The City in a Garden

A Photographic History of Chicago's Parks

Revolutionary South Side Parks: 1905

revolutionary-south-side-parksMcKinley Park's success inspired the South Park Commission to initiate a system of neighborhood parks that would provide breathing space and social services to tenement neighborhoods throughout the district. South Park Superintendent J. Frank Foster conceived of a variety of features that would be included in the new parks such as outdoor gymnasiums for men and women, children's wading pools and sand courts, and a new type of building, the field house, which would provide athletic, educational, and recreational programs throughout an entire year. Foster commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted's successors, the Olmsted Brothers, as landscape architects and the D. H. Burnham & Co. architectural firm to design 14 neighborhood parks for Chicago's South Side. Although every plan incorporated similar features and basically followed a prototypical scheme, the Olmsted Brothers believed it important to give each part its own individual design. Similarly, Edward H. Bennett, of D. H. Burnham & Co., drew influence from the classicism of the World's Columbian Exposition, and created a uniquely designed architectural complex for each park.

Among the first 10 news sites which opened to the public in 1905 were Mike White Square (now known as McGuane Park) and Ogden, Sherman, and Hamilton parks. An array of innovative programs and facilities were provided in these parks, including the earliest branches of the Chicago Park Library, English lessons, inexpensive hot meals, free public bathing facilities, and health services. The 10 new parks proved so successful that President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed them "the most notable civic achievement in any American city." 1


1. As reprinted in South Park Commission, Report of the South Park Commissioners for a Period of Fifteen Months from December 1, 1906 to February 29, 1908, inclusive. Chicago: 1908, p. 62.