Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pritzker Park, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Pritzker Park, Chicago (2009) Hoerr Schaudt, landscape architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the mid-1980s the city of Chicago was looking for a place to house all the books of the city's main library. Architects Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge's 1897 building was out-of-date, stuffed to the rafters, and the library needed more room. After years of "temporary" housing, and thoughts of converting an old department store into the library, a plan was finally approved to build a brand new building at the southern end of the city's State Street retail corridor. A stretch of the street that was kind of forlorn and forgotten.

  [Pritzker Park, Chicago, 344 S. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Once anchored by the Goldblatt's and Sears flagship department stores, by 1987 both buildings were standing tall but empty. The city owned a piece of property directly across the street from the Sears building, and after years of discussion and lots of book shuffling, decided that's where the main library building would be built. However, if the urban renewal project was going to be truly successful something would also have to be done with the block just to the north, across Van Buren Street. Once the site of architect's Marshall & Fox's Rialto Theatre, only the Rialto name survived, now painted on a signboard above the doorway of one of the transient hotels on the block. In order to get rid of the hotels and the down-and-out retail establishments along State, the city used their powers of eminent domain to purchase the property and then demolish all of the buildings. This way the site would be ready and available for future commercial development, a nice accompaniment to their $150 million investment in the new library building, and the future success of South State Street.

  [Pritzker Park, Chicago, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Some members of the library board thought that a small park would be a much better compliment to the future library, and although there were some powerful forces working against them, the park advocates won. In 2008 the city turned over the small patch of green to the Chicago Park District who hired landscape architects Hoerr Schaudt to re-imagine the corner and provide space for large-scale, temporary art installations as well as the usual grass, trees and flowers. The park was named for Cindy Pritzker, a member and former President of the library board who played a major roll in raising millions of dollars for Chicago's public library system.

  [Pritzker Park, Chicago, Eye, Tony Tasset, artist /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Last summer Tony Tasset's Eye was under construction in the plaza intended for such  public displays of art. Working with the Park District, the Chicago Loop Alliance helped raise funds and coordinate the installation of Tasset's overscaled replica of his own eye, and Pritzker Park was launched.

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