The Great Lawn (40 Acres on Lake Michigan)

Above Image: Aerial view of the Great Lawn located between the Lagoons and Lake Michigan (1931).
The Great Lawn was intended by Olmsted to be more than just beautiful and inspirational scenery. It embodies something less tangible but equally enduring - freedom of the mind, body and spirit - an idea born out of what it means to be American.
The Great Lawn Project Highlights
  • Restore over 40 acres of historic and graceful open space on Chicago's lakefront.
  • Reestablish self-directed recreation and social activities and events.
  • Reintroduce Olmsted designed paths, which will include over one mile of multi-modal path accessible to the public with access to views of the Lake.
  • The Great Lawn will have soft ecological edges. Dunes along the eastern boarder. The western edge includes the Bobolink Meadow, which follows what was once a chain of islands.
Component Steps to Reestablishing the Great Lawn
  • Relocate driving range.
  • Remove chain link fencing.
  • Improve soils and utilities.

Above Image: Simulation of the reestablishment of the Great Lawn, which for Olmsted was the essential heart of the democratic public park - "a place where everyone and anyone can enjoy a broad, beautiful space of turf and trees."  During the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, this lakefront area was the site of the largest building then ever built.  Following the Exposition, it became a graceful lawn on Lake Michigan as envisioned by Olmsted.  Between 1956 and 1971, it became a Nike Missile base.  Today, it remains cluttered and underutilized.

Above Image: Current Conditions of the Great Lawn - limited access; single purpose use; intrusive parking areas; disconnected pathways; poor landscape condition

History of the Great Lawn

1893 - Site of the Largest Structure in the World

During the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the Great Lawn was the site of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, which was the largest structure in the world, and remains the third largest ever built.  It was 1,687 feet long, 787 feet wide, and contained 44 acres of exhibits.  Its designer was George B. Post, who also designed the New York Stock Exchange Building.

The Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building was three times the size of the Cathedral of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and 20 times the size of the Auditorium Building in downtown Chicago.  Six baseball fields could fit inside. Lighting the building required 35,000 electric bulbs. The building's main thoroughfare was called "Columbia Avenue."  European, South American, and Asian countries all hosted exhibits on the main floor, displaying their culture, history, and creativity.  Several thousand American companies also had exhibits, which were arranged in 34 different categories.  Even with all of this room, demand for exhibit space greatly exceeded availability.  A 140-foot tall clock tower stood inside the main entrance and symbolized American clock making.

Above Image: Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building (1893)


Above Image: Construction of the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building for the 1893 WCE

Above Image: Olmsted's 1895 General Plan for Jackson Park depicting the location of the 1893 Exposition buildings, including the footprint of the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building on what would become "The Great Lawn" until the installation of a Nike Missile Base in 1956.

1950s - Nike Missile Base Established on the Great Lawn

The Great Lawn was maintained as an open meadow until 1956, when the area was closed to the public and utilized as a Nike Missile site until 1971.

Above Image: Jackson Park Nike Missile Base (1956-1971)

1978 - Golf Driving Range

In 1978, a driving range was introduced, which is still utilized today, after considerable objection from the Hyde Park and Kenwood communities. There is a chain link fence which surrounds the perimeter of the driving range, and creates a visual, as well as physical barrier to the vision and purpose intended by Frederick Law Olmsted. 

Image: Current Condition of Frederick Law Olmsted's "Great Lawn," which will be reestablished, renewed, and open again to all through the implementation of Project 4.