Garfield Park|Chapter 5
Our visit to Garfield Park’s Fieldhouse proved to us once again that each one of these Chicago gems presents its own story and experience. The Chicago Park District stretches across our city and offers so many different classes and support services to each individual community. Before our visit, the primary focus for most of our Fieldhouse Stories has been about children and their parents with an occasional story about Ping Pong or various art projects. At Garfield Park, our day was much different. Let’s start with the building itself and to sum it all up, it is absolutely stunning.
The Fieldhouse’s golden dome is covered in gold leaf and sits atop a Spanish Baroque style facade and can be spotted off in the distance. In fact, Chicagoans call it “The Gold Dome Building” and we quickly understood why. The building is surrounded on each side by lagoons where we saw geese enjoying their lunch and a sea of daffodils in full bloom.
It was hard to believe we were in the heart of Chicago’s West Side.
Looking up, we saw ornate busts carved into the stone and noticed a sea theme throughout. Apparently, that is a common theme in Spanish Baroque architecture. Who knew? The main figure in the image above is 17th century French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle. Google tells us he’s a French explorer who claimed the Mississippi River basin in the 1600s. He is also the inspiration for Chicago's LaSalle Street.
The more we walked around and observed the building, it felt like we had been transported to Europe. Inside was no different.
In fact, we were even more surprised by the interior.
This entrance did not read “fieldhouse”, but rather a grand entry for perhaps a
theater or a museum. The colorful inlaid floors are beautiful. Up above there
were layers upon layers and the lighting quickly drew our eyes up toward the golden
We wanted to meet with Jackie Anderson, the park supervisor and get our bearings as to what was happening midday in the fieldhouse. She asked if we wanted to peek in on the boxing that was currently in session. If there is one thing we have learned during this project, it is to always say YES and to see where the adventure takes us! This visit was no different.
Allow us to set the stage
It is 11:30 a.m. on a Wednesday morning. To the left of the rotunda and down a dark hall we see a door ajar. Boxing is in session. This was definitely not a boxing class for seniors or tiny tots. Nor was this a cardio workout for moms. Rather, this was a match with cut bodies working hard. Under the yelling of their coach, who we quickly learned was George, these guys were working really hard and we soon realized just how different this fieldhouse visit was going to be.
It turns out that over the years, Hernandez has trained thousands of professional and amateur boxers and at least 30 are classified as world champions. He has made it his mission to keep his boxers off the streets and out of trouble. Since we are coming from Forward Design, a design firm that focuses on clients with a social mission, this was music our ears.
As the boxers wound down their practice match and the ring emptied, he was proud to share more about his time with the Park District and his career as a boxer. George Hernandez has been featured by CBS as someone you should know, and we were so happy we got to meet him and hear his story.
As we headed out, George followed us into the hallway and directed our eyes up to the top of the doorway. Apparently, this room used to be a police center and we could see where the old sign used to be. Naturally, that piqued our interest and after a quick google search we saw that this building has worn many hats over the years. It apparently had been a park district police station with a courtroom and a few jail cells as well as the administration offices for the West Park Commission, who helped develop the park system in the area.
We wandered around a bit more and made our way upstairs to see what else there was to see. We had just missed a meeting of new fathers in the art/theater room. All that remained was the smell of take-out food and a toddler following one last dad down the stairs. There is a gymnastics room and other club rooms for kids. But again, the building is the star here.
Our favorite room
Well, it wasn't really a room at all. It was the second level the rotunda. Looking down, you could take in the details of the flooring and looking up, you could see the detail in the rotunda. Looking out of the window, you could see the green space that is Garfield Park and you can even see the skyline. It was peaceful up there and we had it all to ourselves.
These days this expansive building houses a renown boxing program that supports the community and keeps at-risk youth off of the streets as well as one of Chicago’s best outdoor pools with a view. It also has programs for the arts and music as well as lacrosse and dance. It is definitely a one-stop-shop for the Garfield Park community.
Before we headed back to the office, we took one last stroll across the street to see the lagoon a bit closer and to see the Garfield Park Fieldhouse from afar. Everything was a quiet and peaceful while we wandered around; it was just before all the after-school kids were about to arrive.
As we were leaving, we saw school busses passing by. Surely, this building was about to get busy and that is exactly what these spaces are for! Which makes wonder if any of you have enjoyed a fieldhouse lately. Have you?
Thanks for having us, Garfield Park! Another perfect field trip from Forward Design.