Parks home. Burnham Park homepage, Burnham Park Timeline, Promontory Point Park. homepage and programs.

Harold Washington Playlot Park (also about the parakeets) AND Harold Washington Park "Action" Council

This page is brought to you by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Parks Committee and HPKCC's website,, and is not an official page of an advisory council or the Chicago Park District. Contacts about the park and re-forming council are as below. This page is written by Gary Ossewaarde, HPKCC Parks Co-chair.


What do Paul Cornell, Jens Jensen, Harold Washington, model yachts, monk parakeets, tennis tournaments, Harold's Playlot , and dog walkers have in common? Harold Washington Park! And the Park "Action" Council sees that the park is at its best and can enjoyed by its users, and has appropriate programming.

An unstaffed park of the South Region 312 747-7661 and under supervision of Nichols Fieldhouse, 312 747-2703 (Nikki Peters). Formerly known as East End Park (donated in 1856 by Paul Cornell) and later a "room" in Burnham Park. One of the busiest parks in the area, especially at picnics time! Re permits and private events call CPD Park Services, 742-5369 or find Special Events and Permits in the CPD website.
The HW Park Advisory Council was reconstituted in 2014. Vice President is R Carson. New officers are being sought for nomination in November 2015.
Active members include Jocelyn Floyd, Louise McCurry, Gary Ossewaarde, and Sue Purrington. More members and volunteers representative of the surrounding community and the sets of park users are needed. Contact Louise McCurry, 773 844-2225.

September 22, 2018, Saturday. AM- Beyond a Mamogram 5K Walk and Run.
3-6 pm- park cleanup and walk-through for repair work orders, recuitment for PAC. Meet at corner 53rd and S. Hyde Park.

Meetings. HWPAC meetings re-forming- tba

Congratulations to HWP- the tennis courts are one of several sets in the city to be refurbished thanks to a grant from the Pritzker Family Foundation.

July, 2016. Members of the public have expressed disappointment in the seemingly poor general upkeep of the park and especially the feces and algae in the pool/basin. Discussions are being made with downtown. The pond aerators are to be or are in process of being repaired. Another attempt will be made to get a PAC and volunteer patrols/cleanup started. Gary Ossewaarde, HPKCC parks committee.

ONE OF FOUR CHICAGO ARCHITECTURE BIENNIAL PAVILIONS (WINNERS OF DESIGN CONTEST) WAS TO COME TO HWPLAYLOT PARK IN 2016-see story below. HWPAC was among those shocked by this (mailbox, breadbox were among appelations). The park district tried to repurpose it as a storage shed for unused Segways-- moving or removing chess tables to accommodate. Ald. Hairston was finally able in April 2016 to have the plan vetoed.

Plans are moving ahead for outreach, committees, and park improvements.
In September and early October 2015, the yacht basin was drained for the season and leaks sealed, benches were repaired and painted, the washrooms renovations and painting were completed.
Alderman Hairston has committed to park programming next summer, such as the salsa dancing this summer.
The PAC's target ask is for an informational kiosk in the southwest corner. A target for next year is gardens.

2015 accomplishments included- new state of the art playground, collection of historical materials, clean ups, walk throughs resulting in pictures of problems sent to the Park District with work orders. Five boxes of books from National Lewis and IIT libraries were distributed in the Harold Washington Commemorative Committee and HPAC's name to children at the 4th on 53rd in Nichols Parks.

(There was a highly successful workday despite the cold on Feb. 21 2015. Volunteers from the Chicago Zoological Society worked and were given history of the park. Another workday was held April 21 Earth Day.)
Walk throughs for problems and submittal of pictures to the PD for work orders are done periodically.
Plantings and seeds are being prepared for the garden.
Five boxes of books were distributed to area children in the name of HWAC at the 4th on 53rd Parade and Picnic. Books came from IIT and National Lewis libraries and were arranged by the Harold Washington Commemorative Committee.

DECEMBER 1 2014: HWPAC was formally relaunched. In the presence of park supervisory Nikki Peters,
OFFICERS- Thomas Allen was elected president, vp R Carson VP, Stephanie Pursley Treasurer. Bylaws were passed, CPD paperwork done, committees identified, selected tee-shirt-- bright chartreuse.ed, sections and ideas for further discussion were held (partially based on the November walk through).
The January 5 meeting featured a presentation with a representative from the Chicago Zoological Society on their programs in parks and schools.

BACKGROUND AND DETAILS. The group started meeting in summer 2014 with help from the 5th Ward Office (Lanita Ross), Chicago Park District (Maria Stone), Friends of the Parks, and Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Parks Committee (Louise McCurry and Gary Ossewaarde co-chairs). The group is very diverse but needs more folks from the surrounding high rises.
For now contact person is Timika. But interest in joining can be communicated to Lanita Ross.

The first workday and idea-gathering walk through was held early Saturday November 15 2014. 4 bags of garbage picked up in 15 minutes. Dog-walkers seem to predominate at that hour and were happy to share what they like and amenities they would like to see in the park-- how about replacing a poor water fountain with a nice one with a spigot at the bottom for dogs? Other dreams include an entry feature at 53rd and Hyde Park and later one at 51st, improvements to soccer and volleyball opportunities, maybe a track by the pond and even ice skating there.
What would YOU like to see? Contact the above and come to the meeting.

June 22, Saturday, 3:30 pm Mayor Emanuel, Aldermen Burns and Hairston, and Park District Superintendent Mike Kelly presided over a ribbon-cutting and celebration of the renovated Harold Washington Playlot, one of the larger playlots in the whole city. Fresh, with vibrant equipment and fresh surface. The previous playground (see picture and more pictures) was made and furnished with unusual equipment by community subscription led by George Kotnour, Irene Sherr and others in the 1990s and was adored, but suffered from wear over the years. Refurnishing was under the citywide Chicago Plays! program under which CPD, with Friends of the Parks, and the safe playgrounds initiative of Lurie Children's Hospital undertook the renovation of the park playlots over 5 years starting in 2013. Communities and PACs were encouraged to draw up a vision, gather petition signatures, select equipment, participate in completion of installation, and commit to upkeep projects over time.

Met Monday July 6, initially at the Del Prado and then completed the meeting with a safety walkthrough of Park
We welcomed Sue Purrington originally from 5th ward office and Busy Hyde Park Activist to HWAC PAC.
Discussed Success of July Fourth HWPAC youth book giveaway at the July Fourth Parade and shared pictures.
Took our HWPAC community outreach questionnaire to the PARK and began interviewing park visitors.
Sue showed us the broken bathroom toilets, the broken concrete and broken Lights. We located the mowed over HAROLD Washington and took pictures.
We went to the boat pond and took pictures of the dirty water and broken water spray and filter and overgrown hiding the view of people inside the pond fence.
We forwarded all pictures and requests for repair to the Park District by email to appropriate departments.
Louise took pictures and spoke at the CPD board meeting and Superintendent Kelly met with appropriate departments at the meeting to get repairs done.

August 3 2015:

In late July the park district completed repairs and work orders. At a walkthrough following the August 3 meeting, we found the work done including to the washrooms and its facility. We photographed for work order trimming low-hanging branches at walks. The pond/model boat basin has been cleaned and the water and filters are working. Details (Louise McCurry):
-Repaired and repainted broken tennis court bench.
-Replaced broken toilet in women's bathroom
-Removed the grafitti in the men's bathroom
-Replaced the broken door frame
-Painted both bathrooms and external doors.
-Repaired the broken filter in the boat Pond and the water was clean ,
We found that the park district staff weeded and mowed Harold's Garden-- perhaps in preparation for redoing it as we asked or possibly because it was weedy and unkempt- wild, but we had hoped to seed some annuals, put in bulbs this fall, and do a major restoration next year. It is very thick with turf grass, so will have to be rototilled.
We found the park very active including with a soccer game. Since a high proportion of the users are latino, we wondered if we should investigate asking for bilingual signage. Details:
Every Tennis court was full. With a waiting line.
Soccer large adult pick up game with large Hispanic audience
Playlot filled with families and kids.
4 chess games at the chess tables with audience for each game.
2 separate community meetings taking place on 2 separate benches.
Badminton game at the net area
Dogs and Dog walkers throughout park
Joggers, skateboarders, and bicyclists throughout.
Bird watchers,
Youth Softball practice,
Multiple folks reading on the benches.
And rabbits scurrying around the bushes keeping ahead of the dogs.

Requests and plans before Next meeting.
-We will request CPD to trim up the trees which obscure the pond from view, and the "in your face" tree limbs overhanging walking paths.
-We will request correction of Playground night lights covered by trees and dimmed, resulting in adults hanging out in the playground after dark. (We found adult garbage: liquor bottles, beer cans, and dime bags in the playground during our May and June cleanup.)
-We will request a park sign in Spanish for the many Spanish speaking families we met in our walkthrough .
-We will design a Harold Washington map tshirt (like the Beautiful Jackson Park Blue and Yellow Map Shirt) and make available to our active members to wear as positive park PR
-We will ask the UC to send students from their Days of Service in September to Harold Washington Park for the mulching of trees.
Each of us will spend at least an hour in the park recruiting interested community members.
We will send our pictures taken today to Timika to add to the Harold Washington Park Facebook Page.
Polling the members to change next meeting (Labor Day) to August 31, Monday.

After the meeting, the city, park district and Chicago Architecture Biennial announced a pavilion feature for HW Park:

Few details were given in Blair Kamin's Tribune article of August 5 2015 ( "The [metal] barrel-roof...kiosk would divide into two triangular spaces.... one commercial [concession?] and one communal." The "communal" section appears to be open, and how large is unclear. One could imaging all kinds of activities, including imagination-stimulating, tours, programs there or starting there from-- a destination. Location was not indicated in the article-- conceivably it could be intended to replace the basin and its sculpture, but that could be controversial. And this is assuming it will be placed in the park, west of the Drive. HW will ask for some details at the CPD board meeting.
The inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, opening October 3 and hq'd at at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, held an international design competition with 421 entries from over 40 countries for an initial four legacy artistic pavilions or kiosks. The first four will be placed initially in Millennium Park for the Biennial, then relocated in 2016 to lakefront parks: Grant Park, Montrose Beach, North Avenue Beach, and Harold Washington Playlot Park in Hyde Park. The grand winner, "Chicago Horizon," evocative of the work of Mies van der Rohe, is by Aaron Forrest, Yasmin Vovis and Brett Schneider with the Rhode Island School of Architecture; its final place will be at Queens Landing across from Buckingham Fountain. That for HWPP is the design of Colorado architect Paul Andersen and Chicagoan Paul Preissner.
Each will be realized under supervision from one of four Chicago architecture schools, that in HWPP by University of Illinois at Chicago.



Soutnwest entry into Harold Washington (East End)  Park.  All pics by Gary Ossewaarde


South end of the park looking across n-s path (in framework plan the future great spine) located west of the HW Playground and the Tennis Courts.
Part of the HW Playground, with special equipment bought by public subscription in the early 1990's.

A small part of Harold's Playground

September 29 2007 saw a fine Dedication of the restored Model Yacht Basin with Virginio Ferrari's "Ecstasy." East end of 51st Street near Lake Shore Drive. The basin is beautiful, people were sailing boats, there are new lampposts, and the sculpture fits perfectly. To more and picture of the program with sculpture. In later years there were problems with the basin not being filled (at least until late summer) or dirty/scummy and often with the gate locked due to liability concerns.


Visit related Burnham Park pages - Burnham Park Framework Plan, Burnham Park History Timeline, Lakefront Protection Ordinance, Burnham Natural Area (47th), Promontory Point home, Shoreline Protection and Park Expansion in Burnham Park, Morgan Shoals (45th to 51st). South Lakefront Access. See also links in Parks home or Other Parks-Burnham. Tennis information and contacts: Recreation Resources Directory. Chess-from Harper Court to Harold's Park. Dog Friendly Area page.
Park-specific: Visit the Monk Parakeet Website. Our monk parakeet page.
Chairperson Irene Sherr's comments on dog run, call for June 6 community meeting.
To drawing of framework proposal
. July 19 2004 charrette

Short information about the park, from Park District site (abbreviated) as of December 2014

Harold Washington Playlot Park
5200 S. Hyde Park Blvd., Chicago, Illinois 60615
Park Hours 6 am-11 pm
Phone 312 747-6620

Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, HWPP is a great recreational destination enjoyed by park patrons and their families. This park contains tennis courts, picnic areas, a motorboat pond, chess tables and volleyball poles.
Popular activites at this park include chess, volleyball and soccer

History. In 1906, the City of Chicago acquired a stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline in the Hyde Park community. Noted landscape and Special Park Commission member Jens Jensen described the 10-acre site as "the most valuable" property within the agency's holdings. Due to severe lakeshore erosion, however, he also pronounced it "an eyesore...of no value to the public as a place of recreation." The following year, the commission implemented Jensen's plans for the new East End Park, installing trees, lawns, walks, and benches. City funds for the desperately-needed shoreline protection were not forthcoming, however, and in late November, 1912, a severe storm destroyed the dilapidated breakwater. Seven years later, the City Council transferred East End Park to the South Park commission as part of a far-reaching program t develop the south lakeshore and improve passenger service on the Illinois Central Railroad. It was the South Park Commission that finally installed permanent lakeshore protection, and in 1927, East End Park formally became part of the South Park system's Burnham Park. By 1930, the South Park Commission had constructed a wading pool, model yacht harbor, and tennis courts on the former East End property. In 1934, the South Park Commission and 21 other independent park boards were consolidated into the Chicago Park District. For years, the park district made only minor improvements in the former East End Park, concentrating its efforts elsewhere in Burnham Park. Int eh early 1990's, however, the park district replaced the wading pool with a new spray pool and constructed and elaborate soft surface playground. Officially severing the former East End property from Burnham park, the park district renamed the site Harold Washington Park in 1992. A lawyer, state legislator, U.S. congressman, and Hyde Park resident Harold Washington (1922-1987) was also Chicago's first mayor of African-American descent.

[for earlier information and further details including parakeets, framework planning, and the basin see below or visit Burnham Park and Burnham Park Timeline- links at top.]


Alderman Toni Preckwinkle and Council Chair Irene Sherr update below on the Model Boat Basin and the Virginio Ferrari sculpture--the basin is a signature element of the park that merits reconstruction and a chance to add a world class sculpture. Dedication Occurred September 29 2007. Many public entities and key private donors contributed to make this happen: Bruce Clinton and the other members of his family, assembled from all over the country (sculpture and funds), the new owners of adjacent Regents Park Towers, other private donors including JP Morgan Chase, The State of Illinois thanks to State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, The City thanks to Mayor Richard M. Daley and Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Chicago Park District. Harold Washington Park Advisory Council was key (Irene Sherr, president), and pro bono planning services from Leigh Breslau of Skidmore, Owings, Merrill. See below for the dedication program with picture. Alderman Preckwinkle and her office did most of the connecting that got this project funded.

Hyde Park Herald July 12, 2006. Ferrari Sculpture finds its home. (then) Alderman Toni Preckwinkle

Without a doubt, Mayor Daley has made Chicago one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Millennium Park epitomizes this legacy of the mayor and his commitment to the arts, the importance of public spaces in the making of great cities and the power of public-private partnerships. About a year ago Millennium Park opened to rave reviews, throngs of people enjoying the city, concert, open space and public sculpture.

I have marveled at the energy, beauty and pleasure that Millennium Park has brought to visitors and residents of the city. I couldn't help but wonder if one could marshall the same caliber of resources on a neighborhood scale.

At about the same time the Harold Washington Park Advisory had just released its conceptual plan for the enhancement of Harold Washington Park. The plan, developed through pro-bono assistance from Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (the same firm that, coincidentally, did the master planning for Millennium Park) focused on strengthening the park's inherent assets.

The proposal for the park included a sequence of varied outdoor spaces, a more coherent pedestrian circulation system, a sculpture garden at the north end of the park and improved access to a renovated water basin.

Following the release of the Harold Washington Park plan, Bruce Clinton, former owner of Regents Park, generously offered to donate a sculpture, titled Ecstasy, for installation in the park. The sculpture, striking in its simplicity and elegance, was created by the internationally renowned sculptor and Hyde Park resident Virginio Ferrari. The sculpture was originally installed at the main entrance to Ravinia in Highland Park.

Both Mr. Clinton and the advisory council realized that the installation of the Ferrari sculpture created a fortuitous occasion to repair the historic Boat Basin.

Unfortunately, the basin was no longer in need of a few repairs; it now required a major renovation, close to $1 million, which was far beyond the means of any single entity.

Mayor Daley learned of the community's desire to renovate the basin and install the sculpture. He quickly recognized that this represented a prime opportunity to leverage both public and private resources (the sculpture alone is valued at more than $300,000) to not only repair a major park feature but to provide a neighborhood park with a world class piece of art that will be visible to thousands of people every day as they travel along Lake Shore Drive.

The Chicago Park District identified alternative construction options and technologies that significantly reduced the cost of renovation. In addition, the Clinton Family Foundation generously committed $100,000 and Bruce Clinton persuaded Crescent Heights (the new owner of Regents Park) to contribute $50,000 towards the project.

The Chicago Park District will finalize the project costs in the next few weeks. We anticipate that additional funds will still be necessary.

I have pledged funds from my 2007 infrastructure allocation and have offered to assist the park district and the advisory council in securing whatever additional funds are needed. Construction is scheduled for later this summer, with installation of the sculpture in October.

I want to publicly thank Mayor Daley for his tremendous support of this project. Without his support of the arts and his commitment to maintaining a world-class lakefront this would not be possible.

I would also appreciate the tremendous work, leadership and generosity of the Chicago Park District, Martha and Bruce Clinton, Crescent Heights and of course, the Harold Washington Park Advisory Council. We have successfully marshaled the same caliber of resources that coalesced around Millennium Park to address a neighborhood opportunity.

This summer I have enjoyed noting the vast range of activities in Harold Washington Park. It hosts day camps, tennis leagues, walkers, bicyclists, casual conversations among neighbors, pick-up soccer games, family reunions, dog walkers, parakeet lovers and chess players.

The park's appeal will now expand to attract art lovers. Travelers along Lake Shore Drive will again enjoy a landmark water feature. My thanks to everyone who has helped to make this park enhancement possible.


Dedication program with photo, and program description

Basin and Ecstasy  dedication program front page

Description, fromn the dedicain porgram

By Irene Sherr, Council Chair

Letter to the Herald, July 26, 2006

On behalf of the Harold Washington Park Advisory Council, I would like to express our gratitude and appreciation to Mayor Richard Daley, the Chicago Park District, Crescent Heights, Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) and Martha and Bruce Clinton for their dedication and tremendous support for the installation of the Ecstasy sculpture by Virginio Ferrari in the soon to be renovated model boat basin at the north end of Harold Washington Park.

Both Mr. Clinton and the advisory council realized that the installation of the Ferrari sculpture created a prime opportunity to leverage both public and private resources (the sculpture alone is valued at over $300,000) to not only repair a major park feature but to provide a neighborhood park with a world class piece of art that will be visible to thousands of people every day as they travel along Lake Shore Drive.

The park district identified alternative construction options and technologies that significantly reduced the renovation costs of the basin. In addition, the Clinton Family Foundation generously committed $100,000 and Bruce Clinton persuaded Crescent Heights to contribute $50,000 towards the project.

[Ald.] Preckwinkle has pledged funds from her 2007 menu and the South East Chicago Commission has offered to assist the park district and the advisory council secure whatever additional funds are needed.

We are pleased that the various public and private entities were able to work together towards an important community improvement. Once again, our thanks to all.

Irene Sherr

As in the Hyde Park Herald, June 21, 2006. In response to several inquiries via letters to the Herald. It is partially superseded by the article above.

I would like to update the community on the status of the proposal to install a Virginio Ferrari sculpture in the Model Boat Basin in Harold Washington Park.

In June 2005 the Harold Washington Advisory Council endorsed a proposal for the installation of the "Ecstasy" sculpture, donated by Mr. Bruce Clinton, in the model model boat basin (5200 South Lake Shore Drive, on the west side of the street). Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th), the South East Chicago Commission and the Hyde Park Arts Center have also expressed interest and support for this project.

Earlier in 2005, the Harold Washington Advisory Council developed an improvement plan with pro-bono assistance from Skidmore Owings and Merrill. The plan was developed through a community process and, coincidentally included a proposal for a sculpture garden in the vicinity of the Model Boat Basin.

The installation of the Ferrari sculpture creates a fortuitous opportunity to repair the Model Boat Basin and begin immediate implementation of the advisory council's improvement plan. The Model Boat Basin is in a state of disrepair and at or very near the end of its useful life. The Chicago Park District estimates that he renovation of the basin will cost approximately $1 million.

The Chicago Park District has pledged $300,000 towards the repairs. In addition to the sculpture, which is valued at over $300,000, the Clinton Family Foundation has generously pledged $100,000 and the new owner of Regents Park, Crescent Heights, has committed $50,000. Mr. Clinton, the advisory council and the Hyde Park Art Center have explored various funding options for the remaining $650,000 with limited success. One possibility might be to reduce the size of the basin and therefore reduce the reconstruction costs.

The Ecstasy sculpture can serve as a catalyst to repair a deteriorated, historic public resource and enhance the south lakefront with a piece of world class sculpture.

With or without the sculpture, the Boat Basin warrants repair. The costs of repair only increase with time. We would like to work with the city and the park district to develop a plan to restore and maintain this signature element of the park.


President Irene Sherr wrote the following concerning the Council's award from the Park District, 2005:

I received a call yesterday from Robert Steele and Alonzo Williams of the Chicago Park District. They informed me that the Harold Washington Park Advisory Council has been selected to receive the Lakefront Region’s Advisory Council Award for Partnership with the Chicago Park District. The award will be given on September 17th [2005], 10:00 am at Northerly Island.

I have been asked to accept the award on behalf of the Council. I think we have done a lot as a Council and am proud of efforts and the effective relationship we have with the Park District. There are a few other people who also merit recognition including Advisory Council members; Randi Doeker, Gena Moser and George Kotnour and Chicago Park District staff; Alonzo Williams, William Tillis, Arnold Randall and Bob Foster. I appreciate everyone’s sustained interest and support. I have attached a summary of our activities that the CPD requested.

2006 news: Bruce Clinton donated a major c1975 sculpture by Virginio Ferrari for use in Harold Washington Park at 51st. Ferrari described the gift. Neighbors analyzed framework concepts, and HydeBark DOG presented its ideas and distributed its survey. Also, resurfacing of the tennis courts will be done this year.

Left: Virginio Ferrari's "Ecstasy".

Below: The East Hyde Park Blvd. (51st St. ) edge/entry to Harold Washington Park, suggested (here or way east) for Virginio Ferrari's work by donor Bruce Clinton, whose Regents Park apartment complex is across the street as evidenced by the sign and mini garden in the left picture. Right looks along the EHPB park edge from where it turns north into a de facto parking lot and secondary exit from Lake Shore Drive. The underused part of the park east and north of here is suggested for passive uses friendly to seniors.

From corner of Regents Park at East End, E and S Hyde Park Blvds (5100 S, 1600 E.)
Looking west from east end of East Hyde Park Blvd.

Advisory Council History:

In the 1990s the PAC was preceded by two ad hoc groups, that concerned with creating an iconic playground and the other that maintained "Harold's Garden" (see pics) toward the northeast part of the park. (Members of the Hyde Park Garden Fair were involved in the latter.) Tennis groups were also active. Before this, the model yacht basin users were active.

In the early 2000's (starting 2003) Irene Sherr led the new advisory council, which met at Rodfei Zedek and often had attendance in the 30s and occasionally higher. Concerns were the playlot, the basin, tennis courts (which were resurfaced with some other improvements), request for a dog park, issues with noise and overuse and security issues, and creation and implementation of a framework plan for the park. Draft of the latter was prepared by Leigh Breslau of SOM, which was vetted and approved. One of its proposal was a destination kiosk. In September 2005 the council received a major award from the Chicago Park District. Repair and reopening of the Model Yacht Basin with a major sculpture was a crowning achievement. A loss or not was of the famous "Harold's parakeets."

Attendance waned and new leadership sought to carry on the work, including acquisition of a set of chess tables (accomplished), and consideration of new ideas for the park. Leaders included Joseph Kelly and (president) David Hoyt. Coincidently, the Hyde Park Farmers Market moved to 53rd St. at the park adding vitality summer mornings.

In 2014, concerned by deterioration of the playlot (then its long fencing off during the reconstruction that started in November, was suspended over winter and slow spring and completed in June) and other concerns, expressed for example in the popular Good Neighbors blog, people demanded community action. Timika Hoffman-Zoller of Hyde-Kenwood Community Conference Safety Committee and an officer in the Elm Park PAC, filed paperwork to establish a new PAC, which will hold its inaugural meeting June 7, 2007 at Nichols fieldhouse.


Earlier meetings

At the December meeting, Park District reps included Region Manager McDonald, Area Manager Hyatt, Marketing Dir. Pagone, and Outreach Dir. Steele. McDonald was able to show progress or scheduling for most items on the punch list. There was discussion of those items that may be capital, and of means of getting more information esp. on tennis court, playground, and framework planning issues. The council firmly opposed a parking lot at the north end of the park and had McDonald's support in its opposition. To resolution of support by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference with letter of President Rumsey in the Herald, for opposition to the parking lot.

The October meeting formalized a position for Budget Hearing (especially items at the tennis courts and playground) and committee activities and communications.

The October council meeting reviewed progress in fix up and cleanup, decided what more needs doing or, being capital) needs a show of force and firm requests at the November 5 park district budget hearing--especially the tennis court and play equipment (once the best in the city but now fallen on bad times). The Council reiterated its committees and commitment to fundraising. At the budget hearing, the council, standing as a group and ably spoken for by Irene Sherr, made an impressive presentation, winning praise from Superintendent Doig and Ald. Preckwinkle.

At the November 2003 Park District budget hearing:

Irene Sherr and the Harold Washington council (which stood in the aisle in solidarity) thanked the District for recent repairs and cleanups but took the district to task over deterioration of the tennis courts (a regional draw) and Harold's Playground.

At the council's first meeting in September, about 15 gathered at Congregation Rodfei Zedek to tell the Park District, represented by Community Outreach Director Robert Steele, about severe problems in the park. Also attending were Renee Chester from Friends of the Parks, Gary Ossewaarde from HPKCC, and Bob Mason from SECC.

Problems centered around trash (although emptying of containers is good), failure to perform maintenance and upkeep- with several serious safety dangers described-, tennis courts needing reconstruction, playlot needing reconstruction, park district crew performance, crowd management, and more.

We saw letters prepared for the park district and a filled-in park survey form from Injury Free Coalition for Kids, available from Children's Memorial Hospital. Judging from the "NO's" and the comments, the playlot does not pass.

The group was told it should constitute, arrange a walk though with the region office, prepare and present its punch and budget lists, and keep reporting problems.

Committees were formed under leadership of Irene Sherr to deal with landscape/upkeep, playlot, and tennis court issues.

The walk-throughs and subsequent visits by park district work crews were a resounding success. An extensive punch-list log is being kept.

April 2005. Nearly 40 residents attend HW Council meeting, seek support for dog park, more parking

More in Dog Friendly Area page.

About 40 came to the Harold Washington Park Advisory Council in April, 2005 to demand a dog park. This issue raises very strong passions both ways, but the varied parties believe a workable solution (and non-intrusive siting) can be found. The process for getting a dog park is very stringent, and the majority of funds are expected to be raised in the community. (Supporters are also upset that this city requires such parks to be paved with concrete.) A meeting of parties with officials is expected in the spring. See a Herald letter in support of a dog park at Harold Washington below.

Bearing a heavily signed petition, the residents living mainly in the sector south of the park, asked procedures and sought council support for establishment of a dog park in Harold Washington Park or the stretch of Burnham to the south. They specifically sought designation of a spot for such a park on the framework plan. One place prominently suggested by council members was the underused section by the recovery for the 50th Street pedestrian overpass.

Acting president Irene Sherr and South Lakefront Manager agreed that a late spring meeting will be devoted to the issue, which both the park's aldermen, the park district point person on dog parks and [then] Planning and Development Director Arnold Randall would be asked to attend with copies of the procedures for petitioning for a dog park. The next meeting will also be open for discussion of the issue, along with the many other matters needing council attention.

These residents also requested efforts to increase parking in the area. Members pointed out that loss of park green space is generally not on the table and garages etc are an enormously expensive and non economic use of land. (And Hyde Parkers have proven unwilling to pay for parking spaces when provided- ed.) Sherr and others assured that every effort will be made to look at maximizing parking in the plan. Also, the framework is very much in progress, more input is desired,- and many of the park's abuses come when people flock there and find... no parking! Parking by cars on the park was another major complaint at the meeting. Punch list work is underway in the park.

Letter to the Herald April 13, 2005: Even dogs wanna play

by Joyce M. Norman and Jules Quinlan

Thanks to the Herald's article about the master plan for Harold Washington and Burnham Parks. Over half of the 30 people attending the April 4 meeting of the Harold Washington Advisory Council committee were dog owners. They asked that an enclosed dog play area be part of the plan, which proposes improvement and renovation to the park area west of Lake Shore Drive from 50th to 55th Streets.

The attractive drawing of the master plan, compliment of Skidmore, Owens and Merrill, who is donating input, raise both positive and negative issues. Positively, there is the prospect of a more beautiful and useful park area. Negatively, as more people are drawn to the park, noise, parking and cleaning become bigger problems.

The meeting was dominated by the dog owners who strongly feel that a more useful park must include and enclosed dog play area. Dog owners are not only among the biggest users of the parks but also "contribute" the most money to the city, given the mandatory ticketing for dog leash violations. Other city violations in the parks are often overlooked or simply result in warnings. Even the potentially dangerous violations of cars being driven and parked in the parks at night do not warrant the issuance of tickets. For dog owners it's a different story.

The other issue raised at the meeting was the stringent process required for getting a dog park. To date there are zero dog parks in Hyde Park despite efforts by dog owners going back five years. Other park users, like tennis players and the model yacht enthusiasts have not had to face such obstacles, nor have they been asked to contribute half of the cost of development and construction of their facilities.*

The chairman of the Harold Washington Advisory Committee, Irene Sherr, was most accommodating about listening to the dog owners and inviting them to regularly participate in meetings. She was also very forthcoming about putting everything in perspective. As yet, there is no private, nor community, nor city money to realize the master plan, and the park district has not yet committed itself to the plan.

The park district has been working in Harold Washington Park in recent weeks, putting up the tennis court nets early, pruning every bush in the park, adding mulch and cutting up tree stumps and renovating the bathrooms. Further, there was a hint that the park district may be considering the needed resurfacing of the tennis courts which are used for practice and meets for both Kenwood and King High Schools. There was also talk of stopping the leaks in the model yacht basin before refilling it.

The way for much more to happen, including even the realization of the master plan with the addition of t he dog play area, is for more people around the park and in the community to attend the meetings of the Harold Washington Advisory Committee.

[*Ed. note: several projects in area parks have been done with about half or significantly more community or other private contribution including Kenwood Park playground and gateway, the Fountain of Time sculpture and basin and Allison Davis Garden in Washington Park, major facilities including the Skating Rink in Midway Plaisance and the track in Jackson Park. Tennis groups will have to contribute in Harold Washington if the courts are to be rebuilt as opposed to resurfaced. Renovation of the model yacht basin brought majority funds from many and diverse sources, some governmental and others private. Gary Ossewaarde. ]

Herald coverage, April 20, 2005

Dog owners crowded the April 4 Harold Washington Park Advisory Council meeting to lobby for a dog run to be included in a recently unveiled master plan. To get approval for an enclosed dog area, the park district is looking for a long-term commitment from dog owners to help with maintenance and to raise dollars to help get it built, said Arnold Randall, [then] the park district's planning director.

"These can be controversial," Randall said. "[The approval process] is extensive and it's designed to be that way."

Dog owners who live near Grant Park spent years lobbying and raising money for a dog run before winning approval. The 13,000-square-foot dog run, nicknamed Grant Bark Park, will cost $150,000 and is set to be built this spring. Owners of dogs caught without leashes in Chicago parks can face fines of $500 or more.


June 2005: some member and audience reactions to the council architects' framework ideas

Some thought the plan formalized and divided up the park too much. preferred to let people make the immediate choice on what and where in the park.

Some opposed the linear promenade and particularly any "tall" trees defining it.

There was serious skepticism about trying to put the picnic area back closer to the Drive (especially with no close parking. But others insisted the noise et al from the picnics be pushed away from the high rises. (Others thought the picnic and parking on lawn problems policing issues. ) There was also skepticism about a wetland close to the Drive (as per Burnham Framework).

Most liked additional benches and lights and moving the comfort station closer to the playlot and tennis courts.

Most expensive so least likely: rehabbing the Model Yacht Basin c. a million.

In August the Park District was pricing various components so the council can set its priorities.

Sculpture donation

Sculptor Virginio Ferrari, and Italian who has long lived in Hyde Park, announced at the June HWAC meeting that Bruce Clinton has donated one of Ferrari's pieces, the tall bronze abstraction "Ecstasy." This piece stood at Midway Studios at Ingleside and 60th, and for several years was at Ravinia in Highland Park until bought by Clinton in 1998. Calling the piece an urban sculpture, Ferrari persuaded Clinton the piece should be on display in Hyde Park, preferably at the east end of 51st/Hyde Park Blvd. where it could anchor a sculpture garden and balance the horizontal Model Yacht Basin. Ferrari is also working on another piece with a donor, 8 foot tall geometric shapes that have been suggested for the Model Yacht Basin or for the adjacent lakefront. Installation is nearing completion in the basin. See features above. See picture at top of page.

Ferrari has at least 30 public pieces in Chicago, including 4 in Hyde Park--"Dialogo" at the U of C Pick Building in the 5800 block of S. University, the set of concrete balls in Ray School yard (Kenwood north of 57th) called "Like the Time They Go," and "Interlocking" (stainless steel) at the Lab School. His most famous work is the stainless "O" within a "C" that stood on State Street.


Archives continue.... pictures, parakeets, and more about the 2002-7 council

Views of the park in a rather dry summer.

Harold's Playlot in HWPark
Part of Harold's Playlot
Part of Harold's Playlot

Harold Washington Playlot, on the park's east side north of the tennis courts, is a key component, treated by the proposed framework plan as its own room, east of the grand path. Public subscription supported the purchase of specialized equipment in the early 1990s. The equipment is hard to replace or repair. See another view at top of page.

Chess bench-tables, immediate right, are a new feature (2005) anchoring and livening up the southwest entry sector (upper right, view facing northward) at 53rd and S. Hyde Park.

East of this sector is the active area of the park that the framework preparers hope to make more passive, moving picnics north and east. This was the original home of the Hyde Park Monk Parakeets (see stories below). In the background of this south-facing view is the (modern) Del Prado Hotel. East of there is the Hampton House (orig. Sisson Hotel) where Harold Washington lived and that was once just across a narrow road from Lake Michigan. (Pictures coming)

Kitty corner from Hampton House and present South Shore Drive and continuation of Burnham Park west of Lake Shore Drive are the tennis courts, important to many including Kenwood Academy and due to be at least resurfaced in 2005



New chess seats and table at se corner of the park.

Harold Washington tennis courts


North from the soutwest corner of Harold Washington Park

Harold Washington Tennis Courts

More views of the south end and some of its framing historic hotels and of the now-meandering spine that the framework architects want to make a unifying and defining promenade. One proposal is to build an improved comfort station closer to the playground and tennis courts.

Into the park from near south edge Looking north in south  part of park A long view south therouh south 2/3 of park toward Hampton House and DelPrado
Looking south close to south part of park Southwest past comfot staion to hotels Long veiew south along the wandering spine

A former special feature of the park- Monk Parakeets

Monk parakeets. Monk parakeet website (basically a search-topic site)

In March 2016 WTTW carried a feature on decline of the Monk Parkeet in Hyde Park and indeed the country. Several theories have been put forward, but predators such as the paragrene falcon and nest removal by utility compannies and property owners are largely discounted by those who have studied the matter, such as Stephen Pruitt-Jones of U of C (“Urban parakeets in Northern Illinois: A 40-year perspective” in the journal Urban Ecosystem) and Nat Miller of Chicago Audubon. Disease effects such as from West Nile are largely unstudied. The answer perhaps lies in basic ecology-- these non-natives may have bred up to then surpassed the carrying capacity (including human help and changing habits-- the birds can be noisy and messy) of their habitat and spread out, then as a consequence of over population plus weather extremes dropped sharply in numbers and have since been adjusting toward stasis. In any case, there are plenty to see in various locations of Hyde Park and the parks south/southeastward along the shore and in the suburbs.

The first major release in this country of Myiopsitta monachus allegedly occurred in 1967 when a crate broke open at Kennedy Airport (although the pet-birds had been escaping for years) and the released parakeets set up a nest in Central Park then spread checkerboard across the country, augmented by individual releases--the "pets" are very noisy! New York exterminated almost all, but a pair in Brooklyn have started to re colonize the city. The monk or hooded or green parakeets are true parrots and live in the wild in South America, while what we buy as "parakeets" in stores are from a different family found in Asia. Contrary to folklore, the birds are fully capable of over wintering here. Their homeland is Argentina.

The first pair arrived in Hyde Park and started building a large colonial nest in Harold Washington (then East End) Park in 1980, as documented by Doug Anderson. Mayor Harold Washington is said to have liked to watch the birds and say he would never lose so long as the monks remained--so they weren't disturbed during his tenure. But as soon as he died, Park District staff attacked them. Birder Doug Anderson and others formed a committee that challenged in court the Department of Agriculture rationale for the parakeet's destruction--that they supposedly were a threat to Illinois cropland (they eat such seeds as dandelion, filling the niche left by the Carolina parakeet--but witnesses attest to this writer that the parakeets wreck apple trees, at least in the suburbs). The birds carry on, even though the largest nest was removed at the turn of the 21st century when trees were removed for bike path safety and improvements.

The birds have spread throughout the region, although still most prevalent on Chicago's South Side- 15 nests in Hyde Park alone. Com Ed and many residents want them removed, saying they wreck transformers and poles as well as being very noisy and, they say, messy. Parakeet nests are communal but with each has a separate compartment and entrance. They could benefit from planting of olive trees--but beware they are noisy! Watch for the streak of green with green and blue wing feathers and a gray underbelly. The birds are fist-sized.


Parakeet original home tree falls, babies rescued

The original Hyde Park monk parakeet nesting tree in Harold Washington Park, long askew and on Park District watch list, finally decided to fall over June 12, leaving over 50 parakeets homeless. Here is the Hyde Park Herald's report. Note: the "parakeets" are actually in the parrot family. The article contains much background, see more below. Individuals helped rescue and nurse 20 abandoned young. This rescue was led by Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club but with a host of other institutions and organizations involved. It has led to establishment of a regular procedure and notification in case of a nest takedown whether in a park or by Com Ed at alley transformers. A bird rescue group, Greater Chicago Caged Bird Club, sends members to care for fledglings or unhatched eggs found on the scene. (None were found at a March 22, 2005 Com Ed takedown in the 5000 block of Dorchester.) The group advises on removal so it can be done between broods. Leader Nancy Carlson said these birds are very industrious and nests are often back within weeks.

Mayor Harold Washington's role in staying attempts to remove the parakeets, and his attitude toward them have been told in different ways and may have become part of folklore (i.e. ...said he "would never lose and election so long as..."). What is certain is that as soon as he died in 1987, city crews swarmed down to break the nests up. A committee led by Doug Anderson quickly formed and sued, challenging the bird's alleged "threat" to "Illinois crops," and won. In May, 1988, the federal Animal Damage Control office backed off. (Note- the parakeets can in fast damage certain garden plants.) The Park District's approach remains ambiguous, while ComEd destroys nests where possible. Anderson says threats to power distribution is from squirrels, not parakeets. Other witnesses dispute this.

It was at the least bad timing or judgment when Pepe's Mexican Food employees (1310 E. 53rd Street) took it upon themselves to destroy a parakeet nest behind their restaurant the week after the tree fell.

Parakeet home topples, Monk parakeets scattered after "Harold's Tree" suddenly falls

Hyde Park Herald, June 16, 2004. By Mike Stevens

A towering ash tree splintered and fell to the ground in Harold Washington Park June 12, displacing more than 50 monk parakeets from the tree's large twig nests.

Chicago Animal Control workers rushed that evening to move the toppled nests, some of which had young broods of parakeets, to a towering cottonwood farther north in the lakefront park.

"It was loud, it tilted over and came falling down [with] a big boom. The birds started flying and screaming. It was shocking." said Brenda Cochran who was working across the street at the Hampton House. "[The birds] were hysterical just like a human [would be] if his house was on fire and if his children were trapped."

Local bird watcher Doug Anderson said the nests housed seven pairs of birds and their young. The 70-year-old Hyde Parker has been studying the parks's parakeets for 24 years. "The tree that went down Saturday is where [monk parakeets] first started nesting [in Hyde Park]," Anderson said.

The nests became famous in 1988 after then-mayor Harold Washington, whose apartment overlooked the park which now carries his name, helped foil city plans to remove the bright green birds from the park.

It was a very old tree, it was leaning and had a cavity," said Shirl McMayon, natural resources director at the park district. Park officials had been watching the nearly 100-year-old tree for a year but its location and stability did not rate it for removal quite yet, McMayon said. The nests also contributed to the district's decision to delay removal. Park District officials expected to finish removing the tree by Monday.

Built from twigs and sticks and lined with grasses and tissue paper, monk parakeet nests can reach over 1o feet in length. Multiple pairs of birds live in the nests, but each has its own compartment with its own entrance. Although they look ramshackle, the nests are sturdy and provide sufficient shelter for the Argentinean birds to survive the biting winter winds off Lake Michigan, Anderson said.

There is a chance some pairs of parakeets will reject their new home, leaving many broods of baby parakeets to die. With over 200 monk parakeets living at more than 15 different sites throughout Hyde [alone], Anderson has faith in the resilient species Myiopsitta monachus.

"They're already seeking out new sites to start building up a new nest," Anderson said.

Thought to have been originally shipped to America to be sold as pets, enough of the South American birds eventually escaped somehow or were deliberately released that colonies of the horn-beaked birds took up residence in New York City's Central Park as far back as 1967, Anderson said.

The green feather cover on the fist-sized bird's back and head and blue feathers streaking their wings and gray ones muting their underbellies distinguish these birds, in case their squawks don't call attention to themselves.


In more detail: Herald coverage June 23 20?? Articles periodically appear in city and local papers.

Parakeet rescuers recount successes

By Mike Stevens.

City workers scrambled to relocated dozens of monk parakeets after an ash tree in Harold Washington Park toppled to the ground June 12 destroying three twig nests. Workers from Animal Control, the Police Department, the Park District, Streets and Sanitation and even the Lincoln Park Zoo came to the birds' aid.

While 95 percent of the parakeets survived the fall, Animal Control officials are not certain all the birds can adapt to the new nests.

Local birder Doug Anderson worried that the relocated birds might perish despite all of the efforts. "I don't know how the babies would be accepted," said Anderson who has studied Hyde Park's monk parakeets for 24 years.

Animal Control Supervisor Mary Czeropski, who helped rescue the birds, was hopeful. Czeropski had already clocked out and was minutes from heading home when a call about "injured parrots" came through to the Western Avenue Animal Control branch the day the tree fell.

"I knew we didn't have enough animal control officers to take the call. We only had three trucks for the whole city," said Czeropski, who owned a parakeet as a child. Czeropski grabbed holding cages, nets, work gloves and fellow supervisor Andrew Glanos before heading out.

Upon arrival, the pair started pulling apart the nests in search of stranded birds. "We were in feathers and digging around in bird feces for four hours," Czeropski said. "You have to love what you do."

Czeropski and Glanos gathered a total of 50 young parakeets as their parents flew above the downed tree shrieking. "We could not bring all those birds back. They need to eat every hour. They would have perished immediately," Czeropski said.

Brenda Cochran, who works across the street from the felled tree, watched the rescue from start to finish. "It's a blessing [for the birds] to survive something like that," cochran said. "It makes you cry because that tree has been there for so long. It's their home."

While the pair scouted a new nest location in the park, a Lincoln Park Zoo bird expert and a veterinarian monitored the birds. A city tow truck moved cars to make room for a Chicago Park District work crew which cleared branches in search of more birds.

Meanwhile a police officer tracked down extra terry cloth towels to keep the fledgling birds warm. A manager of ACE Hardware, 5420 S. Lake Park Avenue, reopened the store so the officer could get the towels after hearing about the birds' plight.

Glanos and Czeropski began working to reconstruct the twig pile in the old tree into a nest. "We started placing the newborns [and] covered them with a terry cloth towel. We kept doing that layer by layer for four different floors. It was like a condominium," Czeropski said. As night fell Czeropski chose a spot for the nests in a towering cottonwood tree that already had two nests in it. A Chicago Park District work crew helped [place the nests an the birds 20 feet up in the tree using a lift.

"We had everything working against us. [There were] a couple of hours left of daylight. It's a Saturday when most city workers are at home," Czeropski said. "[But] all the city departments came together."

Last Thursday, the Herald found some of the terry clothe towels sitting at the foot of the new tree. Czeropski took that as a good sign saying perhaps the parents had thrown the towels out upon their return.

Since the monk parakeets' predicament made the nightly news, calls from people looking to help flooded into Animal Control offices, Czeropski said.



From the Dec. 20 2006 Herald--parakeets fly south

Paraphrase of article by Daniel J. Yovich

First sighted in the area in Hyde Park's Harold Washington (then East End) Park in 1979, they quickly established nests throughout the neighborhood and parts of Jackson and Washington parks. then they showed up in Northwest Indiana, Evergreen Park, Bridgeview, and Palos Hills.

According to University of Chicago biology students who have been censusing and tracking the birds under professor Stephen Pruett-Jones, the number locally stays about 150. It seems the juveniles aged about one year travel elsewhere. There is an annual census Christmas Day c. 8 am.They have lots of human help to survive the winter as attested by feed sales at the Hyde Park Co-op.

Model Yacht Basin

Model Yacht Basin



Model Yacht Basin

The historic Model Yacht Basin that anchors the north end near 51st Street and frames great views from all sides has many defects and has been a focus of consideration and proposed new features from the Burnham Pk. Framework Plan of 1999 to 2005 framework planning.

Ideas include new paths to and around, a sculpture or fountain (both rejected by some as counter historic), skating in winter including a warming house, a better way of sealing it, and encouraging picnic use south of the basin. Send your ideas to Irene Sherr.

U of C researcher seeks volunteers in tracking parakeets

University of Chicago Chronicle, March 15, 2007. By Katie Brandt

Alien invaders exist in Chicago; it's a proven fact. They are little and green, and for the past four decades they have surveyed human life in the city from on high. Now, though, one University scientist wants to turn the tables. Stephen Pruett-Jones, Associate Professor in Ecology & Evolution and the College is initiating a year-long Chicago-area survey, encouraging locals to turn their eyes to the skies in search these foreign creatures, a.k.a.--in this case,--monk parakeets, native to the tropics.

Pruett-Jones and research patner Christopher Appelt at Saint Xavier University want to generate a map of all active monk parakeet nests stretching from Northwest Indiana into southern Wisconsin.

Hyde Park residents first reported sightings of the alien species--indigenous to Central and South America--in the late 1960s. Though people kept and continue to keep the parakeets as pets, these sightings were of feral parakeets perched in treetops or on massive nests made primarily of sticks.

Researchers believe the original feral parakeets in Hyde Park were pets that had escaped their owners. In the wilds of this South Side Chicago neighborhood, they formed colonies, and by the 100s their population had expanded to an estimated 400 birds.

Now they are expanding again--only this time geographically. During the past eight years, "their numbers in Hyde Park have declined, whereas in surrounding communities their numbers have skyrocketed," Pruett-Jones said. "This work will help us better understand the biology of this interesting species and the reasons for its moving out of the city as well as nest site preferences," he said.

After an initial study, Pruett-Jones concluded that the parakeets were moving away from the city vial corridors along train lines and utility structures. They also have switched their dwelling from oak and elm trees to conifers and utility poles, which prove hazardous because "when the nexts get wet during rain and snow storms they can cause electrical shorts, power outages and electrical fires."

Those hazards are no shock to Hyde Park residents who watched workers from the electrical power supplier ComEd remove a 10-foot wide nest from a utility pole in 1997. A debate erupted between the alien species' advocates and residents who feared for their safety and property values.

"Understanding he present distribution of nests and how corridors of open space facilitate a change in that distribution may help minimize this danger," Pruett-Jones said.

People who spot the feral green-and-gray creatures and know locations of active nests should send a description of the nest's exact locations and any other information regarding the parakeets to the researchers at and or call 773 702-3115.



Archives continued. A Park Critique

One of the reasons the strongest previous council was formed and a top mission was to get the park district moving on park upkeep and upgrade, and if necessary raise funds for the park. In March, 2003, someone who just returned to the area from the west suburbs e-mailed many in the community expressing dismay at the looks of the park. She named 11 points she thought should be addressed. These have been seen by the Council as well as Alderman Preckwinkle. A walk though with park district staff will determine what should be addressed, how, and in what order.


Herald feature: Harold Washington Park in line for new improvements

Hyde Park Herald, January 14, 2004. By Mike Stevens.

A newly minted advisory council hopes to help rehabilitate the deteriorating Harold Washington Park between 50th an 53rd Streets. The group of East Hyde Parkers first met in September because of rising concern about cracked and weedy tennis courts and a shoddy see saw.

"We had to reactivate ourselves," said Irene Sherr, who helped organize a group that brought new playground facilities to the park in 1990. Cracks, weeds and ruts in the eight tennis courts make play difficult and even unsafe for competitive players, according to council member Bob Velasco.

"In our area, tennis has died because people have talked about [repairing] courts but nothing has been done," said Velasco.

Acting on the council's request, the park district has promised to make the courts playable in time for summer. Council members hope to raid funds that that park district could match for a costly resurfacing of the court. The cost of the project could run upwards of $60,000. A fundraising event is planned for May.

Fundraising isn't the only avenue being examined by the resourceful board. Sherr lobbied school superintendent and Hyde Parker Arne Duncan for assistance in repairing the court. Kenwood Academy's tennis teams use the courts.

The group also tossed out long-term ideas for the park, which included an expansion of the water play area, improvements to landscaping, developing pathways and improving lighting.

The group has not formally registered with the park district as an advisory council, a process that would require writing by-laws, keeping minutes an voting in officials. For now the group prefers to remain casual, said Sherr. The groups unofficial status did not deter three park district officials and Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th) from attending last week's meeting.

The formation of the group in September marked the first time in almost a decade the park has benefited from a group. Because the park has no programming or fieldhouse, a regularly-meeting group has been difficult to maintain, according to Friends of the Parks President Erma Tranter. "There have always been people looking out for that [park], whether it's formalized is another question," said Tranter.

The park is named after former Chicago mayor Harold Washington. His a[partment in the Hampton House overlooked the park.


History, features, and character of the park

There has been an East End Park since long before Burnham Park or Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago. Hyde Park founder Paul Cornell gave the land had built a park there in 1856,, although much of it soon washed away and was later protected with early seawall. Today there is a large granite boulder with a testimony to Cornell's generosity, a few yards in from 53rd St. opposite the Del Prado. Presumably the donation was not to Chicago but to Hyde Park Center, which preceded the 1889 annexation. (See also the Burnham Time Line)

Harold Washington Park was carved out of Burnham Park East End Section in 1989 to honor the late Mayor Harold Washington, who lived across 53rd Street in Hampton House and liked to look out over the park and its famous monk parakeets. (Original proposal was to have 5 statues in the Model Yacht Basin.) The park runs from 51st to 53rd, Hyde Park Blvd. to Lake Shore Drive. The Park and its playground were dedicated July, 22, 1992 after community fundraising that started in 1990 under a committee headed by George Kotnour and Irene Sherr. A monument to Harold was installed October, 1992. (By logical extension, the Council has adopted the block north the 50th and south through the 54th playlot.)

Park features include one of the few south lakefront set of tennis courts, picnic groves, the miniature yacht basin (targeted for upgrade), Harold's Garden (which was often planted and tended by members of the Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee), and Harold's Playlot (which has special equipment secured with 80,000 in locally-raised funds added to park district money and which now needs major repairs or replacement). In the park is also the west branch of the Lakefront Bike Trail, now in detour pending completion of Lake Shore Drive reconstruction, and a comfort station. More on recreational facilities in Recreation Directory.

Recent patrons of the park have been Hyde Park leaders Irene Sherr (of note as council president) and George Kotnour.

A major feature of the past was Harold's Garden, tended, though without direct permission, by volunteers of the Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee of HPKCC. After a series of disregards and changes by Park District staff, the volunteers gave up the effort. However, here is the successor, near the Drive and east/southeast of the Yacht Basin.

The new Harold's Garden
The new Harold's Garden

Return to Advisory Council History

The Burnham Park Framework Plan and recommendations for Harold Washington Park

Outline from Chicago Park District, January, 2004


Mission Statement:


Key Challenges

Recommendations 47th Street- 56th Street


New Framework plan and view of the January 31 2005 provisional plan:

Council debuts new plans for H. Washington Park

(See draft map below)

Hyde Park Herald, March 16, 2005. By Mike Stevens

The harold Washington Park Advisory Council unveiled a long-term master plan last week that recognizes the park's pathways, creates separate activity areas and establishes a coherent landscape design. Almost a year in the making, the tentative framework plan is designed to draw more users into the park and improve access to previously underutilized areas, particularly the park's northern end, council President Irene Sherr said.

"[This] is an attempt to unify the park," Sherr said. "It just defines nd strengthens what's already there." The proposed changes would likely be phased in gradually but without funding construction is always off, Sherr said. The Chicago Park District has seen the proposal and is working out a rough cost estimate.

Many of he existing walkways are remnants of old roads or paths and prove incoherent as a whole, Sherr said. To remedy that, a proposed promenade meanders through the length of the 10-acre park. The slow curving walkway would connect a proposed community garden at 50th Street to existing tennis courts at 53rd Street.

The park's northern edge is in for the largest proposed changes. The design reconstructs a portion of the 5000 block of South Chicago Beach Drive, which now resembles a parking lot, to create more green space. Additions, such as the proposed community garden, which replaces the adjacent field, better serve seniors who live in nearby high rises, co-designer Peter Kindel said.

Since July 2004, Kindel and Sherr's husband Leigh Breslau, both of whom work at the Skidmore, Owings, Merrill architectural firm, have surveyed the park, gathered design suggestions from council meetings and drew up two rough sketches all free of charge.

"Obviously the park is a great asset for Hyde Park and it deserves to be treated as such, Kindel said. "It really needs a good makeover in the next three or five years and hopefully [the city] will be able to move forward."

Although excited about he new design, council member Gena Moser is already thinking about fund-raising ideas. "My mind set right now is how do we translate that [design] into reality," Moser said.

After watching the rest of the south lakefront get a recent facelift, Moser hopes Harold Washington Park where were two kids play regularly, is next in line. "They have done all that wonderful work on the other side of [Lake Shore Drive]and we'd like to see it match up," Moser said.

The park's renaissance is literally still a rough sketch and many decisions remain, Sherr said. The council is looking or resident input...


Draft of proposed Harold Washington Framework Plan, start of 2005. Provided by the then council chair Irene Sherr.

Skidmore: Peter Kindel and Leigh Breslau

Harold Washington Park draft Framework-2005- Skidmore and Leigh Breslau


More views of north part of park, suggested for passive uses, sculpture, and or a dog park. Note the 50th St. overpass for Lake Shore Drive, also known as the "cardiac bridge." From here the park becomes alternately a parking lot/Drive exit and extremely narrow until lost on the west side of the Drive until it re-emerges as Burnham Park proper north of the Newport, 4800 Chicago Beach Dr.

North of 51st North of 51st
North of 51st Overpass north of 51st St.