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Humboldt Park: A Magnet for Chicago's Immigrant Populations

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And now, for the final installment of Urbs in Horto, Curbed's grand tour of Chicago's Emerald Necklace, we visit Humboldt Park...

Humboldt Park began its life as North Park (the park commissions were not very creative until someone died it seems) in the 1860s as a tract of relatively flat, undistinguished marshy land with little local relief. But similar to the neighborhood around the park, that would soon change. In 1869, shortly after the creation of the West Park System, neighborhood residents requested that the northernmost park be named in honor of Baron Freidrich Heinrich Alexander Von Humboldt (1759-1859), the famous German scientist and explorer. Two years later, completed plans for the entire ensemble of Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas parks and connecting boulevards were completed by none other than William Le Baron Jenney. Having studied engineering in Paris during the construction of that city's grand park and boulevard system in the 1850s, Jenney was influenced by French design. The construction of Humboldt Park was slow, however, and the original plan was followed only for the park's northeastern section.

Jens Jensen, a Danish immigrant who had begun as a laborer, worked his way up to Superintendent of Humboldt Park in the mid-1890s. Unfortunately, the West Park System was entrenched in political graft at the time. The commissioners fired Jensen in 1900 because of his efforts to fight the corruption. Five years later, during major political reforms, new commissioners appointed him General Superintendent and Chief Landscape Architect. Deteriorating and unfinished areas of Humboldt Park allowed Jensen to experiment with his evolving Prairie style. For instance, Jensen extended the park's existing lagoon into a long meandering "prairie river." Inspired by the natural rivers he saw on trips to the countryside, Jensen designed hidden water sources that supplied two rocky brooks that fed the waterway. Nearby he created a circular rose garden and an adjacent naturalistic perennial garden. Jensen designated an area diagonally across from the rose garden as a music court for dances, concerts and other special events. He commissioned Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden, and Martin to design an impressive boat house and refectory building which still stands at one end of the historic music court.

In 1928, the West Park Commission constructed a fieldhouse in Humboldt Park. The structure was designed by architects Michaelsen and Rognstad (sounding like a broken record yet?), who were also responsible for other notable buildings including the Garfield Park Gold Dome Building and the Douglas Park fieldhouse.

The Humboldt Park community has historically been a magnet for immigrant populations, each bringing their own cultural traditions to the neighborhood and park. Danish and Norwegians during the late 1800s, Germans and Scandinavians in the early 1900s and most recently the Puerto Rican community during the 1950s. As such, the park is currently home to the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance (housed in the Humboldt Park Stables building).

Also worth noting for all the historic landmark seekers out there; the park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, the boathouse pavilion was named a Chicago Landmark in 1996 and the Humboldt Park Stables and Receptory also became a Chicago Landmark in 2008. Both of the structures are still in current use and have been restored through the past couple years.

Featured Property

For the last few years, both pre- and post-bubble, Humboldt Park has seen rapid change to both its social and real estate compositions. The street walls of Humboldt Park are collages of Vintage Greystones, McCrapboxes, Gleaming Contemporaries, Vacant Lots and modest Workers Cottages.

Given our previous humble property selections, we chose to get a tad irrational and select a home in the gleaming, stainless steel-clad contemporary condo development at 2800 W. North Ave. Standing at the corner of North and California, this six floor building looks out over the park and offers nice views of the downtown skyline. But it also offers, according to some, views of "prostitutes and junkies milling around at 10am.. on this stretch of road."

But we're not hear to talk about prostitutes; we're focused on the park and nearby real estate! And with a list price of $274,900, fifth floor unit #504 is a large 2BD, 2BA luxury condo with exceptional finishes, hardwood throughout, floor to ceiling windows, large balconies, in unit W/D, elevator access, a high end kitchen with quartz counters, indoor parking included and a expansive shared rooftop deck.

Is this property a deal for the neighborhood? A sign of things to come during the next market upswing or will it forever be a lonesome tribute to the bubble?
· Listing: 2800 W. North Ave. #504 [North Clybourn Group]