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Park Renaming. The current program, question of what is and isn't appropriate

A service of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks and Preservation Committees, and the HPKCC website, Help support our work: Join the Conference! Contact attn: Gary Ossewaarde.



For the past two years, the Chicago Park District has been carrying out a program of renaming for important Chicago women about 44 parks (within three miles of where each woman lived) which have been known by a number, street name, tree, etc. (Robert Steele, Outreach Manager, assures this writer (GMO) that there is not an automatic rule that every such park must be renamed.) Apart from these, about 370 are named for men and the rest for their neighborhood or have otherwise historically significant names. Note that this program is distinct from naming facilities within parks

Some of the proposed renamings have sparked controversies or, sadly, became tied up with political or community group rivalries (for example the Harris YW, which retained the name of noted female Woodlawn social worker Harriet M. Harris. Some of the renaming started before the formal program: Frances Stout in northwest Hyde Park from a numbered park, for example, honors a major community and child welfare leader, as does long-ago-named Ma Houston Park by Reavis School at 5oth and Drexel.

But usually the renamings have been non controversial. Now that parks with long-standing names are up for renaming, many community and park council members are concerned about the erasure of memory and whether every tree/plant named park needs to have its name changed. The issue now is over Beech Park in N. Kenwood/Oakland. The proposed naming at Spruce was to have been for Maria Goeppert Mayer, a scientist at the U of C., and was rejected by the Council.

To be voted by the Board for entry into 45 day comment period: Beech, 4458 S. Oakenwald for Vivian Gordon Harsh. Will check on progress.

More parks in the area that could be renamed are: Butternut, Elm, Huckleberry.

Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, concerned with Quality of Life issues, would like to hear your views. 773 288-8343 or attn: Gary Ossewaarde. If you would like to make a nomination, note that nominees must have been deceased at least a year and have lived in proximity to the park.

Park District contact:, Planning Supervisor. Once namings are introduced at a Board of Commissioners meeting, they go to committee and a 45 day public comment period, which includes notices at and within a distance of the park as well as in public places and media, similar to zoning changes. Aldermen usually vet the matter, either with advisory councils or a public meeting. Final decision is taken by the Board.


Renamed to date in the area:

Hyacinth, 4450 south Greenwood- for Gwendolyn Brooks, Illinois Poet Laureate

Park 492, 4433 S. St. Lawrence- for Lillian Hardin Armstrong

Willow, 5445 S. Drexel- for Bessie Coleman, daring aviatrix, first female African-American, who died young in a plane crash

Indiana and 56th, 5635 S. Indiana- for Lorraine Hansberry, author of A Raisin in the Sun on blacks buying in Woodlawn, daughter of one whose suit led to outlawing restrictive housing covenants

Chokeberry, 6648 S. University- for Arnita Young Boswell, accomplished social worker, educator and activist who founded Chicago's League of Black Women

64th and Ellis, 6416 S. Ellis- for Mamie Till-Mobley, mother of Emmet Till, whose murder in Mississippi helped spark the Civil Rights Movement


Willow Park is no more

Hyde Park Herald, January 19, 2005. By Mike Stevens

[Note: Proposed for Spruce: Maria Goeppert Mayer, UC physicist, received her Nobel Prize in 1963, one of two women Nobel Prize winners associated with the U of C. Most of her work was done at Argonne National Laboratory, dealing with how the nuclei of atoms are structured and why the elements vary in stability and have none to many isotopes.]

Willow Park, 5445 S. Drexel Blvd., is no more. The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners renamed the half-acre park Jan. 12 in honor of Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot.

The park district has also suggested renaming Spruce Park, 5337 S. Blackstone Ave., for Maria Goeppert-Mayer, the late Nobel-Prize-winning University of Chicago physicist. The park's year-old advisory [council] will likely take a vote in February, treasurer Sarah Diwan said. "It looks like we are split right now," said Diwan, referring to one member's opposition to the renaming. "Personally, I'm kind of in favor of it."

The renaming trend is part of a park district effort to increase city parks named for women. Since March 2004, the park district has renamed 17 parks in honor of important women in Chicago's history, said Planning Supervisor Julia Bachrach, who oversees the renaming process. "The board has made it very clear they want me to keep going," Bachrach said.

The park district generally proposes names which are then forwarded to the local alderman who in turn should present the new name to the community for vetting. The park district's board takes vote two months after the new park is formally [proposed.]

[Ald. Preckwinkle is dealing with two parks proposed] for renaming in her ward: Beech Park, 4458 S. Oakenwald Ave., and Spruce Park. "In both instances, I an waiting to hear back from the park advisory councils," Preckwinkle said.

With backing from board President Maria Saldana and two additional female commissioners, Bachrach began the renaming initiative roughly a year ago by taking inventory of park names to figure out how many parks carried women's names. "I had never counted them before so we were all a little surprised there were only 27," Bachrach said.

Even after a year of renamings, 44 parks, or less that 10 percent, of the more than 550 city parks are named for women. Almost 370 parks carry men's names.

Significant parks, such as Jackson and Washington Parks, have nothing to fear, Bachrach said. To avoid controversy, the park district prefers parks that have yet to be issue a name or were named for streets, trees or flowers. All naming candidates must have lived or worked within three miles of the park and have been deceased for at least a year. Bessie Coleman lived at 41st Street and worked as a manicurist across from the old Comiskey Park before going on to become a stunt pilot. She died in a plane crash at 30, Bachrach said.

Even before the initiative, Bachrach maintained a list of famous Chicagoans she could refer to when a park needed a name. "[Bessie Coleman] was on my list for years," Bachrach said.


The 'naming game' and how it ties into (or pales before) serious viability issues for Spruce, by Dina Weinstein

Hyde Park Herald, January 26, 2005

In the interest of full disclosure, I'll tell you straight out, I serve on the Spruce Park Advisory Council. This involves going to monthly meetings and kvetching about the park, which is located just south of Giordano's Pizza, 5337 S. Blackstone ave.

Park district officials take notes and tell us to call the cops on the debauchery we witness there. It usually sounds like this: "Can we get trash cans inside the park? Why are there no trash cans? There's all kinds of trash in there--trash from druggies and teenage smokers who like to hide in the playground, trash from boozers, dog poop and garbage from fast food snacks bought at joints on 53rd Street."

Once I found a flattened cardboard box on top of the slide apparatus. A homeless person had used it as a bed. He also left toiletries and clothing in the playlot. I was with my pre-school aged son and had to clear away all this before he could use the equipment.

Spruce Playlot Park, I learned from the park's website, was created in 1963, as part of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Urban Renewal project. The park district officially named the site Spruce park in 1973. The park was one of a number of properties named for trees and plants at that time. Spruce trees are sharp-needled evergreens that can grow to heights of 20 to 100 feet. Seven of 40 species world-wide are native to North America.

I am told by Renee Chester at the park advocacy organization, Friends of the Parks, that most of the Chicagoans who trot out to Park advisory Council meetings are women who want better maintained greenspace for themselves, their families and their community.

I'd like to enjoy Spruce Park. I can see it from my apartment window. But there's something about it that sends me to parks that have names--Bixler and Nichols. There always seem to be people using those parks. There's safety and fun in numbers.

Are they better used and maintained because they're named after Hyde Parkers who were educators and community planners? The Chicago Park District seems to think a name can make a park.

COD officials have proposed renaming Spruce Park after Maria Goeppert Mayer. Goeppert Mayer was a Nobel Prize winning physicist at the University of Chicago [managed] Argonne National Laboratory located 45 minutes west of here. She helped advance the theory of how the nuclei of atoms are structured. Her work explained why some atoms are more stable than others and why some atoms have isotopes while others do not. Way to go, Maria!

Turns out of the 550 parks in the city more than 300 are named for people but only 27 were named after women. The park district has been, since last March (Women's History Month) proposing name changes for parks with tree, number and street names. The changes honor famous Chicago women who made important contributions. Included in that list are Bessie Coleman (the first African American female pilot), Arnita Young Boswell (accomplished social worker, educator and activist who founded Chicago's League of Black Women) and Gwendolyn Brooks (Pulitzer prize winning poet).

I like the nature reference in Spruce. It seems to conjure up what the park could be and does actually offer, a natural respite from urban life. I also like the names Willow and Chokeberry and Hyacinth--the above list's former appellations.

Under the snowy cover of winter, only the hard-core dog walkers and sledders are making use of the common greenspace. My days of long stretches in the parks with my two little boys laden with sand toys, snacks and sunscreen are far off but not forgotten. The excitement of a chance meeting with friends are the fabulous memories of childhood and summer.

Last summer, I marched in the Hyde Park Fourth of July-everyone-marches-parade with the Advisory Council group. We had signs tacked to our kids' strollers that read "No boozing in Spruce Park" and "Pick up your dog poop." We got a lot of comments.

Attention to South Side parks shines light to paltry park offerings down here. Compare the Lincoln Park Cultural Center's offerings* to the South Shore Cultural Center. It make us ask other looming questions like the location of the closest CPD indoor swimming pool?** And why are there no swimming lessons at Washington Park's outdoor pool? [*The discrepancy are much more glaring on the CPD website because of current policy against listing programs not directly put on by the district. **Dyett, King.]

While changing the name is laudable, I'm thinking about whether it would make a difference for Spruce Park. By the way, the university honors Goeppert Mayer in a distinguished scholar position at Argonne. Would a U. of C. representative come to the advisory council meetings if it was Maria Goeppert-Mayer Park?

Maybe the U. of C. police will pay attention and respond quickly when alerted to people boozing, sleeping or gambling in the space .I just can't imagine a cop getting out of his cruiser and slapping cuffs on the guy who doesn't pick up his dog's poop in Maria Goeppert Mayer Park.


Group seeking petitions to rename (George) Washington Park for Harold Washington, despite two other parks having Harold's name.

Comment: This campaign has recently broken surface in Hyde Park through a letter and coverage article in the Hyde Park Herald, July 2005. The current Harold Washington Park at 53rd and Hyde Park was given that name in1991 (although the word "Playlot" is apparently in the designation though not in the park's signs), is not a trivial park, and Harold lived across the street and noted the monk parakeets that took up major residence in this park in the 1970s. There is already some confusion in discussion about the parks. Most naming in parks has been where the park is not already named for a person--and the 'Father of our country' is an imposing name indeed, not one to be lightly tossed aside. In addition, some have expressed fears that if things all over the place are named for Harold, someone may try to take his name from something major such as the Harold Washington Library Center. One would suppose there will be more opposition to removing George's name than to applying Harold's. Besides, is it always appropriate to make any change that "a community" of the moment wants? Maybe if push comes to shove there could be a joint naming.
Here find the July 13 Herald article then Mr. Osie David Andrews-Hutchinson's letter. Gary Ossewaarde

July 13, 2005. By Jeremy Adragna

A Bronzeville man named Osie David Andrews-Hutchinson has been campaigning over the past three weeks to gain support to change the name of the George Washington Park to Harold Washington Park to the late mayor from Hyde Park.

Andrews-Hutchinson argues that the park is entirely enclosed by an African-American community and its name should reflect that fact with naming the park for the city's first black manor.

But some, including Chair of the Washington Park Advisory Council Cecilia Butler, do not believe it would be fair to use the name twice. A portion of Burnham Park near Hyde Park Boulevard and 52nd Street was annexed and renamed Harold Washington Playlot Park in 1991. "I don't think there is any confusion," Andrews-Hutchinson said.

Butler tried shortly after Harold Washington died in 1988 to rename Washington Park for the mayor, but the idea was shot down by the Chicago Park District who said then that they would simply not rename any park [a policy soon after changed]. The two sides came to a compromise and finally named the city's largest playing field inside the park [park creator F.L. Olmsted's "Great Sheep Meadow"] the Harold Washington Common Ground.

"When someone comes out of the blue like this the minimum they could do is some background checking," Butler said. "It's almost insulting: not checking what the community has already done. It was done before and it was not successful." Butler said she would prefer Andrews-Hutchinson petition a cause the advisory council has taken up more recently, to get a bandshell at Washington Park and name it for the mayor.

"We're trying to get the community's support," said Andrews-Hutchinson. "We think that is the determining factor. If that's what the community wants then it should be changed appropriately."

A spokesman for the Park District, Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, said petitions for renaming parks Andrews-Hutchinson began his campaign at the recent International Festival of Life which was held at the park over the Fourth of July weekend. He said he pulled in nearly 2,000 signatures and plans to hold similar drives at other large-scale park functions. o to the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs for scrutiny and that "parks eligible for renaming are typically those names for streets, flowers or numbered parks." Maxey-Faulkner also said that only recently another park had already been named Harold Washington Park in the North Side neighborhood of Rogers Park.


Washington Park needs "Harold" Letter by Osie David Andrews-Hutchinson, July 6, 2005

On Saturday, June 18, during the Bronzeville Juneteenth Celebration at the Bronzeville Military Academy, a group of community activists and organizers presented to the community a petition to change the name of George Washington Park (bounded by 51st Street on the north, 60th Street on the South, Cottage Grove Ave. on the east and Dr. Martin Luther King Dr. on the west) to Harold Washington Park. We would like to invite your readers to join us in this effort.

Just to highlight how Washington Park has become this "Epicenter of African American History and Culture," it goes back to the 1930s, when the outdoor Olympic-sized pool was constructed, which was the first facility of its kind in the city to admit African-American patrons; the DuSable Museum, thanks to the efforts of our National Treasure, Dr. Margaret Burroughs and others, found its permanent home in the park n 1971. For more than 10 years, Washington Park has become the home of many of the citywide cultural festivals focusing on the African Diaspora, which are some of the country's largest (albeit with some concerns from the community); and of course, the park is an ever-popular location to hold family picnics, to participate in numerous variations of recreation and just a wonderful place to "hang out."

The time for this change has come, in that Washington Park, which has a rich history in meeting the needs of the Chicago community since its naming in 1881, has evolved into a Cultual Destination for the African- American community, specifically, in addition to a cultural destination for the city, the state and the nation as a whole.

For this park to bear the name of Chicago's first African-American manor, who was instrumental in restoring more faith to the electorate of Chicago and bringing the city together to achieve great things before his untimely death in 1987, would be a testament to the role Washington Park has achieved within the community and the potential that it has to continue to serve as a central focal point for Chicago cultural and historical development for years to come. can request a petition from Petitions will also be available throughout the summer, during festivals and other special events at the park. Completed petitions can be dropped off or sent in card of the African-American Police League, 700 E. Oakwood Blvd., Chicago, Il 60653....


Counterpoint: letter by Gary T. Lark to Herald July 27, 2005: There is a Harold Washington Park.

...[n]ow there is as move afoot to rename a park from that of a founding father--the first president of the United States and general of the American army in its most important war--to that of a short-term mayor who had a mixed record like all mayors. does the idiocy never end? Are there too many people with too much time on their hands looking for something to do?

There is a park named after Harold Washington. Is that not good enough?