After the state legislature created the South Park Commission in 1869, the designers of New York's Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, were hired to lay out the 1,055-acre (4.27 km2) park (which included the Midway Plaisance and Washington Park). Lois Willie explained in her book Forever Open, Clear, and Free, "Olmstead said Jackson Park should be water oriented, with a yacht harbor, winding walkways around the lagoons, small bridges, bathing pavilions, and plenty of space for boating." However, their designs were not put into place at that time, and Jackson Park remained untouched until Chicago was chosen to host the World's Fair several years later. One of the landmarks that recalls the 1893 Columbian Exposition is the Statue of the Republic, only it is now a replica one-third the size of the original. The designers used the Statue of Liberty as inspiration when they were creating the original. Today the statue stands at the site of the 1893 Expositions Administration Building.
Known originally as "South Park", the landscape had eastern and western divisions connected by a grand boulevard named the Midway Plaisance. The eastern division became known as "Lake Park"; however, in 1880 the commission asked the public to suggest official names for both the eastern and western divisions. The names "Jackson" and "Washington" were proposed. In the following year, Lake Park was renamed "Jackson Park" to honor Andrew Jackson (1767–1845), the seventh president of the United States.
In 1890, Chicago won the honor of hosting the World's Columbian Exposition. In 1891, Jackson Park was selected as its site. Olmsted and Chicago's architect and planner, Daniel H. Burnham, with his partner John Wellborn Root, laid out the fairgrounds. A team of architects and sculptors created the "White City" of plaster buildings and artworks in Beaux-Arts style. The historic World's Fair opened to visitors on May 1, 1893. It was Root's last project, as he caught pneumonia and died in January 1891, two years before the fair's opening. After the fair closed, the site was transformed back into parkland, as the fair buildings were not designed to be permanent structures. Jackson Park featured the first public golf course west of the Alleghenies, which opened in 1899.
Most of the park burned to the ground after the fair closed. A headline from January 9. 1894 read "THE WHITE CITY IN FLAMES; FIRE DESTROYS THE FAIREST OF THE BEAUTIFUL BUILDINGS". The Palace of Fine Arts decayed after the fair until it was reopened as the Museum of Science and Industry in 1933. Sears, Roebuck & Company president Julius Rosenwald donated the initial investment. During World War II, vandals severely damaged the Japanese Garden. The Chicago Park District waited for decades before considering repairing it. Eventually, the city of Osaka donated money for the refurbishment.
During the Cold War, part of Jackson Park contained a Nike Surface-to-Air Missile site and the nearby "Point" was used as its radar station.
In the 1950s, Jackson Park's Wooded Island was almost leased to the Army to become the location of an anti-aircraft installation, but was strongly protested against, as the Park District had given the Army other location options and Jackson Park's Wooded Island was spared.
In 1965 the people of South Chicago were growing tired of the traffic jams on Lake Shore Drive, so the city made plans to widen the road, straighten its curves and run it straight through Jackson Park. Women and children then conducted protests and rallies around tree stumps. The efforts eventually brought results and the city halted roadwork after it had already gone halfway through the park.
In 1972 Jackson Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
While a comfort station and the North Pond Bridge, both of which date from the 1880s, are still in use, every structure built for World's Columbian Exposition was long ago destroyed by fire, demolished or moved elsewhere, except for the old Palace of Fine Arts, now the Museum of Science and Industry, the only fireproof building at the fair, which fell into disrepair and was rehabilitated with a $5 million grant in 1930 from Julius Rosenwald (President of Sears, Roebuck and Co.). The only other relic from the fair still in the same location is the "Garden of the Phoenix", a Japanese strolling garden that was formerly known as the "Osaka Garden". It was reconstructed on its original site on the Wooded Island after being vandalized during World War II. (By itself, the Wooded Island is considered one of "150 great places in Illinois" by the American Institute of Architects.)
The only other significant building that survived the fair is the Norway Pavilion, a building now preserved at a museum called "Little Norway" in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. "The Viking," a replica of the ancient Viking ship "The Gokstad", built at Framnes Shipyard in Sandefjord, Norway in 1892 and sailed across the Atlantic to the fair in 1893, is currently located at Good Templar Park in Geneva, Illinois.
The full-scale replica of Columbus' flagship the Santa María rotted in the Jackson Park Yacht Basin (along Promontory Drive) near La Rabida. In May 1952, what was left of the rotting hulk was dismantled and dredged out of the Yacht Basin.
The Art Institute of Chicago also occupies a building originally constructed for the Exposition, with the intent of housing the museum upon closing of the fair; this Exposition building is the only one not located in Jackson Park. Girders from fair structures were reused in the construction of Dunns Bridge and the Sugar Creek Chapel Bridge.
During the summer season for the Chicago Park District (Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend), the 63rd Street beach and the adjacent Lake Michigan is a destination for beachgoers. The Beach House competes with the South Shore Cultural Center and Promontory Point as South Side beachfront special-use facilities in the Park District. The park also hosts the Chicago Landmark 63rd Street Bathing Pavilion, the 18-hole Jackson Park Golf Course, two walking trails, as well as two basketball courts.
The Lakeside Lawn Bowling Club and the Chicago Croquet Club share two natural grass courts just off Lakeshore Drive and Science Avenue, to the south of the Museum of Science and Industry.
The Jackson Park Golf Course, which opened in 1900, was the first public golf course in the Midwest. It was free until 1920, and in 1925 it was named the world's busiest golf course.
Jackson Park is connected by the Midway Plaisance to Washington Park (see Encyclopedia of Chicago Map). In accordance with a canal that Olmsted wanted built between the two parks, a long excavation was made on the Midway, but water has never been allowed in. It is connected to Grant Park by Burnham Park.
Jackson Park is home to over two dozen species of birds, including a well-studied population of feral monk parakeets, descendants of pet birds that escaped in the 1960s.
As a result of both a steady decline in the surrounding neighborhood as well as the closing of the lagoons' connection to the 59th Street inner harbor, the lagoons deteriorated. In recent years, the state and city have spent millions of dollars to revitalize the lagoons and Garden of the Phoenix, and to restore the lagoons to their original grandeur. With the recent revitalization projects and the decision by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to stock them with fish, the lagoons have become a very popular local fishing spot.
Jackson Park is utilized in many ways. It has 542.89 acres of land, and on that land there’s a gymnasium with three multipurpose rooms and a fitness center. Some of Jackson Park’s green features consist of a vegetable garden and a flower garden. There are also seasonal sports available, arts and crafts, tennis lessons, piano lessons, after school programs, summer day camps, and holiday themed events.
Jackson Park Highlands is a City of Chicago landmarked neighborhood abutting Jackson Park. The names of over 75 well-known architects can be found on most of the one-of-a-kind homes. It received its name from a low ridge that once existed south of the present-day park.
The Chicago Lakefront Trail (abbreviated as LFT) is an 18-mile multi-use path in Chicago, Illinois along the shore of Lake Michigan. It is popular with cyclists and joggers. From north to south, it runs through Lincoln Park, Grant Park, Burnham Park and Jackson Park. (Chicago Park District Lakefront Trail Map)
Jackson Park's Japanese gardens were originally created during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, with a garden and a Japanese Ho-O Den (Phoenix Temple) for the government of Japan as a pavilion for the exposition. The pavilion was based on the Ho-o-Do (Phoenix Hall) of the Byodo-in Temple in Kyoto. The phoenix emblem was a reference to Chicago rising like the mythical firebird from the ashes of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. After the 1893 Fair, most of the Fair structures were burned or torn down, but the garden and the Ho-O Den Pavilion remained intact.
In 1933 the government of Japan constructed a traditional tea house at the Century of Progress World's Fair and also created a garden on Wooded Island's northeast side and refurbished the Ho-O Den. After WW-II the pavilion and tea house were destroyed by fire and the garden was abandoned. After the city of Osaka became Chicago’s sister city, and one the goals of the Sister Cities program became to revive the Japanese Garden in Jackson Park. With the collective efforts of the City of Osaka and the Chicago Park District, the gardens were restored and named "Osaka Garden in 1993 in honor of that city's help and friendship.
The gardens were renamed Garden of the Phoenix in 2013.
There is a Koi Pond within the garden. The garden in itself is very peaceful, and the simplicity of the pond and the large fish swimming calmly inside provides a serene atmosphere. The stones within the park carry an old legend which says they are laid in a zigzag because evil spirits can only move in a straight line, so if you cross the stones, any evil spirits will just fall into the water.
The Kasuga Lantern is one of the lamps that survived from 1893. It takes its name from the Kasuga Shrine in Nara, Japan. The deer panel is one of the four traditional symbols, the others were a stag, the sun, and the moon, most of which are damaged.
The garden holds American plantings, but it also holds unique Japanese plants, usually found only in Japan. The theme of the garden, from 1893 to the present, is peace. It holds a harmony of the peace and balance possible between countries and cultures, between nature and city. Its wandering, stone pathways are designed to encourage a sense of peace around and within its visitors.
The garden is meant to resemble natural scenery but at a small scale, with representation of mountains, islands and lakes. The garden is intended to provide a tranquil space for meditation.
In 2014, Jackson Park came under scrutiny as a member of the short list of potential sites for the Barack Obama Presidential Library. Sonya Malunda from the office of civic engagement of the University of Chicago requested a meeting with Louise Mccurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, to talk about the library. On July 27, 2016, President Barack Obama officially selected the park to be the location where his presidential library would be built.
A non-profit organization called Project 120 began collaborating with the Chicago Park District in 2012 to restore Jackson Park to designer Frederick Law Olmsted's vision. The group's plans include improving the park's green space, creating a music pavilion, and creating a great lawn for park-goers to use for leisure activities. In October 2016 Yoko Ono unveiled a permanent artwork called Skylanding on the Wooded Island; it is Ono's first permanent art installation in the United States. Ono said she was inspired during a visit to the Garden of the Phoenix in 2013 and that she feels a connection to the city of Chicago.
Jackson Park has a number of volunteers who help maintain the park, but Project 120 aims to go beyond cleanup and plant maintenance. At a cost of about $8.1 million, habitat restoration on Jackson Park's Wooded Island began in 2015 and will continue until 2019. Restoration will take five years to complete and another 25 years reach ecological maturity. The restoration is being done as part of the Army Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Fishery & Ecosystem Restoration (GLFER) program. Improving the park's green space and enhancing its wildlife are meant to improve the appearance and popularity of a park that has been in decline. Some aspects of the restoration, especially plans for a music pavilion, have generated controversy.