Saturday, February 5, 2011

Illinois Centennial Monument at Logan Square (Part One)

Illinois Centennial Monument (JWB Photo, 2010)
Even as war was breaking out in Europe in 1914, Chicagoans looked four years ahead, trying to decide on the appropriate way to celebrate the centennial of Illinois statehood.  President James Monroe signed the Statehood Enabling Act on April 18, 1818, and Illinois' first governor, Shadrach Bond, was inaugurated on Otober 6, 1818.  The state's first constitution was adopted on August 26, 1818, the date that appears on the State Seal.

So the Riverdale Pointer announced on October 2, 1914, "Illinois' one-hundredth birthday will be commemorated by a monument of imposing design to be erected in Logan Square.  A model of the monument, the work of Henry Bacon, sculptor, has been accepted by the West Chicago park commissioners.  The site is one which was selected by Frederick Law Olmstead, and is a commanding location where many streets converge.  The design shows a column seventy feet high, surmounted by an eagle. This addition to the city's commemorative shafts will be provided by the Ferguson fund."

There, in just a few sentences, we find three great names (Bacon, Olmstead and Ferguson), a plan of parks and boulevards that continues to make Chicago one of the most beautiful settings on the planet (especially in the warmer months), and a great monument (now nearly forgotten).

Notce Morris B. Sach's, Chicago's own Flatiron Building
The "square" where the monument stands is now a circle, but the concept for the space has a distinguished pedigree.  Plans for a system of boulevards and parks within the city was proposed as early as 1849 when an early resident, John S. Wright, proposed, "I foresee a time, not very distant, when Chicago will need for its fast increasing population a park or parks in each division.  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 not their equal in the World." []

The Chicago Tribune endorsed Wright's idea in 1866 and in 1869 the state legislature  established the North, South and West park districts, giving each body the power to levy taxes and to regulate all land use within 400 feet of the boulevards that were also created as part of the legislation.  Building setbacks were set at 50 feet and the districts were even given the power to review all building designs that fronted the boulevard system.

In 1870 architect William LeBaron Jenney, the father of the metal-framed commercial building, entered into a contract to design the West parks system, a system that today includes Garfield, Humboldt and Douglas Parks.  The boulevards in Jenney's plan were given a formal treatment and lined with trees while the parks were treated more informally.  Also part of Jenney's plan were five impressive squares, one of which is Logan Square, at the turning points of the boulevards.

The Chicago Park District was created in 1933 and was given charge of maintaining
 both the parks and the boulevards in the system all the way to 1959, when the city took over responsibility for the boulevards.  Such a huge resource has proven difficult to maintain, and it is in better shape in some places than in others.  Logan Square has fared better than most, primarily because the citizens living in that area took charge, creating Logan Square Preservation in 1980, a move that eventually led to Logan Square receiving both National and Chicago Landmark status, the first in 1985, the second just five years ago.

The landmarked district includes Humboldt Boulevard north of Cortland Street, Kedzie Boulevard, Logan Square and the Illinois Centennial Monument, Logan Boulevard to the Kennedy Expressway and 330 buildings facing these boulevards.

That sets the stage for the monument, which sits proudly atop a sloping circle of grass at Milwaukee Avenue and Logan Boulevard.  Information about the statue itself comes in the next blog.

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