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Chicago Conservatories: Keeping the City Green Since the Late 1800s

The Lincoln Park Conservatory. Postcard published by Chas, Levy Circulating Co., Chicago.
Chicago Conservatories have provided Chicagoans with a much-needed oasis of plant life—as well as year-round warmth—since the late nineteenth century. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, horticulture became popular during this time among city dwellers in the United States and Europe who were concerned about the negative effects of industrialization.

The Douglas Park Conservatory. Postcard published by B. Sebastian, Chicago. 
Three small conservatories were built between 1886 and 1888 in Humbolt Park, Douglas Park, and Garfield Park. The Lincoln Park Conservatory was built between 1890 and 1895 and still stands today. A fifth Chicago conservatory was built in Washington Park in 1897, only to be demolished in the 1930s. And the Oak Park Conservatory, which is still open today, was constructed in the Western suburb in 1929.
The Washington Park Conservatory and Pergola. Postcard published by Max Rigot Selling Co., Chicago.

In 1905, plans were made for landscape architect Jens Jensen to replace the three small conservatories in Humbolt, Douglas, and Garfield Parks, which had become poorly maintained, with one large conservatory in Garfield Park. With the help of three Prairie School architects and an engineering firm, Jensen designed the glass structure of the conservatory to emulate the shape of Midwestern haystacks and designed the conservatory’s interior as a series of indoor naturalistic landscapes. The building was badly damaged in a 2011 hailstorm, which shattered many of its glass panes. The Conservatory underwent extensive repairs for several years after the storm.
The interior of the Garfield Park Conservatory. Postcard published by V. O. Hammon, Chicago.

Today, the Garfield Park Conservatory is considered by many to be a “hidden gem” on the city’s West Side. It includes a Desert House, a Palm House, and the Prehistoric Era-themed Fern Room. In 2019, part of the conservatory roof had to be removed to accommodate the massive growth spurt of an agave americana plant. And an agave guiengola plant in the Desert House has shot up to skyscraper status this year. You can read more about these amazing plants and learn how to make margarita cupcakes with tequila, a distilled spirit made from the agave plant, as the star ingredient here [link]. No matter how dreary it may be outside, at least we can rely on the Garfield Park, Lincoln Park, and Oak Park Conservatories to provide us with some much-needed warmth and green surroundings all year round. 

-Story by Emily Ruzich


“Conservatories,” Encyclopedia of Chicago. 

"History," Garfield Park Conservatory website. 


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