Friday, October 19, 2012

Humboldt Park - Chicago, IL

  Despite the dreary weather, this past weekend we made it to a Chicago neighborhood for the Open House Chicago.  After much debate, googling, and mapquesting (I don't know my way around every neighborhood in Chicago), we decided to visit Humboldt Park.  For those movie-savvy readers, Humboldt Park was the backdrop for the movie "Nothing Like The Holidays".  The movie is about a Puerto Rican family coming together to celebrate Christmas.  It's true that Humboldt Park is a mostly Puerto Rican area and this is what makes it so unique. With its Boat House, lagoon, and gardens, Humboldt Park is a green oasis in an urban setting.

  Humboldt Park has gone through many different waves of immigrants.  It started with Germans and Scandinavians towards the end of the nineteenth century.  The Germans erected statues of Alexander von Humboldt (1892) and Fritz Reuter (1893).  Then in 1901, Scandinavians enjoyed their statue of Leif Erikson (below).  Poles immigrated to the area and cherished their statue of Thaddeus Kosciuszko.  The 1920s and 1930s brought German and Russian Jews as well as Italians.  Finally, the 1950s brought large influxes of Puerto Ricans with some Mexican immigrants.

   When we arrived in Humboldt Park, it wasn't raining yet so we seized the opportunity to check out the Boat House (1440 N. Humboldt Dr.) and surrounding lagoon and gardens.  Walking along the path was very peaceful and I was surprised at how many areas there were where people could get right up close to the water.  There was even one guy that was fishing.

  Next we visited the Field House (1440 N. Sacramento Ave.)  On the main level there was a workout area and basketball courts.  Behind the Field House was an area that used to be a beach.  Now it just looks like a bunch of water-logged sand.

  After the Field House, we headed over to the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture.  We didn't really know what to expect but were pleasantly surprised when we were greeted by a trio of college students who gave us a tour.  We viewed a lot of interesting artwork and photographs.  We also got to see the former office of landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951). Originally from Denmark, Jensen at one time lived in Humboldt Park and designed the garden areas along with those of Garfield Park.  Jensen also helped to establish the Illinois State Parks system, the Cook County Forest Preserve, and the Indiana Dunes State Park.  The building that the Institute is housed in was once stables for horses.  Years ago, people would use the Institute building to park their carriages and have their horses tended to.

  At the Boat House, Field House and Institute, we were able to park for free.  We had to pay for street parking when we made our way down Division Street.  We stopped at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School (2739-41 W. Division St.).  This is a charter school with an average class size of 12 students.  We got a tour of its rooftop green house which took a lot of money and effort by the school to make happen.  The green house is a hands-on learning tool for the students and they even grow and harvest their own vegetables there.  One of the science teachers told us what they went through to get the green house up and running and what kinds of things they were growing.  He also showed us tropical fruit plants that he had brought back from a trip to Puerto Rico.  Even with our harsh winters, Chicagoans still try to find ways to bring the tropics to the Windy City.
  Next we moved on to Cafe Colao (2638 W. Division).  After viewing the Cafe's century-old ovens in the back of the restaurant, we enjoyed an avocado sandwich.  Quite delicious!  Across the street from the Cafe is La Casita De don Pedro (2625 W. Division St.).  La Casita is a traditional Puerto Rican style house where cultural and educational events are held.  It has a zinc roof and porch and inside there are some traditional Puerto Rican decorations and furnishings.

    We ended our Open House tour with a visit to Architechs Inc. (2541 W. Division).  The owner gave us a nice tour where he described what he went through to acquire the office space and how he designed the interior.  All different types of materials were used and it was interesting to see what he did to make the space look and feel a certain way.
  As we walked back to our car, I had a big smile on my face just thinking about how much I learned in one day.  It's amazing how Chicago has all these nooks and crannies that I didn't even know existed!  Even though this is only year two of Open House Chicago, I'm hoping that it grows and envelopes even more areas of Chicago. 


  1. Hi Natalie, Humboldn Park sounds like an interesting neighborhood that speaks of quintessential American story with the passage of one immigrants group after the next. Chicago Open House is a great idea. I wish we have a similar one in NYC.

    1. I agree! I love how Chicago, NYC, and many other cities have such rich histories from people with all different ethnic backgrounds.


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