Chicago's 'Emerald Necklace' could be headed for the National Register of Historic Places

August 31, 2011

The city's landmarks commission will vote this week to decide if eight major Chicago parks--and the 26-mile boulevard system that connects them--deserves a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

The commission will vote Thursday on whether to recommend the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council seek a National Register listing for Douglas, Gage, McKinley, Jackson, Sherman, Garfield, Humboldt and Washington parks. The proposed Chicago Boulevard Historic District would also encompass 16 boulevards and streets linking the parks, including Midway Plaisance, King Drive, Garfield, Logan, Kedzie and Franklin boulevards.  Six public squares along the boulevards, such as Drexel Square, Palmer Square and Logan Square also would be included.

The commission's recommendation is pretty much proforma with little danger the measure will not be passed. If ultimately approved by the National Park Service, the designation would recognize the importance of the city's park and boulevard system and open the door to the possibility of state and federal historic tax credits to assist the rehab of pre-World War II buildings along the thoroughfare.

Built between 1869 and 1890, the parks system--deemed the city's Emerald Necklace--represents an early national model of urban park planning. The green boulevards and big parks featured naturalistic and formal landscapes where residents could seek respite from the rough-edged city without actually leaving it. The parks were often remarkable features such as the Douglas Park Flower Hall in the above photograph, located near Ogden and Sacramento Blvd. Developers often put their better-looking (and more expensive) buildings facing the parks and along the boulevards, as is the case with King Drive south of 35th street in the image below.

The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council is set to take up the matter September 9.