Millennium & Grant Park
by: chicago designslinger
[Millennium & Grant Park (1901-1930) South Park Commissioners, Chicago Plan Commission, Chicago Park District, Frederick Law Olmsted, Daniel H. Burnham, Edward S. Bennett, Bennett, Parsons & Frost, et.al, architects; (2004) Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Frank Gehry; Terry Guen Design Associates; Gustafen Guthrie Nichol; Piet Oudolf; Robert Israel; Carol J.H. Yetken; et.al; architects, landscape architects and designers /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Grant Park, Chicago's front yard. Once just lake water, today one of the Midwest's most visited sites. It grew from the eastern edge of Michigan Avenue several thousand feet out into the lake as the result of determination, chance, law suits, civic pride, the City Beautiful movement, a railroad trestle bridge and a fire.
[Millennium & Grant Park, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
There had been some notion of a park or promenade along the shore of Lake Michigan adjacent to the city core since the 1840s. In the 1850s the Illinois Central railroad arrived in town and built a trestle bridge out in the water to connect it two train yards split apart by a cove that cut into the landscape. As a result of the bridge breaking the flow of water, by the 1860s the inlet water lapping up against the edge of Michigan Avenue was full of trash and smelled awful. So in 1871, when things cooled down after the big fire leveled the commercial heart of Chicago, the left-over rubble and debris was pushed into the stagnant water, and the future Grant Park started to take shape.
[Millennium & Grant Park, Buckingham Fountain, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Lake Front Park was extended out from Michigan Avenue to the edge of the Illinois Central bridge. A few trees and lots of grass seed was planted, and in 1875 the Inter-State Exposition Building was built in the park, where the Art Institute sits today. The expo building was joined by two armory buildings and there was talk of adding the federal post office building to the mix on a permanent basis. Early maps drawn up by the federal government in the 1830s indicated that the lake front land was to remain forever clear, and the city's total disregard of that notation stirred-up Michigan Avenue business owners lead by catalog titan Montgomery Ward. They sued to stop any more structures from being built, and for those standing, tear them down. Ward battled government agencies all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and although he eventually won, the Art Institute was given a reprieve, and was joined by the Field Museum, Soldier Field, Buckingham Fountain, the Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Harris Theater, all to be joined by the Children's Museum, which may or may not get built at the park's northern edge.
[Millennium & Grant Park, Cloud Gate (2006) Anish Kapoor, artist /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In the 1890s the South Park Commissioners undertook one of the most ambitious plans ever put together for the landfilled acreage, and in 1901 renamed Lake Front Park for Illinois native son and U.S. President, Ulysses S. Grant. Frederick Law Olmsted designer of New York's Central Park, put forth a park plan with a majestic museum building sitting smack in the middle of a formally laid out landscape. His idea evolved into an even grander scheme from the drawing boards of architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. Their design was filled to the brim with neo-classical architectural elements all wrapped around the sunken railroad tracks of the Illinois Central, but the plan didn't go as planned. Instead of their overwhelmingly gigantic structure for the Field Museum of Natural History, the site became home to Buckingham Fountain, and as more and more landfill was hauled into the lake and the park kept growing until it reached its present size in the early 1930s, the museum was joined by 2 others in a cluster at the southeastern edge. In 1915, as the fill settled, what remained of Burnham & Bennett's Beaux-Arts inspired designs started showing up in pre-cast, poured concrete fluted columns and acres of balustrades lining promenades and walkways. And even when the city began to improve the northern end of the park in the 1990s, a last remnant of the Illinois Central's rail yard, designers embraced the 19th century neo-classical components of the park to border Millennium Park's 21st century landscape.