Our Heritage

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago Illinois
5. Chicago, Illinois


U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, DC Interior     United States Botanical Garden in Washington, DC Interior

Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory opened in 1908. This “landscape art under glass” replaced three small Victorian glass houses that had been built in the 1800s. One of the largest in the world, the Garfield conservatory was unlike any other nineteenth century building. Architect Jens Jensen designed it to resemble the form of a Midwestern haystack and worked with a New York firm that specialized in building greenhouses. Inside the greenhouse, plants were displayed on the ground with pipes installed behind stonework walls, which helped create expansive landscape views. The aquatic or fern house is the centerpiece of the Conservatory and it includes some of the designer’s loveliest stone and water elements. In fact, a waterfall within the building looked so natural that many visitors assumed the conservatory was constructed around it.

By the end of the 1920s, attendance had climbed to half a million visitors per year. Horticulture Hall and a new propagating house were constructed in 1928. During the next several decades though, the structure began to deteriorate therefore, the Chicago Park District decided to construct new projects. This included demolishing the Palm House and replacing it with a fiberglass (vs. glass) structure. Attendance continued to decline but several years ago, thanks to a multi-million dollar plan that raised millions for education programs, visitor services, and community relations, work began to restore this botanical conservatory to its glory days. Unfortunately, due to a severe hailstorm on June 30, 2011, at least half of the glass panes in the Fern Room, Show House and ten of the propagation greenhouses were broken. Efforts are underway to fix the greenhouse roofs during the summer of 2012 and to repair the other glasshouses during the summer of 2013. Efforts to raise the funds for repair are underway since the estimates for repairs range in the millions of dollars.

Despite the damage, there are six greenhouses and two exhibition halls that are still in use for a variety of occasions, including weddings, business meetings, and reunions. Garfield Conservatory has once again become one of Chicago’s prominent cultural institutions and one of our nation’s finest conservatories.

Photo Credits:
Main Image Courtesy of Michael Patrick Perry