Named for President and former Illinois resident Ulysses S. Grant, the center of activity in downtown Chicago is a 319-acre playground, proudly referred to as “Chicago’s Front Yard.” Grant Park, 331 E. Randolph St. (Columbus Drive), is located in Chicago’s central business district in the Loop Community area. Grant Park’s most notable features include Maggie Daley Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum Campus.
And of course, ‘The Bean. ‘
Grant Park today is bordered on the north by Randolph Street, on the south by Roosevelt Road, on the west by Michigan Avenue and on the east by Lake Michigan. The modern day park is famous throughout the world for its performance venues, sculptures, gardens, art work, sporting, and harbor facilities. It hosts public gatherings and several large annual events.
In the Beginning…
According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago History, Grant Park at the turn of the nineteenth century was originally deeded to the commissioners of the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1835. The boundaries of the park were Randolph Street on the north, 12th Street on the south, Michigan Avenue to the west, and Lake Michigan to the east.
At first, as the website says, ‘Lake Park,’ as it was called, was a mix of squatters’ homes and refuse sites for over 40 years, despite a ban on building out this public land. Initially, the Illinois Central Railroad ran parallel to the park in the Lake. Landfill eventually brought the railroad tracks into the park. Aaron Montgomery Wardbrought suit against the city in 1890, demanding that they clean up the park and remove the many structures which had arisen over the past several decades. The one exception was for the Art Institute of Chicago, constructed in 1892.
In the early 20th century, according to Wikipedia sources, Grant Park was expanded with further landfill and developed with a very formal landscape design by Edward Bennett. More landfill in the 1910s and 1920s provided sites for the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum of Natural History, and Shedd Aquarium, which were linked together as the Museum Campus in 1998. In 2004, a section of northern Grant Park, previously occupied by Illinois Central railyards and parking lots, was covered and redeveloped as Millennium Park.
There’s Something Happenin’ Here
Since its redesign and development as a civic gathering place for citizens and travelers, the park has been the site of many events.
Did you know…it served as the staging ground for the city’s funeral procession for President Abraham Lincoln in 1865? Nearly 150 years later, the park was the location for President Barack Obama’s Election Day victory speech on the night of November 4, 2008. In 1911, the park hosted the major Chicago International Aviation Meet. In 1959, to celebrate the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and a related International Trade Fair, Queen Elizabeth II, disembarked here from the Royal Yacht Britannia, giving the park’s “Queen’s Landing” its name.
In 1968, the park gained infamy as the scene of clashes between Chicago Police and demonstrators during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. On a much more peaceful note, Pope John Paul II celebrated an outdoor mass to a large crowd here in 1979.
More recent history included several championship celebrations for Chicago teams; for the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s, the Chicago Blackhawks after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013, and 2015; and for the Chicago Cubs for their World Series Championship on November 4, 2016, with an estimated 5 million people. In 2015, Grant Park also hosted the first outdoor National Football League (NFL) draft and related festival.
The Crown Jewels of Grant Park
Opened in 1927, Buckingham Fountain is the centerpiece of Grant Park. It was modeled after one of the extravagant fountains at Versailles, and includes four sets of Art Deco-style seahorses representing the four states bordering Lake Michigan. Operating from May through October, there’s a dazzling light and water display each hour, complete with music and a center jet that shoots up 150 feet in the air.
Millennium Park, according to Choose Chicago, is a modern take on the traditional town square. Your first stop, they say, has to be Cloud Gate, aka ‘The Bean.’ Next, splash about at the interactive Crown Fountain, hear live music and watch movies at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and surround yourself with nature at the beautiful Lurie Garden. Or, enjoy a concert at the Petrillo Music Shell.
Opened in late 2014, Maggie Daley Park became an instant success due its unique “Skating Ribbon” and magical “Play Garden”. Additions to the park in 2015 include the rock climbing and bouldering walls, an 18-hole miniature golf course, and picnic groves. The 3-acre Play Garden, a first of its kind in Chicago is in the spirit of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Events-Movies in the Park
The annual Millennium Park Summer Film Series takes place on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. Gates open at 5pm. Guests may take a seat at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or lounge on the Great Lawn. The series gets started next Tuesday night, July 11, and runs through late August. The July schedule includes:
- Tuesday, July 11: Fast Five (130 minutes, PG-13)
- Tuesday, July 18: Turning Red (100 minutes, PG)
- Tuesday, July 25: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (161 min, PG-13)
Grant Park is open from 6am-11pm seven days a week. For more information, click here.
Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago