Chicagoans Celebrate Spring Thaw during What’s Out There Weekend

The Windy City was in full thaw June 11 and 12 and What’s Out There Chicago, facing stiff competition from major music and food festivals, proved irresistible to more than 1000 people intent on experiencing great landscape design during clement weather.

Following the success of last fall’s What’s Out There Weekend DC – do we call this a two-peat? – 25 Chicago area parks, gardens and public spaces, stylistically spanning more than 150 years of design, were the focus of free, expert tours.

Nathan, Tawse and Bachrach at Room & Board
Board member Jo Ann Nathan, Bonnie Tawse
(author of the Chicago Kid's Guide), and Julia
Bachrach from the Chicago Park Districtat the
Room & Board's launch party and book signing.

The weekend was inaugurated with a well-attended reception Thursday, June 9, hosted by Room & Board with sponsors Bartlett Tree Experts, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, Parkways Foundation, Chicago Park District Historian Julia Bachrach, TCLF board members Jo Ann Nathan, Peter Schaudt, and Bill Quinlan, in addition to numerous other sponsors, supporters, and enthusiasts.

Visitors at Lake Point Tower

tired trolley riders
(upper) Visitors on the Lake Point Tower tour;
(lower) Trolley riders on the South Parks tours
Here’s a quick rundown of the weekend’s highlights: Graceland Cemetery (which has absolutely nothing to do with Elvis), a rural cemetery established in 1861, was the subject of landscape architect Ted Wolff’s two extremely well attended tours. Graceland, known as the “Cemetery of Architects” (many of Chicago’s great architects are buried there), was designed by a series of significant landscape architects, including H.W.S. Cleveland, Swain Nelson, and O.C. Simonds.

The roof garden at Lake Point Tower, a private site to which access is restricted, was also a real crowd pleaser. The Prairie style landscape, a masterwork by Alfred Caldwell, sits on the building’s third floor above three levels of parking. This private green oasis provides expansive views of the city and Lake Michigan. The garden is in the midst of a thoughtful restoration under the guidance of Hitchcock Design Group and their team members Joel Baldin and Becky Froeter-Mathis led tours of the garden.

Twelve sites in Chicago’s great West and South Parks were the subject of multiple tours. Trolleys provided by the Parkways Foundation enabled scores to take multiple tours throughout the weekend.

Columbus Park

Mosaic Activity
(upper) Columbus Park; (lower) Mosaic making
wiith The Chicago Mosaic School.
Landscape architects Peter Schaudt and Mary Pat Mattson curated an engaging series of tours through the city’s downtown plazas and public spaces. These culminated with a real treat for Modernists at the Dan Kiley-designed Art Institute of Chicago South Garden. Landscape architect Joe Karr, who worked in Kiley’s office on this project in the 1960s, provided a remarkable tour of the site.

What’s Out There Weekend Chicago saw the launch of a broad agenda of children’s programs and activities including a downloadable 20-page educational coloring book, nature art at Columbus Park, fishing hosted by the Chicago Park District at Sherman Park, and mosaic making at Exelon Plaza, home of a giant mosaic by Marc Chagall.

Media attention included features in Time Out Chicago, listing of the weekend in “Ten Things To Do in Chicago This Week” by Explore Chicago, the Chicago’s official tourism Web site, and special attention from the Chicago Tribune’s influential architecture critic Blair Kamin, who noted “the importance of landscape architecture in Chicago – a subject that's frequently overlooked because of all the attention paid to the city's justly-celebrated architecture.”

Next up, What’s Out There Weekend San Francisco, September 17-18, which will focus on that city’s distinct legacy of Modernist landscapes. More details soon!