have featured at Curbed previously, the 8,000-square-foot, 7BD turn of the century mansion at 5228 S. King Drive, which has been restored to much of its original splendor (Home Depot moments notwithstanding). This home was a part of not only the Chicago real estate bubble, but the 2016 Olympics bubble as well. Originally listed in December 2008 for $1.29 million, it has seen routine visits from the PriceChopper down to its current list price of $699,000. Featuring hardwood floors throughout, vintage molding and built in cabinetry, zoned central air, five fireplaces, a chef's kitchen and the 'can't-live-without-it' 250-bottle wine cellar. After a premature sprint out of the gates, this home is eagerly awaiting for the surrounding neighborhood to play catch-up.
· Listing: 5227 S. King Dr. [Redfin]

Just down the street lies another property overlooking the expanse of Washington Park, this 1,700-square-foot, 3BD, 2BA, first-floor condo dates to 1908 and was at some point the recipient of a gut rehab. Priced at a meager $78,500, the unit features include an open floor plan, the obligatory cherry/granite/stainless kitchen, hardwood floors, updated bathrooms and a pre-wired stereo system. With a price that has already fallen from the initial listing of $124,000, park views, a spacious interior and a miniscule monthly assessment bill of $187, what exactly will it take for this property to sell and be maintained?
· Listing: 5324 S. King Dr. [Redfin]