History of the Park and the Foundation
Millennium Park Foundation was established in 1998 as a nonprofit organization that shared the same vision as the City of Chicago for a world-class arts and cultural space in the Loop business district of downtown. How did it come about and why?
Grant Park has served as the primary recreational area for generations of Chicagoans since it was officially designated parkland in 1844. Early 19th century legal restrictions prohibited any development within the park premises. However, in 1852, the City of Chicago gave a significant portion of the land to the Illinois Central Railroad Company (ICR) in exchange for constructing a breakwater in Lake Michigan. This exchange resulted in the construction of an immense system of railroad tracks running between Chicago’s waterfront and the developing Loop district.
In 1909, Daniel Burnham laid out a master plan for the City of Chicago, calling for Grant Park to become the “front yard” and premier cultural center for the City. Because the City no longer controlled certain sections of the land; Burnham’s plan accommodated the existing railroad tracks and built Grant Park around them.
Evolution and Vision
Over the years, Grant Park evolved, and cultural amenities were added to the surrounding areas. However, the Illinois Central Railroad (ICR) tracks remained on the area originally intended to be park land. Chicago’s long-sitting mayor, Richard M. Daley, found this blemish especially troubling (he was reported to have been particularly displeased with the view of it from his dentist’s office in a neighboring building). During the 1990s, Mayor Daley set out on an ambitious campaign to make Chicago one of the greenest cities in the United States.
Mayor Daley viewed the northwest portion of Grant Park as an opportunity to provide additional public green space. In 1996, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Central Railroad (ICR) to regain some of the property within Grant Park. Incidentally, a provision in the original 1852 contract required the Railroad property to be used for railroad purposes, a function that the land no longer maintained. The ICR, therefore, was required to cede control of the property to the City. The re-acquisition of this land made Mayor Daley’s proposal for Millennium Park possible.
Establishment and Growth
The Millennium Park Foundation was established in 1998 as a nonprofit organization with the mission to enhance and steward Millennium Park.
Millennium Park Foundation and its donors, engaged various artists and architects to design and construct the sculptures and facilities found throughout the Park. Each new addition presented its own story of vision, risk, design, finance, construction and operation. As a result, the Park is an aggregate of the initial framework and individual additions that were not anticipated in the original plan. Yet at each stage, the framework for planning was flexible and neutral enough to enable a variety of alternatives to evolve successfully. Each project enriched the whole, adding to the critical mass of attractions, and thus to the ability of the Park to attract a diverse group of visitors.
Visit Chicago Public Library for more archival photos of Millennium Park.
Recognition of Excellence
Millennium Park, members of its Board of Directors, designers, architects, engineers, and staff have all been recognized and honored by a variety of professional organizations since its inception in 2004.
Park Visitors Annually
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Millennium Park Foundation in the Media
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