The Story of Garfield Park
What most people call Garfield Park is a combination of two Chicago community areas: East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park. They get their names from the park in the western portion of East Garfield Park.
Watch: Garfield Park
In its early days, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Garfield Park was home to mostly Irish, German, Italian, Russian, and Jewish immigrants. A small shopping district once sat along Madison Street in West Garfield Park in the 1920s, and the Guyon Hotel, now on the National Register of Historic Places, once looked over nearby Washington Street.
According to the Garfield Park Community Council, “the Depression and World War II took a toll on the community. By 1947, the area was so needy that the Daughters of Charity opened Marillac House to serve the poor.” The Eisenhower Expressway a decade later displaced many people whose homes were torn down by its construction. In the 1960s, African Americans began moving into Garfield Park, while the Chicago Housing Authority built public housing structures.
In the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who had visited and helped organize in the community in the years prior), riots broke out in Garfield Park. On April 8, 1968, just a few days after the assassination, a headline on the Chicago Tribune’s front page read, “Madison St. a Blackened Scar in Heart of Chicago.” Reporter Robert Wiedrich wrote, “This was the west side of Chicago, where for nearly 48 hours, virtually uncontrolled rioting and looting had raged in the flare of burning buildings.” The article recounts how a “water stained dress dummy lay toppled on its side in the show window of a corner store.” The National Guard was brought in, and the Tribune counted at least seven deaths tied directly to the riots. Much of Madison Street was devastated, and middle-class residents and businesses left.
Today, the community still suffers from poverty, unemployment, and crime. But groups such as the Garfield Park Community Council are working to revitalize parts of their community, searching for neighborhood-grown solutions to reinvigorate a community that has suffered from disinvestment. The Garfield Park Conservatory’s beauty (read more below) also draws people to the community year-round. The Green Line makes stops in Garfield Park at California, Kedzie, Conservatory-Central Park Drive, Pulaski, and Cicero. The Blue Line also runs through the southern portion of the two community areas, stopping at Kedzie-Homan, Pulaski, and Cicero.
Neighborhood Spotlight: Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park, originally called Central Park, was one of three parks on the city’s West Side (including Humboldt and Douglas parks). It was designed by William LeBaron Jenney and opened in 1874; it was renamed in 1881 for President James Garfield after his assassination. According to the park district, when Jens Jensen was appointed Chief Landscape Architect of the west side parks in 1905, he brought his pioneering, naturalistic “Prairie Style” of landscape design.
In 1908, the Conservatory opened. Designed by Jensen, Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden, and Martin, and New York engineering firm Hitchings and Company, it is meant to look like Midwestern haystacks.
In June 2011, a hailstorm severely damaged the Conservatory, shattering half the glass panes of the roofs in various structures. After $5 million in repairs, the conservatory reopened in 2015.
Today, it remains one of the largest in the nation and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can see the Palm House with its 65-foot ceilings, the Fern Room, a Desert House, a Show House that hosts flower shows every year, outdoor gardens, and more.
Things to Do
Take a tour of the Garfield Park Conservatory led by teen docents as part of the Urban Roots program. Then walk across the street and through the park to see the Gold Dome Field House.