West Park System

WestParkSystem_feature_DanielleFisher_2015.jpg
Chicago, IL
United States
West Park System

In 1869 the State of Illinois passed legislation to create a new system of parks and boulevards in Chicago. Three park commissions, Lincoln, South and West, were created to oversee the parks’ development. William Le Baron Jenney was hired as the first architect and chief engineer for the West Park System. In 1871 he produced preliminary plans for three parks - Humboldt, Douglas, and Central Park (later renamed Garfield Park) - and a boulevard system to connect the West Parks with the Lincoln and South Parks systems. His park plans included dense plantings, generous lawn areas and facilities for passive and active recreation. Built on swampy land with few trees, each of the park designs called for the creation of picturesque vistas and the construction of lagoons to help with drainage. Jenney’s plans were only partially executed; Chicago’s Great Fire put on hold much of the parks’ development. Oscar F. Dubius added regional character to Jenney’s naturalistic park designs between 1878 and 1893. These regional elements were further developed when Jens Jensen became superintendent and landscape architect in 1905. Jensen redesigned the three original parks and designed and completed Columbus Park on land acquired in 1910, all in his characteristic Prairie style. During his tenure native materials and plants were emphasized and landscape elements emulated naturalistic features including “prairie rivers” and meadows. Under the management of the combined Chicago Park District since 1934, the West Parks are listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Columbus Park is a National Historic Landmark.