June 1-4, 2016
Jens Jensen was front and center during the recent Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation’s 38th Annual Meeting in and about Chicago, Illinois. It is after all the epicenter of his body of work! And yes, we did hear much about him and his legacy, over the course of three days, where we visited some of Chicago’s most beloved historic places attributed to him, but that’s nothing to be concerned about.
The requisite group photo in Lincoln Park
Thanks to the conference team, most delegates roomed at the dorms of Roosevelt University smack dab in the Loop. Out the door, you were mere minutes away from Michigan Avenue, Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and Millennium Park (not to mention Starbucks … you know who you are)!
For those Board members already in town Wednesday morning, we were fortunate with a ‘members only’ tour led by the inimitable Julia Bachrach, who with Rachel Leibowitz, would host and guide us through the conference. We visited the subterranean cockpit boasting original control panel levers for modulating the multitude of fountain features (now computer-driven) and actually got the chance to manipulate same.
En route to the Board meeting, we meandered through the Lurie garden to the field house in Maggie Daley Park. A new Board member, Martin Holland (ex-pat Canadian now at Clemson University), joined us there for the first time. As is the custom, the meeting was skillfully chaired by our courageous President, Carrie Gregory.
The Board at work
The conference kick-off took place that evening at the ‘famous’ Cliff Dweller’s Club. Julia Bachrach’s introductory ‘overview’ presentation focused on Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan with its call for the expansion of the 1870s-era parks and boulevard system. Most importantly, and as we could appreciate from 22 stories up, Burnham’s plan established that the shores of Lake Michigan be utilized as public parklands. “The Lakefront, by right, belongs to the people. Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated to the exclusion of the people.” A lovely dinner, nice words, and an awesome perspective out towards Lake Michigan: a perfect start to another grand gathering of the Alliance! Thanks to Leslie Recht, past-President of the Club, for hosting.
View from Cliff Dwellers
Day One – North Sector
On its first full day out on its wandering adventure, the Alliance headed north along the Lake Michigan shoreline to the South Pond of Lincoln Park. We toured the recent naturalization project and – thank you Ian Firth – stopped to have the all-important group photo taken with the Windy City skyline as our backdrop.
Once at the Lincoln Park field house, a series of speakers kicked off the program. Invitee Joel Baldin, ASLA (Principal, Hitchcock Design Group), spoke about the restoration of Prairie School landscapes, including the Lake Point Tower garage roof garden and the Lincoln Park Lily Pool, both designed by Alfred Caldwell. A deep dish pizza lunch followed (not to mention a dance recital of tiny tots) to round out the packed morning.
The afternoon began with a visit to the Caldwell Lily Pool, referred by him as an “oasis in the megalopolis.” The landscape was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2005. Split into four groups, we were led through the site and informed by clever docents.
Once back on the bus, we continued westwards to Humboldt Park. Karl Kun, a strong voice in the community, provided us some insight into what has been happening in the area.
Day Two – West Sector
Chicago’s west side parks would serve as the focus today, including Garfield and Columbus both designed by Mr. Jensen. On arrival at the Garfield Park Conservatory (two acres of public greenhouse space!), we took the time to enjoy the particularly captivating Fern Room.
Once we had settled in and housekeeping matters conveyed, words were spoken to remember one of the four co-founding members of the Alliance, Susan Buggey. Her spirit will always infuse this organization, and she will be missed!
Amongst a good mix of papers, Dan Nadenicek commenced with a photo of the church in Charleston, S.C., where an unspeakable tragedy was unleashed on its unsuspecting worshippers in 2015. Dan raised fair questions in regards to a debate currently taking place in Georgia (not to mention other places) vis-a-vis how to fairly communicate the stories related to Confederate memorials and monuments.
Scholarship winner Jennifer Lauer spoke on the topic of engaging youth in national historical parks, particularly in the urban context. Jennifer used Philadelphia as her canvas for exploring this topic (which then begged the question, why has the Alliance not yet been there?).
Columbus Park was next, with a conveniently located – and shaded! – council ring about which to assemble. Bob Grese obliged us with an overview of the place, and continued the story a short distance away at what was an ‘outdoor theatre’ site. Although a warm-ish afternoon, the group was engaged.
Then we were off to Riverside, the garden suburb designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1869. Guest speaker Scott Mehaffey, FASLA, helped us to better understand Chicago’s historic suburban residential landscapes – using Riverside as our guide. We were also able to appreciate the efforts of the architect, William LeBaron Jenney, in his train station and nearby water tower.
We rambled about, photographed an authentic cottage designed by Vaux and then made our way in the direction of the Avery Coonley residence. Lo and behold we were unexpectedly invited in and through, and gathered in the Jensen-designed rear yard with its signature pool. What good fortune! We also visited the Coonley Gardener’s Cottage, home of Chicago garden historian Cathy Maloney who, with Scott, welcomed us to Riverside and put the estate into its suburban context.
Day Three – South Sector
The last day saw us wheel out of the Loop southward to Pullman National Monument. Pullman was the planned company town that President Obama designated in 2014 as a National Monument for its important role in U.S. labor history.
We were warmly welcomed there by Sue Bennett and Chris Stein of the National Park Service and by Michael Shymanski of the Historic Pullman Foundation. Once comfortably settled in, we were treated to an overview of the historic place by both Sue and Mike.
Papers followed, including that presented by a very important guest, Bill Tishler, one of the four co-founders of the Alliance (and his ‘recent’ thoughts on the ‘visionary environmentalist’ Jensen). His coming of age stories in Door County were appreciated. (I must say that, in the wake of the passing of Susan Buggey, it was so nice to have Bill join us and to share his thoughts of those early days, including some early photographs of those early Alliance meetings!)
Amongst that morning’s papers, the Williams’ tandem of Brenda and Daniel shed some light on the work of their firms, in particular indigenous influences. They spoke about their work at Effigy Mounds National Monument (Cultural Landscape Report, Environmental Assessment) and the visitor experience ‘vision’. Immediately after lunch, we toured about by foot while rain threatened (then delivered). The Hotel Florence provided an interesting focus for the group.
Departing Pullman in the rain, we made our way back north and up to Jackson Park with its vestiges of the 1893 Columbia Exposition. More importantly, we heard the story of the rapid-fire response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ecosystems restoration (naturalization) project there led by Patricia O’Donnell, FASLA under verrrry tight timelines. Working closely on the 542-acre property in concert with ecologist and Project Manager Lauren Umek of the Chicago Park District, Patricia and company accomplished a great end product for Project 120 that will be appreciated for decades to come. We also learned the trick of specifying ‘haul roads’ and not pathways.
Leaving Jackson Park, we proceeded west along Midway Plaisance through the southern portion of the University of Chicago to the Fountain of Time. Our last leg proceeded up through Washington Park and then back to our dorms in the Loop.
(And we must pay kudos to our intrepid bus driver Charles Jackson who got us to where we needed to go (and then some) not to mention Conn’s, the caterer who provided us with filling lunches on all three days!)
The final evening began with dinner at the charming Italian Village Restaurant. A silent auction was held for a beautiful print rendered by Ted McLachlan. The proceeds will go to our scholarship fund.
For many of us, the evening finished late atop the 31st floor of the dorm tower overlooking Lake Michigan. With Navy Pier in the distance and fireworks erupting – surely for us! – it could not have been a more fitting end to an action-packed conference.
Thanks to Kimball Erdman for stickhandling the Call for Papers and to Eric MacDonald and Ted McLachlan on the Student Scholarship file. (And also to Anne Hoover and Blair Winter for photographs for this summary record!)
But we cannot finish without our heartfelt thanks to two of the most earnest individuals an organization could want, Rachel Leibowitz and Julia Bachrach for their selfless contribution to another exhausting (but great!) Alliance gathering!
We eagerly look forward to Calgary/Banff/Drumheller in May 2017, the year of Canada’s sesquicentennial! Bring your boots. Yeehaw!