Indian Boundary Park|Chapter 2
The more we talked about our Fieldhouse Stories project with our friends, the more people mentioned Indian Boundary. So many people have memories of this park as children.
My husband grew up nearby. He remembers the zoo that was there and ice skating there with his friends. (The original park’s zoo, one of only two in Chicago, was so small it initially housed only a lone black bear!)
After hearing so much about Indian Boundary we knew which park would be next on our list. We called in advance this time to see if we could meet with someone from the park, and the supervisor, Phil Martini agreed.
The day of our visit, after walking through the main door, before we could even introduce ourselves to Phil, we were overwhelmed with the beautiful interior. Past the Chief keystone carved in relief over the doorway we immediately noticed the Native American-themed ornaments throughout, accenting the carved wooden Tudor beams and plaster walls. It felt like walking inside another time.
It turns out the park takes its name from a territorial boundary established by the Treaty of 1816 between the Pottawattomie Indians and the U.S. government. That line marks the land that is now the this park. Just walking inside we were began to understand why Indian Boundary Park is so memorable for so many.
Phil could not have been more passionate about this building, this park and the magic of what happens here. As we sat with him we heard a piano being tuned. That, like everything in this building, had a story. It wasn’t just a piano, Phil explained, it was a Mason Hamlin piano that was purchased in 1928 by the Women’s Club of West Ridge for the community for $1600. Back in 1928, that was a lot of money back, so obviously the arts were a priority. This piano has been used for free concerts and performances ever since. In fact, it even survived a fire in 2012!
Phil was here in May 2012 when a fire caused the roof to collapse and severely damaged the park’s landmark fieldhouse. He shared how the fire became a call not only for the historic renovation project to repair the building to its original glory, but also an outpouring of attention and support from the community. He remembered how so many came to help and donate. One local resident even recreated the original weather vane that sat on the roof of the building.
After our visit we wandered around a bit on our own. The centerpiece of the Fieldhouse is the multi-use Auditorium space on the main floor. Today, this room is used as a theater rehearsal and performance space, dance studio, lecture hall and music performance venue.
Our favorite room was definitely the small, light-filled room upstairs. It is filled with plants and artwork that is in progress.
Upstairs, students were creating stained glass projects. While we photographed the room, they were happy to show us the facilities, all open to the community for a small fee. The space accommodates classes in making stained glass, ceramics and now weaving programs, complete with kilns for ceramics and glass fusing.
We talked to Judith, a mosaic teacher with the Park District. She too loved this room and the people who come here. She explained that the room has evolved, but there is always something being made here.
It feels private and personal here. It’s like this nest of different art projects; a room buzzing with colors, textures and creativity. It was a treat to listen and learn about their process and the perfect way to spend an afternoon “Out of the Office”; away from Forward Design.
We didn’t have much time to walk around the park that day. But one thing that struck me as different than other Chicago Parks, you won’t really see sports here. There aren’t any basketball courts or even a track. Instead it’s a peaceful and serene place to visit. You see neighbors walking their dogs, playing frisbee or simply sitting on a park bench reading.
A few months, later we returned. It was late summer and late in the day. There was an event posted on the park’s site that caught our eye in the Nature Play Center, just across the park from the fieldhouse. This evening, Indian Boundary was hosting a Story Telling program with members of the community.
Indian Boundary Park Nature Play Center opened in 2014 is actually the site of the park’s former zoo. Gone are the few goats, chickens and ducks that once occupied the space. Now, native plants and pathways have replaced the animal pens.
The play areas are more like secret gardens made of tree stumps and stones. That evening, it was being used by about 10 children playing hide and seek. As we came inside, we saw art projects and tables set up for different activities, and the back we heard and saw people gathering.
It turned out that inside the Nature Play Center, the stories were being told by various community members. Each had brought personal artifacts from their homes to tell their stories. It was fun to hear them share not only about their homes nearby, but the stories behind the object they brought as well as how it connected to the park itself.
It’s heartwarming to see a community of neighbors feel so invested in their local park. This is what fieldhouses do in this city.
When we started this project we didn’t know what we would find, but we are excited to see what we will find next. If you have any suggestions, let us know.