The best discoveries are the kind you’re not expecting at all.
Biking home from the store in yesterday’s blissful sunshine, I took a longcut through the side streets near Touhy and Western. Lo and behold, as I cruised along ordinary streets lined with ordinary houses, I suddenly found this lovely mid-sized park, surrounded by several amazing period apartment buildings, full of people and life.
I was stunned. I spent about half a blissful hour walking around, investigating. I vowed to come back with my camera as soon as possible, which turned out to be today.
The most amazing of the period apartments is the Park Castle, pictured at top. It’s an E-shaped building that turns its back to rushing Western Avenue, choosing instead to face the park. The designers went to quite a bit of trouble to make this building live up to its name, with turrets both massive and tiny, crenelated parapet walls and brick corbeling the length of the cornice. Some less impressive but still nice apartment blocks form a complete wall of architecture on the park’s eastern side, a graceful enclosure that is the very model of an “outdoor room”.
The half-timbered apartment block on the park’s north side is lovely as well. A section of Estes Street was closed down to join its courtyards directly to the park. This was a change made in the 1960s, in imitation of the adjacent apartments on the east side, whose front courts directly abut the park.
The park features a massive playlot with a climbing complex; it is supposed to mimic an Indian village but its wooden construction brings to mind a frontier fort, ironically enough. A pair of metal plaques inset into massive granite rocks tell the story of the play lot and the Indian Boundary Line, a treaty line set up in 1816 and occupied by the Potawatomie Indians (and having lived in Milwaukee 7 years, I recognized that the plaque doesn’t use the most common spelling of the name.) Typical of American dealings with the natives, the treaty only lasted till 1833. Land for the park was first acquired in 1915.
A Tudor Gothic field house, from 1929, is the park’s headquarters, and hosts various classes and events. A steady stream of park visitors was entering and leaving the building as I passed by.
And in the park’s opposite corner is… a zoo?
Yep, it’s a children’s petting zoo, normally occupied by goats, sheep and the like. Aside from this adolescent goose, it’s empty at present; I don’t know if it’s just for the winter or a semi-permanent closure.
There’s more — tennis courts, a water play sprayer thing — but I don’t mean to just make a laundry list of amenities. This is a lovely park, one of the prettiest and most charming I’ve found in Chicago. It has the right mix of fields and trees, development and grassland, architecture and nature. It’s comfortable without being bland. It’s really a great park.
I’m delighted to find this amazing gem so close to my home, and stunned that I’d never encountered it before. Just goes to show there’s a whole lot of Chicago left for me to see.