Summer 2007

Douglas Park Cultural & Community Center


History

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 southernmost park in honor of Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861). Best remembered for his pre-Civil War presidential defeat by Abraham Lincoln despite superb oratorical skills, Douglas was a United States Senator who helped bring the Illinois Central Railroad to Chicago. 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 German turners' 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. Among Jensen's improvements 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 contructed a fieldhouse in Douglas Park. The structure was designed by architects Michaelsen and Rognstad, who were also responsible for other notable buildings including the Garfield Park Gold Dome Building, the Humboldt and LaFolette Park Fieldhouses, and the On Leong Chinese Merchant's Association Building in Chinatown. 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.