JPW Update – April 24, 2016

Greetings all,

We have been in communication with Bob Karr regarding our April 4 request to have a comprehensive community input process for developing new plans for the Park and particularly for reconsidering the Phoenix Pavilion concept. He told us after the April 11 JPAC meeting that he had been in discussion with Park District CEO Michael Kelly about the matter, and he has since reiterated that he and Kelly are reviewing the options and timing for a design process with public engagement. We will continue to push for such an open process.

Also at that same JPAC meeting, questions were asked about the Yoko Ono “Sky Landing” sculpture.  Bob would say only that it will be installed in the fall. This has prompted some recurring questions about how this installation came to be, what financial and maintenance agreements are in place, and more.  We have asked Bob to help shed some light on these issues as well.

In the meantime, we know that there continues to be understandable confusion about the Phoenix Pavilion – both the original Pavilion on Wooded Island and the new proposed Phoenix Pavilion on the parking lot just east of the Darrow Bridge – as well as about the Music Court.  We have developed the “Facts and Questions” piece that follows to help sort these things out.  We hope you will find it useful – please let us know. We will post it on the JPW website as well.

Facts and Questions about Project 120’s “Phoenix Pavilion and Music Court”

  • Project 120, on its website and in its presentations, refers to the “Phoenix Pavilion and Music Court” as if these were a single entity rather than two distinct concepts. It describes the proposed new Pavilion’s amenities as including “a new performance venue that incorporates the historic outdoor amphitheater (Music Court) designed by Olmsted” in a way that some might consider misleading. In fact, the two have separate histories.
  • The original Music Court was located on the east side of the (now closed) Clarence Darrow Bridge, adjacent to the current parking lot. At present, elements of the original semi-circular design are still in evidence in the remnants of the diagonal walkways, but otherwise the Court is difficult to discern today.
  • The Music Court was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1895 to have a bandstand in its center around which people might gather. The walkways were to be lined by formal rows of trees to provide ample shade for concert-goers. No permanent bandstand or other structure was ever erected though there were temporary platform stages at times.
  • The original Phoenix Pavilion, located on Wooded Island, has a separate history based in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.   In designing the site for the exposition, Olmsted hoped to keep Wooded Island free of buildings, wanting to retain it as a quiet, natural area.  However, exhibitors continued to petition to build there, and Olmsted concluded that the least disruptive plan was a temple and floral display proposed by the Japanese government.  Accordingly, in March 1893 the original Phoenix Pavilion, known as the Ho-o-den, was dedicated.
  • At the end of the Exposition, the Phoenix Pavilion was given to the City of Chicago. Restoration work was done on the structure in the 1930s as part of a variety of WPA projects in the Park. Sadly, the Pavilion was destroyed due to arson in 1946.
  • Starting in 2012, Project 120 developed plans for a radically different Phoenix Pavilion in a new location, on the parking lot east of the Darrow Bridge. Characterized as a visitors’ center, it would have a vastly expanded range of new functions including a café, exhibition space, a music venue, a multi-purpose room for meetings and (fee-based?) events including parties, lectures, and workshops, and of course restrooms (though, in fact, a restroom exists not far away that just happens to be the oldest extant building in the Park). Thai architect Kulapat Tantrasast of the firm wHY was hired to do the conceptual design that appears on the Project 120 website.
  • Questions have been raised as to the impact of this new Phoenix Pavilion on the Osaka Japanese Garden on Wooded Island not far away, since the proposed Pavilion would certainly disturb the tranquil atmosphere for which Japanese gardens are famed.
  • Questions have also been raised about the parking area that would be displaced by the new Phoenix Pavilion. Is it truly under-utilized today as some have claimed?   Nearby residents and Park users believe that claim is not merited. Of course, since the Clarence Darrow Bridge has been closed making it impossible to get from one side of the Park to the other, usage has in fact gone down. However, when ready access was available, the parking lot was well used by a variety of park visitors, ranging from birders to visitors to the Japanese Garden to people enjoying group picnics.
  • As a second-level consequence of the displacement of parking spaces by the large new pavilion, Project 120 is proposing to institute automobile traffic across the Clarence Darrow Bridge with parking along both sides of the roadway to replace the lost spaces. This would bifurcate the Park at its northern end and would likely turn what had been a safe pedestrian and bicycle path across the Darrow Bridge into a disruptive traffic artery that would also affect the space around the Columbian Basin now used for family picnics.

Questions? Comments? suggestions? Let us know at

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Jackson Park Watch
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