by Julia S. Bachrach, Chicago Park District Historian
During the past 20 years, the Chicago Park District has invested millions of dollars in improving hundreds of its properties. This significant body of work includes the restoration and rehabilitation of many historic properties. Landmark status has often helped attract state and federal funding to capital improvements. For instance, several Chicago Park District properties have received Save America’s Treasures Grants for bricks and mortar restoration work. Among the historic resources that have received such funds are the Fountain of Time, an impressive monument by Lorado Taft in Washington Park; the Carlson Cottage, a Victorian bathroom building in Lincoln Park by architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee; and the children’s playground area of Columbus Park, a site considered to be the masterpiece of Prairie Style landscape architect, Jens Jensen.
Many restoration projects have been funded by a combination of government and private sources. The 2003 restoration of Jens Jensen’s Prairie River Landscape in Humboldt Park received a state grant, as well as funding from Com-Ed, an Exelon Company. The work included dredging the river; reconnecting it to the main lagoon; restoring stony brooks and waterways; thinning weedy trees; removing non-native invasive plant species; reintroducing native wetland, prairie grasses, and wildflowers; and installing a circulation system powered by solar energy and a wind turbine to improve water quality and efficiency.
Other projects are significantly co-sponsored by nonprofit partners of the Chicago Park District. The restoration of the three-acre Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park was funded by local, state, and private funds raised by the Friends of Lincoln Park, now known as the Lincoln Park Conservancy. The most prominent fundraising partner of the Chicago Park District is Parkways Foundation. This organization, which has 501c3 status, has helped raise millions for programs and capital improvement projects, including contributing to the restoration of the Humboldt Park Boat House and the Garfield Park Conservatory. Parkways Foundation is currently working on a major campaign to assist with the funding of a complete restoration of Chicago’s iconic Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain.