The east side of Michigan Avenue in the Chicago Loop is home to Grant Park, nicknamed “Chicago’s Front Yard”. It’s a large park with smaller sections that have been developed into other popular parks. It became a park in 1844 and was originally known as Lake Park. Much of today’s Grant Park was formed with debris that was used to fill in Lake Michigan after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It has hosted several events over the years such as Lollapalooza, Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago Jazz Festival, Taste of Chicago, various sports championship rallies, and dignitaries. It was also the scene of the notorious 1968 Democratic National Convention riots.
To the south of the popular Millennium Park is one of the finest art museums in the world, the Art Institute of Chicago. Flanked by its signature lions, the building was built in 1893 with a modern wing that opened in 2009. For more, read my entry about the Art Institute.
Grant Park is full of gardens, sculptures, and public art. Sculptures are dedicated to Abraham Lincoln, Christopher Columbus, and John Logan. The southeast end, Hutchinson Field includes several tennis courts and baseball diamonds to provide recreational opportunities.
The Bowman and The Spearman, to the center west end of the park in Congress Plaza Gardens, are two sculptures of Native American warriors that “guard” Grant Park. They were erected in 1928 by Ivan Mestrovic. Interestingly, their weapons are nonexistent.
From the south end of the park, there are fantastic views of the city skyline, including three important buildings. The Prudential, built in 1955, was once the tallest building in Chicago at 41 stories. Two Prudential Plaza, built in 1990, features a large spire and is 64 stories high. To the right is the Aon Center. It was built in 1974 as the Standard Oil Building and was later known as the Amoco Building. It has 83 floors.
The crown jewel of Grant Park is the regal Buckingham Fountain. It was dedicated in 1927 and is one of the largest fountains in the world. 133 jets of water spray 14,000 gallons per minute and the center jet sprays 150ft into the air every hour on the hour for 10 minutes. It operates from 8am to 10pm. In the winter, it’s decorated with lights.
Buckingham Fountain, dedicated to the city by Kate Buckingham in honor of her late brother, Clarence, represents Lake Michigan. The four seahorses represent the four states that border the lake. It was modeled after the Latona Fountain in Versailles. It’s featured on the opening credits for Married…with Children.
The lakefront along Grant Park is part of the Lakefront Trail, an 18 mile track that sits along the lake. People use it for running, biking, dog walking, or simple enjoyment. It passes through beaches, other parks, and along harbors.
Grant Park has been a work in progress since it first opened in 1844. There are still several makeovers that can be done to the park to make it better, including removing the eyesore created by the train tracks sitting below ground level in the middle of the park. Although there have been many plans to cover them with more parkland over the years, only the creation of Millennium Park has been successful in eliminating some of the ugliness they produce. Hopefully the city can move forward with the help of private donors to create another success story like Millennium Park and make Chicago’s Front Yard even more of a special place for Chicagoans and the world to come together.