History of Harrison Park
History of Harrison Park
Pilsen is often a destination for architecture buffs and historic preservationists seeking to visually feast on Second Empire and Italianate architecture. What most people aren’t aware of is that Pilsen has an extensive history in landscape architecture. Most people who have even minimal interest in landscape know Olstead and Vaux as the designers of Central Park in New York City. Landscape architect Jens Jensen is an equally important figure in Midwest, specifically Chicago's landscape history. It’s not widely known that Pilsen’s own Harrison Park was designed by Jensen.
A Danish immigrant that moved to the United States in 1884, Jensen began his career as a City street-sweeper for the Chicago West Parks District in 1886, later becoming the Superintendent of Union Park. Throughout Jensen's career, he designed what he called "natural parks and gardens," with native plants. Jensen designed landscapes for parks, schools, hospitals and private estates.
"Our native landscape is our home, the little world we live in, where we are born and where we play, where we grow up and finally where we are...laid to eternal rest. It speaks of the distant past and carries our life into the tomorrow. To keep this pure and unadulterated is a sacred heritage, a noble task of the highest cultural value." Jens Jensen wrote to Camillo Schneider, 15 April 1939.
Harrison Park Community Garden ca. 1921
It's debatable how much, if any of Jensen’s design remains in Harrison Park. According to the Chicago Park District, Harrison Park was created in 1912 when Pilsen was overcrowded and populated with immigrants who worked in the industrial areas close by. Harrison Park sits on a site which was previously used for lime production (lime is a calcium based material that is used in concrete and mortar, among other things). In 1914, a natatorium was built, with swimming and wading pools. A few years later, a children's garden was created and in 1928, a field house was finally erected. The park's next major expansion was in 1950, when the Chicago Park District acquired the stone quarry to the west of the park. In 1987, the natatorium was converted into the National Museum of Mexican Art and in 1993, the original field house was replaced with the current one.
Though Jensen's influence is no longer pure and unadulterated, his vision and belief that open space in parks like Harrison is the little world we live in, still lives on in the Pilsen we live in today.
Posted in Housing and Historic Preservation