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Gage Park: Where Big Plans Yielded Modest Results

It's day three of Curbed's tour of the Emerald Necklace and day four of a tumultuous Outdoors Week (thanks to Mother Nature and this little snafu). But we are putting that all in the rearview mirror and trucking even further westward to the smallest of Chicago's chain of parks, Gage Park.

When prominent businessman, attorney, and South Park Commissioner George W. Gage died in office in 1875, his fellow board members decided to name a newly-developing parking his honor. Previously in 1873, the commission had begun acquiring land for an elegant green square at the intersection of Western Avenue and what is now known as Garfield Boulevard. This property occupied a prominent location at the turning-point of the South Park Commission's boulevard system. Despite its importance, both to the park network and the memory of G.W. Gage, little had been done to complete Gage Park by the late 1890s. Frustrated by the park's unfinished condition, surrounding residents repeatedly asked for improvements. Finally, in 1903, the commission added ball fields, tennis courts, a wading pool, and a beautiful sunken garden with a formal reflecting pool and colonnade.

While remaining a fairly modest park through the early part of the 20th century, city planners often imagined furthering Gage Park's prominence. In the 1909 Plan of Chicago, Burnham envisioned a grand extension of the park, essentially quintupling the park's existing footprint. The grand proposal (this is D.H. Burnham after all), revolved around a large central lake and outlying lagoons, with a system of leisure drives, imposing public buildings and a grand lawn designed along a diagonal axis through the park. Alas, similar to much of the Plan, the proposed work never materialized.

In 1918, several small land purchases were made to extend the park's southern boundary. The following year, the commission constructed a swimming pool, separate men's and women's outdoor gymnasiums, and a children's playground in this area.

Although in 1905 the South Park Commission had pioneered the development of the nation's earliest fieldhouses, by the 1920s, Gage Park still did not have one. After receiving petitions from residents, the commissioners finally agreed to build a fieldhouse in Gage Park in 1926. The classical structure, designed by in-house architects, was constructed two years later, and jointly dedicated by the South Park Commissioners and the Gage Park Citizens Improvement Club. Within a few years, two murals adorned the building's interior. One of them, located in an office, portrays folkway traditions of local immigrants. The auditorium mural, painted by acclaimed artist Tom Lea in 1931, depicts explorers and pioneers looking westward as a
heavenly figure in the clouds points the way.

Today, the four squares of Gage Park provide the community with meeting rooms and assembly halls, baseball playing fields, a gym, outdoor basketball courts, paths for walking, jogging, and cycling, playground equipment, swimming facilities, and tennis courts.

Featured Property

Developed as a predominately Eastern European, Roman Catholic neighborhood that
housed much of the workers of the Union Stockyards. As such, much of the housing stock consists of modest worker homes, most notable is the community’s collection of vintage bungalows. While there are currently no listings on Gage Park itself, we found a quaint bungalow just south of 56th Street that has retained much of its original woodwork and charm. This 2BD, 1BA home at 5640 S. Campbell Ave. is currently list for $70,000 and is a short sale.

Sure, the kitchen could use some serious work and yeah, the bathroom is like looking into a kaleidoscope, but the home appears to be well maintained and has many positives. As noted before, the original woodwork remains, as does the brick fireplace and surrounding leaded, stained glass windows. Add in the open air front porch, large backyard, proximity to the park and the potential of the unfinished basement and attic and suddenly this little bungalow is looking more and more appealing.
· Listing: 5640 S. Campbell Ave. [Redfin]