Arrigo Park, known as Vernon Park for much of its history, dates to 1857, when real estate developer Henry D. Gilpin donated the property to the City of Chicago. The city soon created a shaded "breathing spot" with an artificial lake and a few benches.
In 1871, the modest residences surrounding Vernon Park fell to the flames of the Chicago Fire. Commercial institutions and transient rooming houses took their place. The park, too, deteriorated into a boggy mess as surrounding streets and structures were raised up to improve sewage removal and prevent flooding.
When the city transferred Vernon Park to the West Park Commission in 1885, rehabilitation began immediately. To alleviate the drainage problem, the commission filled the artificial lake and raised the ground level of the entire site with additional fill. In 1893, the commission undertook extensive landscape improvements and electrified the park. The park was expanded to its present 6.14 acres the following year.
The West Park Commission transferred Vernon Park to the newly-created Chicago Park District in 1934. Forty years later, the green space was officially renamed Arrigo Park in honor of Victor Arrigo (1908-1973). A vocal advocate for the Italian-American community, Arrigo served as Illinois State Representative for Chicago's near southwest side from 1966 to 1973.
Arrigo was instrumental in bringing sculptor Moses Ezekiel's statue of Christopher Columbus to the park in 1966. First exhibited in the Italian pavilion at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the bronze figure later graced a second-story alcove on State Street's Columbus Memorial Building.
After the building came down in 1959, the statue went into storage. Arrigo argued that Columbus should find a new home in the city's oldest continuously Italian-American neighborhood, which was then experiencing wrenching transformation due to the construction of the University of Illinois' Circle Campus.
2nd Monday of the month @ 6pm @ Sheridan