Chicago’s Boulevards & Monuments

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CHICAGO”S BOULEVARDS are the city’s most overlooked treasures, and one the largest and oldest boulevard system in the nation. The 28-mile system contains 540 acres of green space, and provide a link between seven inland parks and Lake Michigan.

Although originally built on Chicago’s outskirts, the boulevards today encircle the heart of the city and are within three blocks of the homes of one out of every six Chicago resident. The longest boulevard segment: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Shortest is Central Park [less than one mile], Widest is the Midway Plaisance [750 feet], and narrowest is Diversy Parkway [66 feet].

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Chicago's Boulevards

Chicago’s Boulevards

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In 1837, when Chicago selected its motto “Urbs in Horto” [City in a Garden], there were very few parks here. This was not uncommon. New York City did not start building Central Park until 1850s, and the construction of Boston’s “emerald necklace” did not begin until 30 years after that.

So in 1849, when Chicago developer John S. Wright proposed a vast network of parks and boulevards with the hope of encouraging development, he was suggesting something new.

“Of these parks I have a vision. They are all improved and connected, with a wide avenue extending to and along the Lake Shore on the north and south, and so surrounding the city with a magnificent chain of parks and parkways that have no equal in the world.”

It took two decades for Wright’s innovative ideas to gain public support. The 1869 Illinois “Parks Bills” established three regional park commissions  [South Commission, West Commission and North Commission] to create a unified system of parks linked by pleasure drives.

The South Commission hired Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s premier landscape architect, who styled landscape with informal grouping of trees and meandering pathways. The West Commission’s lead  designer was William LeBaron Jenny, whose formal rows of trees complemented the geometric paths he planned. Later Jens Jensen, founder of Prairie-style landscape architecture, created a more natural look for the west parks and boulevards using native plantings. Legal challenges precluded construction of the North Commission’s design for Diversy Parkway.

Much of Chicago’s boulevard system was constructed during the real estate boom of the late 19th century. As these boulevards were completed, they became popular recreational and social destination. Chicagoans promenaded and rode horses, and carriages along the smoothest roads of their era. As John Wright and others had hoped, the boulevards gradually attracted residential developers. The most significant mansions were built along Grand [now King Drive] and Drexel boulevards.

When Chicago held the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park and along the Midway Plaisance, it showcased a grand park system that few American cities could match. Inspired by this display Kansas City, Minneapolis and Washington D.C., initiated the development of their own park and parkways systems.

In the early 1930s, the three park commissions were consolidated to become Chicago Park District. The Park District maintained the boulevards until 1959, when the responsibility was turned over to the City of Chicago. Today the parks and boulevards remain a testament to the vision that helped establish Chicago has a national model.

 


 

BOULEVARD MONUMENTS

 


 

 


 

MONUMENTS:
Drexel Fountain
1881 – by Henry Manger
One of the oldest in the city, this fountain honors Francis Drexel, a Philadelphia banker who donated the land for Drexel Boulevard.
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Fountain of Time
1922 – by Lorado Taft
The masterpiece of one of Chicago’s foremost sculptor, this depiction of the “Ages of Man” took 14 years to complete.
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Carl von Linne Monument
1891 – by Johan Dyfverman] This monument depicts the Swedish botanist who originated the modern scientific classification system for plants and animals.
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Masaryk Memorial
1949 – by Albin Polasek
This statue of the medieval knight, St. Wenceslaus was dedicated to Thomas Masaryk, Czechoslovakia’s first president and a former University of Chicago faculty member.
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Victory Monument
1927 – by Leonard Crunelle
Dedicated to the members of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard [an African-American unit] who died in service during World War I. The “doughboy” was added in 1936.
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Washington Memorial
1904- by Daniel Chester French and Edward Clark Potter
This statue of George Washington at the time of the Revolutionary War is a duplicate of one on Paris.

Vietnam Veterans Marker
This marker and flag pole were commissioned by Gage Park Civic Association in 1983.

McKinley Monument
1905 – by Charles J. Mulligan
This statue was installed in honor of President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901.

Marquette Monument
1926 – by Hermon Atkins McNeil
Jacques Marquette, Louis Jolliet and an Algonquin Indian are depicted as they explored the Illinois River Valley in 1673.
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One Family One World
1979 – by Sidney Murphy
This sculpture was designed by the winner of a local high school design competition

Independence Fountain
1902 – by Charles J. Mulligan
This fountain honors American youth and Independence Day. Four children are depicted celebrating the Fourth of July.
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Illinois Centennial Column
1918 – by Henry Bacon
This monument which honored 100 years of Illinois statehood, was designed by the architect of Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. Evelyn Longman sculpted the eagle.
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NOTE: LeBaron Jenney designed West Park System: Humboldt Park, Garfield Park and Douglas Park.

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