Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lincoln Park Conservatory
 by: chicago designslinger

[Lincoln Park Conservatory (1892-1895) Joseph L. Silsbee, Mifflin E. Bell, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On February 8, 1869 the original boundaries of Chicago's Lincoln Park were officially sanctioned by the Illinois legislature. The old city cemetery occupied a southern section of the new park area, but plans were underway to relocate the remaining remains of the dearly departed and get to work transforming the turbid, windswept sandy landscape into an alluring verdant oasis.

   [Lincoln Park Conservatory, 2391 Stockton Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1874 the Lincoln Park Commissioners finally budgeted some money for flowers - a whopping $100. They also decided that building a greenhouse might be a good idea as well and put $500 in the budget for the construction of a glass-paned, cultivation shelter. Things really took-off for the floral department after that, and by 1877 four conjoined greenhouses stood midway between the park's northern boundary at Diversey Avenue and its southern border at North Avenue. In 1879, with the park starting to take shape, the Commissioners allocated money toward the construction of an addition to the existing mishmash of greenhouses for the sole purpose of housing exotic palms. The combined palm-growing, floral propagating display houses proved to be extremely popular with the public, but by 1889 the slapdash way in which the complex of glass encased plant life had been assembled began to show. The palm trees were so happy in their temperature controlled room that they had reached the top of the low-height ceiling and were now growing downward rather than upward.

  [Lincoln Park Conservatory, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The first order of business was to transfer the plants into a new group of utilitarian looking propagating houses. The new buildings were located 200 feet north of their existing site and on higher ground, just east of an old man-made ditch that had been cut through the sand in 1854 in an attempt to improve the flow of stagnant pools of standing water after a cholera outbreak in 1852. Next-up was planning and constructing a purpose built palm house and conservatory worthy of a city that had just been notified that they would be hosting the world's fair celebrating Columbus' voyage to the Americas 400 years earlier. Architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee was brought in to come-up with some ideas, and with the assistance of architect Mifflin Bell, drew-up a commission pleasing design that would cost a respectable $75,000.

  [Lincoln Park Conservatory /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The 52-foot high, glass-domed palm house took center stage, sitting at the top of a slight rise just 50 feet north of the old greenhouse complex. Stretching out another 175 feet to the rear of the palm pavilion was the conservatory, where plants and flowers could be presented in a rotating seasonal display. Opened in 1892, the new glasshouses were a big hit, and in 1895 a fernery was completed behind the palm house and adjacent to the propagating houses. With an improved park and an enhanced landscape, in 1899 the floral department notified the Board of Commissioners that they needed more space in which to produce more plants, and the propagating houses were doubled in size. Little has changed at the Lincoln Park Palm House Conservatory and Fernery since 1895 except for the addition of restrooms on either side of the main entrance, and shortening the name to a much simpler Lincoln Park Conservatory.

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