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The Father of the American Skyscraper's West Side Park

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After completing the southern portion of our Emerald Necklace tour, we've arrived at the first of the three grand parks of Chicago's West side, Douglas Park, which, along with its West Side siblings, Garfield and Humboldt, was designed by architect, engineer, landscaping extraordinaire, William Le Baron Jenney, better known as the father of the skyscraper.

In 1869, the Illinois state legislature established the West Park Commission, which was responsible for three large parks and interlinking boulevards. Later that year, the commissioners named the southern-most park in honor of Stephen A. Douglas. Best remembered for his pre-Civil War presidential defeat by Abraham Lincoln. In 1871, designer William Le Baron Jenney completed plans for the entire West Park System which included Douglas, Garfield, and Humboldt parks. Jenney's engineering expertise was especially helpful for transforming Douglas Park's poor natural site into parkland. He had sand and manure from the Chicago Stock Yards added to the marshy site. In the center of the landscape, Jenney created a picturesque lake. A small section of the park was formally opened in 1879. In 1895, members of several local clubs petitioned for an outdoor gymnasium in Douglas Park. The following year, this resulted in the construction of one of Chicago's first public facilities with outdoor gymnasium, swimming pool, and natatorium.
By the turn of the century, the West Park Commission was riddled with political graft, and the three parks became dilapidated. As part of a reform effort in 1905, Jens Jensen was appointed as General Superintendent and Chief Landscape Architect for the entire West Park System. Jensen, now recognized as Dean of the Prairie style of landscape architecture, improved deteriorating sections of the parks and added new features (including the demolition of the Douglas Park conservatory that same year). Among Jensen's improvements to Douglas Park were a semi-circular entryway at Marshall Blvd., and a formal garden at the corner of Ogden Ave. and Sacremento Dr. By the time Jensen designed the garden, Ogden Avenue, a diagonal roadway with a major streetcar thoroughfare, had already been constructed. The road divided the park into two separate landscapes, creating a busy intersection at the juncture of Ogden and Sacramento Avenues. Jensen's solution was a long axial garden on the southeast side of the intersection, providing a buffer between Ogden Ave. and playfields to the south.

At the entrance to the garden, the area closest to the busy roadway intersection, Jensen placed a monumental garden shelter, known as Flower Hall, and a formal reflecting pool. The designer of the structure is unknown, however, it was possibly Jensen himself, or his friend, Prairie School architect Hugh Garden. East of the building, the garden becomes more naturalistic. Jensen included perennial beds, a lily pool, and unique Prairie-style benches. In 1928, the West Park Commission constructed a fieldhouse in Douglas Park. The structure was designed by architects Michaelsen and Rognstad, who were also responsible for other notable WPC buildings. In 1934, Douglas Park became part of the Chicago Park District, when the city's 22 independent park commissions merged into a single citywide agency.

The park has served as a central location for recreation since it was first built. It currently houses a miniature golf course, a three hole learning golf course, five playgrounds, an outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, basketball courts, an oval running track and Collins Academy High School. The park also retains its original lagoon, a wide variety of trees and the original Jenney designed stone bridge.

Featured Property

Lawndale is home to some of Chicago's most ornamental greystones, but unfortunately like many South and West side communities, it has also been subject to a rash of problems causing disinvestment and abandonment. The loss of historic housing stock has been so profound, that after the 2006 publication of the North Lawndale Greystone Study, the city of Chicago founded the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative, aiming to preserve, restore, and modernize the city's Greystone residential buildings.

With such importance placed upon the protection of these structures, finding one with intact exterior features and placed directly overlooking the park should be seen as a gift (especially when realizing the EIGHT vacant lots next door easily could have been nine).

Built in 1899, 1306 S. Albany Ave. is a handsome two flat rowhome situated on a traditional 25' x 125' Chicago lot listed for $140,000. The features don't amount to much, other than the intact front facade there is not much worth writing home about for this property. Each 3BD, 1BA unit has been stripped of anything worth mentioning and if any vintage lover were to adopt this home they'd basically be working with a blank slate. But given the state of the neighborhood, don't expect a glamorous (immediate) future for this home.
· Listing: 1306 S. Albany Ave. [Redfin]