Olson Rug Park, former Chicago landmark, now parking lot

September 2, 2011

The northwest corner of Diversey and Pulaski is a parking lot today. But at one time it was the site of a lovely Chicago landmark.

In 1935 the Olson Rug Company was expanding its Diversey Avenue plant. Company president Walter E. Olson used the occasion to build a park for his employees on the grounds. Olson had a summer home in Wisconsin, and he wanted to bring a bit of the north woods to the crowded Avondale neighborhood.

The finished park covered 22 acres. There were rock gardens, climbing paths, a duck pond, a waterfall, shrubs, trees, flowers and an 800-foot-long lawn. Olson himself kept tweaking his creation. During the summer he'd drive through the countryside followed by a truck, collecting rocks.

As Olson Rug Park became more elaborate, it was opened to the public, free of charge. A trailer was set up to serve hot dogs, lemonade and other staples. The word spread. By 1955 over 200,000 people a year were visiting the park.

Decor changed with the season. At Christmas there was the obligatory Santa, at Easter the obligatory Easter Bunny. Halloween saw a floodlit moon hung over the waterfall, complete with a witch on a broomstick. Some years the great lawn featured a re-creation on McCutcheon's famed cartoon "Injun Summer."

Neighborhood kids considered Olson Rug Park their own private playground, much superior to the city's Kocziusko Park. The waterfall was particularly popular. With no guardrail and that slippery flag-stone walkway, at any moment you might be swept over the rapids to your doom!

Marshall Field & Company bought the Olson Rug plant and turned it into a warehouse in 1965, but kept the park operating until 1978. Then it was bulldozed in favor of more parking space.

HINT TO MACY'S--If you really want to become part of Chicago, why not rebuild Olson Rug Park?