Putting the Prairie in the Park

[Humboldt Park, Chicago, August 23, 2009 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the beginning, the ground that became Humboldt Park was flat and spongy. So, when
the planners of the West Park System began laying out the future park, there was water to work with, but it needed a little enhancing.

[The park under construction, 1872, Chicago Park District signboard, Humboldt Park; North Lagoon, Humboldt Park
Images & Artwork: designslinger]

Taking an existing piece of land and creating an seemingly indigenous, natural
environment was an innovative design concept during the middle of the 19th century. Frederick Law Olmsted manipulated the landscape of Manhattan when he created the "naturalness" of Central Park.

[Prairie River, Humboldt Park, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1905, Jens Jensen was named the chief landscape architect of the parks in the
West System. The style of architecture known as the Prairie School, was in its hey-day. Jensen had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright and other associated architects, and he introduced the Prairie-style into the park's design. Jensen even named this slender strip of water the Prairie River.

[Refectory & Boat House, Richard E Schmidt, Garden & Martin, 1907 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Boat House provided park patrons with a place to relax, rent boats for a ride out on
the Lagoon, and take shelter from the sun or rain under the broad hip-roof. It also served as a warm retreat during the winter for ice skaters ejoying an afternoon on the lagoon's frozen surface.

[Boat House detail /Images & Artwork: designslinger]

Architect Richard Schmidt designed the Boat House in 1907 with architectural details
that any Prairie-schooler would recognize.

[Lanterns, Schmidt, Garden & Martin, 1907 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

No design detail was left to chance under Jensen's watchful eye. Even the light stanchions
in the park bear the hallmarks of Prairie School geometry.

[Pair of Bronze Buffalo, 1893 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The buffalo did not come from a Prairie-style designer. This pair of bronze sculptures
left-overs from the World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. Jensen had them moved to the Rose Garden area of the park as a tribute to a native animal that was on its way to extinction due to unrestrained hunting across America's vast prairie lands.

Jensen's handiwork can be found in other West System parks. We'll be posting about them

soon. You can see our related Humboldt Park post here.

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