In the mid-1890s, Chicago's famous architect and planner Daniel H. Burnham began sketching a magnificent park and boulevard system that would link Jackson Park with downtown. As Chief of Construction for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Burnham (1846- 1912) had transformed sandy, wind-swept, Jackson Park into the glistening White City. After the fair, Burnham began imagining a more beautiful, orderly, and functional Chicago. Burnham's vision, including a south lakefront park with a series of manmade islands, linear boating harbor, beaches, meadows, and play fields, was published in his seminal 1909 Plan of Chicago. The Plan included lakefront parkland and five islands off the lakeshore. Unfortunately, the five islands were not realized only Island No. 1 was constructed, now known as Northerly Island.
The South Park Commissioners began acquiring property for the new park in 1885, it took time to complete. There was land acquisition from private parties and drawn out disputes with the Illinois Central Railroad over riparian rights. Pursuant to a City 1919 ordinance, the South Commissioners Park came in possession of approximately 60 acres of reclaimed land, the ordinance also granted the City’s 10 acre “East End Park”. Additional property rights and government approvals were finally secured in 1920, and voters approved a $20 million bond issue to create the park. The land creation by landfill took several years. By the time, the park was named in honor of Daniel Burnham Park in 1927, only the northern part of the site had been filled.
During this period, the South Park Commissioners planned for a stadium on the lakefront. In a letter dated, August 11, 1919 “The South Park Commissioners of Chicago invite you to enter a limited competition for the commission to prepare working plans and specifications for the construction of a stadium on the Lake Front”. Their decision, as a committee, was announced December 1, 1919, having selected the plans drawn by Holabird and Roche as the best design submitted. By virtue of this award, Holabird and Roche were employed to design Soldier Field. The building is “U” shaped, of gray Benedict cast stone executed in early Greek style of architecture. Soldier Field was formally dedicated on November 27, 1926.
Burnham Park became part of the Chicago Park District, in 1934 by virtue of the Park Consolidation Act. In 1933 and 1934, the Century of Progress, Chicago's second World's Fair took place in Burnham Park. In the mid-1930s, the newly created Chicago Park District used federal funds from the Works Progress Administration to complete landfill operations and improve Burnham Park, including the naturalistic Promontory Point landscape by renowned designer Alfred Caldwell. In 1935, Mayor Edward J. Kelly began pursuing the idea of a permanent fair in Burnham Park. To facilitate this, the State passed a bill creating the Metropolitan Fair and Exposition Authority.
In 1939, the Chicago Park District Administration Building, located at the north end of Soldier Field was completed. In 2001, Chicago Park District Administration offices were relocated to 541 N. Fairbanks Court, and the Park District Administration Building was razed, to make way for the rehabilitation of Soldier Field and the transformation of a beautifully landscaped Museum Campus.
The legislation allowed the construction of Merrill C. Meigs Airport in 1946 and the McCormick Place convention hall in 1960. The original McCormick Place burned down in 1967, and despite opposition, a new facility opened in Burnham Park in 1971. In recent years, Mayor Richard M. Daley's vision for a greener, more beautiful Burnham Park has begun taking shape. Sixty acres of asphalt were transformed into a landscaped Museum Campus. Moreover, the former Meigs Field has been transformed into a 119 acre park with a natural area, known as Northerly Island where park patrons can enjoy a paved all-purpose trail. Birders catch glimpses of migrating birds in the fall and spring seasons, while anglers can find the perfect fishing spot.