Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hidden Treasure

Glorious day . . . glorious time of year.  So I got on my bike with the intention of leaving the north side and the Cubs far behind and doing a little exploring down south.  My destination was Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago, where I wanted to take some pictures with the trees in blossom. On the way, though, I got sidetracked.

That happens a lot in this city, a place that constantly presents something unexpected.

I got off the bike path at 57th Street and headed south behind the Museum of Science and Industry toward Midway Plaisance.  Riding across the bridge over the inlet that separates Columbia Basin, the reflecting pool behind the museum, from the East and West Lagoons, I saw a small sign pointing the direction to Osaka Garden.

I turned to the left and headed south over a modest bridge and in about a hundred yards or so I was in one of the prettiest places in the city, completely by accident.

Osaka Garden.  If you are planning a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in warm weather, you have to see this place.  

The bonus is that you will find a garden of tranquility that has a rich history as well.

Just like the museum to the north the garden was a part of one of the REALLY big events in Chicago's short history -- the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition.

The Japanese Ho-o-den at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition
Photo 0033060,  Paul T. Galvin Digital History Collection, Illinois Institute of Technology 

As a gift to Chicago and the fair-goers, the Japanese government constructed an island and built a temple or "ho-o-den," a "house made like the Phoenix," just west of the present garden.  The fair's famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead was reluctant to accept the gift, preferring a natural setting away from the hustle and bustle of the fair.  But the free gift appealed to the business side of Head of Works Daniel Burnham, and the Japanese garden and temple were built, along with a tea house across the east lagoon.

The Paul V. Galvin Digital History Collection at the Illinois Institute of Technology provides this description of the temple's construction:  "While a dozen Japanese were working their little wooden pile-driver, which struck a blow of one hundred pounds, a company of men not larger across the lagoon was raising iron arches with a span of nearly four hundred feet, two hundred and twenty feet high"

Today the Osaka Garden still has that charming sense of simplicity in the midst of the sprawling city.

After the six months of the fair's run were over, the island was allowed to return to a more natural setting, and so things remained until 1933 when the next big fair came to the city,  The Century of Progress, centered on the lakefront between the Planetarium and the Field Museum.  

The Japanese government built a traditional tea house in the downtown section of the fair, but it also created a garden on Wooded Island, the site of the 1893 ho-o-den, and also restored the original temple. When the Century of Progress completed its run, much of the Japanese exhibit was brought south and the garden on Wooded Island was restored, complete with a cascading waterfall, stone walkways, traditional stone lanterns, and a series of small islands.

Unfortunately, the site suffered from neglect and vandalism and the war years were not kind to a visible reminder of Japan's former friendship to the city.  Wooded Island lived up to its name as it returned to a brushy and thickly wooded place, a haven for migratory birds.  In 1977 it became part of the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary.

In the early eighties the garden was restored and rededicated.  Japanese experts supervised the rebirth of the garden, directing the planting of flowering trees, evergreens and flowers and the placement of a new bridge, waterfall and traditional lanterns.

That was a beginning, and it was helped along by a partnership established in the 1970's between Chicago and Osaka.  In 1993 the 20-year celebration of this relationship brought a gift of $400,000 from Osaka, funds that provided for a new front gate and fence that invited all who pass to come inside the garden.  

Hence, the present name of the site -- Osaka Garden.

Much of the information contained here comes from the excellent website of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference.  Its treatment of Osaka Garden is far more extensive than the brief history contained here, and I recommend it highly.

The site's discussion of the garden ends with an observation taken from the Osaka Garden Committee of Sister Cities International, "A garden develops over time . . . it is lasting.  The same is true of the relationships between people, nations and cultures.  Every gardener knows that quiet observation and attention to nature facilitate the success of a garden.  Likewise, peace and understanding facilitate our future." 

I started out my ride this morning with the magnificence of Rockefeller Chapel as my objective.  On the say I found the simple pleasure of a stunning setting in a city full of surprises.  

It was a good day.

1 comment:

Kristen said...

Sometime I marvel at how little glorious bits like this exist in our city and no one knows about it. I HAVE to come bike to this place one day. Absolutely beautiful.