Columbus Park is a 140.65 acre historic park located in the Austin community. The park is considered the masterpiece of landscape architect Jens Jensen and is one of the few parks in the nation to be designated a National Historic Landmark in its entirety.
The park's fieldhouse features a fitness center, two gymnasiums, three kitchens, several meeting rooms, a senior center and a banquet room. Outside, the park offers a nature area, a bicycle path, a jogging path and a nine-hole golf course. The park also contains multi-faceted recreation opportunities with an outdoor swimming pool, a fishing lagoon, baseball fields, basketball courts and two athletic fields for baseball and football/soccer.
Several historic elements are found on the grounds including a Jensen Council Ring and the beautiful Refectory Building, which sits on the northern end of park and is a popular destination for weddings and special events.
Many of the spaces in Columbus Park are available for rental for parties, athletic tournaments and other events. Patrons are especially fond of renting the photogenic Refectory Building for weddings and other formal parties.
Park patrons visit Columbus Park to enjoy basketball, football or soccer at the facility. The Refectory building is popular for senior events and programming, and the fieldhouse holds after school programs throughout the school year. In the summer, youth attend the Park District’s popular six-week day camp. In addition to programs, Columbus Park hosts fun special events throughout the year for the whole family, such as Movies in the Park, concerts in the Refectory, Chicago Shakespeare Theater productions and other Night Out in the Parks events.
Columbus Park is considered the masterpiece of Jens Jensen, now known as dean of Prairie-style landscape architecture. The project, Jensen's only opportunity to create an entirely new large park in Chicago, represents the culmination of years of his conservation efforts and design experimentation.
Appointed as West Park Commission General Superintendent and Chief Landscape Architect in 1905, Jensen re-designed Humboldt, Garfield, and Douglas Parks and began creating small parks such as Eckhart and Dvorak. After losing political support in 1910, he shifted his role to consulting landscape architect. Two years later, the commissioners acquired 144 acres of farmland at the western boundary of Chicago. They named the new park for Christopher Columbus (c. 1451-1506), the famous Italian explorer who "discovered" America while in the service of Spain.
Jensen's vision for Columbus Park was inspired by the unimproved site's natural history and topography. Convinced that it was an ancient beach, Jensen designed a series of berms, like glacial ridges, encircling the flat interior part of the park. In the center area, following the traces of sand dune, he created a "prairie river" flowing from two brooks. Two natural-looking waterfalls, with ledges of stratified stonework, represent the source of the river. Throughout the park, Jensen included native plants.
Jensen also included programming elements emulating nature. Broad prairie-like meadows provide a golf course and ball fields. He designed an outdoor theatre, known as the "player's green," for plays and other performances. In the children's playground area, Jensen included his favorite feature, the council ring, a circular stone bench for storytelling and campfires.
In 1953, the nine acres at the park's southern boundary were destroyed to make way for the Eisenhower Expressway. Despite the loss of some land and other changes to the park at that time, Columbus Park still conveys Jensen's genius.