They say all good things must come to an end. Even if that thing is to be replaced by something else, often is the case the sentiment and meaning of the old thing is never truly brought back. This is how I feel with the recent closing of Daley Bicentennial Plaza in Chicago.
Daley Bicentennial Plaza was created in 1976 on top of a parking garage and named after late mayor Richard J. Daley. It consisted of a park district fieldhouse where classes and events were held, as well as tennis courts, walking paths, picnic areas, an ice rink and a playground. Located at the northeast corner of Grant Park, it paled in comparison to its newer sibling across the street, Millennium Park. And though it was connected to it by the Frank Gehry-designed BP Bridge, Daley Bicentennial Plaza was never overly crowded and not a major tourist attraction in itself. Its simplicity may not have drawn visitors, but it served the residents of the area perfectly.
This is why I always called it the Locals Park.
It was reported there was major water leaking from the park into the parking garage below it. The only way to repair the leak is to put a new membrane on top of the garage. In order to do this, the entire park has to be removed, destroying hundreds of trees and removing everything on top of it. What stood for over 35 years was to be obliterated. This I actually understood as a similar project occurred in Boston in the 1990’s when the parking garage under the Boston Common was leaking, however in this case only grass was removed as that was all that was on top of the garage.
Once the roof of the garage is repaired, a new park will be rebuilt on top of it. It will be named Maggie Daley Park after the late wife of former mayor Richard M. Daley, and the daughter-in-law of the previous namesake. From pictures and plans I have seen, it will be a beautiful park, complete with a rock-climbing area, new playgrounds, ponds and a skating ribbon. The new park is scheduled to open in about 2 years.
While the work is being done to repair the garage roof, there will be a major loss to the residents of the community, especially for those with kids. The playground – or playlot as it was called – was the center piece of the park for myself and my family, as well as many families that live downtown in the Loop. Surrounded by plenty of tall shade trees and with great views of the city skyline, it was an ideal location with a great set of equipment for kids to play and explore and get tired out on. Several times a week my kids would be climbing around and running on the rubberized surface, whether it was hot and sunny or cold and snowy out. When you live in a high-rise and you simply can’t open your backdoor to let the kids run around in the backyard, this was their backyard.
As my wife and I are raising “city kids” they have grown up on this playground and park, and we have the pictures to prove it! From infancy to today over the almost last 5 years we have images and video of our kids literally growing up in the park. Our oldest daughter’s first “friends” birthday party was held in the fieldhouse, and she used to attend play programs there until she started in school. The first time our oldest was on ice skates was on the rink in the park, which was nearly empty as compared to the rink over at Millennium Park. Seeing the kids at various ages using the same equipment in these pictures will always bring back fond memories for us. And not to forget times we spent in the park before the kids were born, whether it was walking in the untouched new-fallen snow or watching fireworks or just getting away from the sounds of the city. When the park was about to close my wife and I pondered the idea of taking “last” pictures of the park, but I decided not to, as we already have hundreds if not thousands of pictures of it already.
Clearing the old park has already begun. As seen in the photo below, on the left is what this pathway from Randolph Street into the park from the west used to look like, and on the right is what it looked like about a few weeks ago.
I was also amazed at how trees were being removed. The video below shows a tree being removed by a piece of heavy machinery which first grabs the tree, then cuts it close to the stump. From there, the stumps are ground up and the tree is gone. If you can’t see the video below you can view the video at YouTube.
Though this video is a sad image, it will be the furthest from my mind when I reflect back on the time I and my family spent in Daley Bicentennial Plaza over the past years. Of course the replacement will be a great addition to the city, but it just won’t be the same, and even though the new park will be progress for the city, fond memories of what once was will always remain. The new park will be a great park, but I am not sure if it will be a Locals Park after all.
This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.
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