“Sears famously abandoned the campus for the Sears Tower in the 1970s. But most of the original Sears buildings are still there, as is the pretty fancy, nearly block-long sunken garden the company created for its employees, complete with a Greek Revival pergola.
“Though still handsome, the garden has seen better days after 116 years.
“Fortunately, there’s a $5 million plan to revive the garden and turn it back into the showplace its original designers intended. And the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is announcing this weekend that it’s contributing $1 million toward the effort.
“Barbee, a member of the non-profit Friends of Sears Sunken Garden, said of plans to revive the historic North Lawndale feature: “I think it is one of most significant things to happen on the West Side in a long time.”
“These parks and gardens were planned as pleasant little spots where residents — or workers, in the case of Sears — could step away from the bustle and enjoy a moment of quiet and beauty. The Sears garden originally featured pools, fountains and colorful plantings. If that wasn’t enough, workers could go there and catch a performance from the 60-piece Sears, Roebuck & Company band.
The idea of renewing the garden was started two years ago by the North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council’s Greening, Open Space, Water, Soil, and Sustainability committee.
“‘People would say, ‘Oh, I had my prom picture taken here,'” said committee member Annamaria Leon, an edible landscapes designer who lives in North Lawndale with her husband, garden designer Roy Diblik. ‘You can see the former beauty of it,’ she said.
“The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is announcing its $1 million grant Sunday at a fundraiser in Lake Forest for the sunken garden project. The Driehaus funding will go to the restoration of the pergola and to develop working plans for the garden.
“‘We’ve done a number of legacy grants this year in honor of Richard,’ the Chicago philanthropist and businessman who died in 2021, said Driehaus Foundation executive director Anne Lazar. ‘And this project — it just supports two of his priority passions: Chicago neighborhoods and historic preservation.’
“And what a great call by the foundation — the kind of thing resource-starved North Lawndale and the West Side richly deserve.”
“It’ll raise people’s curiosity [about the West Side],’ Barbee said of the reimagined garden. ‘It’ll be beautiful.’ (Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 10/7/23)
- $1 million Driehaus grant will help revive historic Sears garden; The grant — announced this weekend — helps cover the planned $5 million restoration and rehabilitation of the 1907 North Lawndale garden, Lee Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 10/7/23
- Sears Sunken Garden In North Lawndale Gets $1 Million For Restoration; The money will help restore the garden’s large pergola, part of a larger overhaul of the historic 1.7-acre green space that was once an urban oasis for Sears employees and North Lawndale residents, Trey Arline, Block Club Chicago, 10/17/23
- West Side Groups Working To Redesign Sears Sunken Garden: ‘Let’s Bring It Back To Its Beautiful State’; The Sunken Gardens are more than a century old. Their redesign will be a walk back in history that will allow residents to envision a new future for their community, organizers said, Pascal Sabino, Block Club Chicago, 1/24/21
- Friends of Sears Sunken Garden