The City in a Garden

A Photographic History of Chicago's Parks

Geographic Expansion Leads to Additional Parks: 1895-1930s

geographic-expansionAs early real estate speculators had predicted, by the 1890s Chicago's ribbon of parks and boulevards no longer bordered the city. Since the creation of the three park commissions in 1869, Chicago's boundaries had pushed north, south, and west. The city experienced tremendous expansion in June of 1889, when residents of many surrounding townships and unincorporated areas voted in favor of annexation to Chicago. At that time, the city had grown from 43 to 169 square miles in size. Because these new areas were not within the jurisdictions of the South, West, or Lincoln Park commissions, in 1895 the state approved an act allowing voters within underserved communities to create their own park districts.

In 1896 and 1900, the first two newly annexed areas to take advantage of the act established the North Shore and Ridge Avenue Park districts. Located on Chicago's far North Side, these park districts formed primarily to improve roads and boulevards. Some of the other annexed communities had existing parks, and districts were soon created to improve and maintain them. The greatest impetus for new districts, however, was the South Park Commission's influential neighborhood park system. Although many of the newly added communities were more affluent than the tenement districts for which the prototype had been conceived, residents of neighborhoods throughout the city wanted similar amenities.

A number of districts formed in neighborhoods along the North and South branches of the Chicago River, where park development helped suppress commercial encroachment. Here, landscape improvements in parks such as Eugene Field, River, and Gompers could take advantage of the site's natural attributes. Similarly, some districts had the advantage of great stands of pre-settlement trees, such as those in West Pullman Park.

Many of the new districts had limited financial resources because of their small taxing jurisdictions. Therefore, land acquisition and improvements occurred in stages, often over a long period of time. Despite budgetary constraints, most of the new park boards constructed field houses, and the attractive bungalows and apartment buildings within the surrounding neighborhoods often influenced their design. Many park boards hired Clarence Hatzfeld, an architect responsible for residences, banks, and other commercial buildings in these neighborhoods. Among more than 20 brick Prairie and Revival style field houses designed by Hatzfeld during the 1910s and 1920s are elegant buildings in Portage and Indian Boundary parks.

As the parks in the new districts developed, they soon came to be seen as valuable amenities of good Chicago neighborhoods rather than as vehicles of social reform. Many residents of these neighborhoods had their own yards, and thus were not in dire need of breathing space, as has been the case in the tenement districts. Rather, they primarily wanted neighborhood parks for organized sports, club and social activities, and hobbies. By 1930, 19 new park districts had been formed, resulting in a total of 22 independent agencies operating simultaneously in Chicago.