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At Play in the Windy City
On Chicago's South Side, a fountain brings play to a recovering neighborhood.
By Judith K. De Jong

In 1996, the future of the Jackson Park Pavilion, a public beach house on the lakefront on Chicago's South Side, looked bleak. The original uses of the facility were obsolete, the building was in substantial disrepair, and the site had essentially been vacated by the public. The site and building were also, however, of tremendous historical importance and symbolism. The site was not only an important waterfront piece of both the 1894 World's Columbian Exposition and the subsequent Olmsted South Park plan, but it also remains a critical piece of the continuous public lakefront—as envisioned by Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago—toward which the city of Chicago strives. However, the pavilion's state of deterioration was also a symbol to the community of what they considered to be a serious abrogation of the city's duty to provide safe and clean public spaces for them and their children. In the end, an innovative public/private partnership, a strong commitment by the project team to an inclusive public process, and a well-conceived design led to the provision of successful public space for Jackson Park.

In 1853, lawyer Paul Cornell purchased 300 acres of land along the swampy lakefront south of the city; substantial growth in the community soon led to the establishment of the South Park Commission. As its intention was to create "an extensive system of connected parks and landscaped boulevards," according to the AIA Guide to Chicago, the commission promptly hired Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to design the vast new South Park, comprised of Jackson Park, the Midway Plaisance, and Washington Park. Work initially proceeded slowly, as funding allowed, until the city of Chicago annexed Hyde Park to enhance its standing in the competition to host the 1894 World's Columbian Exposition, for which Jackson Park would be the primary fairground. Chicago was selected in April 1890 as the winner, and Olmsted was immediately rehired to design the 700-acre fairground. He was hired yet again in 1895 to do a comprehensive plan of the entire South Park; it is this design, organized around the major elements of the lakefront, fields, and lagoons, that established the framework of the current Jackson Park.

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