“The Garfield Central Railroad is one of the largest model railroads in the country. Its steward–the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club–was established in Garfield Park in 1947 and moved to Clarendon Park in 1963. The club meets regularly in the Clarendon Park Field House to build and operate the railroad with the goal of educating the public and their members about the history and operations of railroads. The fifth and current model layout began in 1974 after a remodeling of the field house. It includes approximately 1,500 feet of hand-laid track with reliable operations controlled by a state-of-the-art signaling system. The railroad loops for 25 minutes through a landscape complete with mountains, scenery, towns, and people from 1950’s Appalachia.” (Open House Chicago) Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
“The future of an Uptown community center is settled, even if what’s in store for the railroad club whose sprawling track and clanging trains call the historical building its home is less certain. The Clarendon Park Community Center, for years caught in a back-and-forth between community members who wanted to see the ailing Chicago Park District building renovated and others who hoped for brand-new construction, will remain on the North Side just off the lake.
“Last month, the Park District board voted to enter into a $1.12 million contract with Booth Hansen architects for the rehab. The overall project, funded in part from nearly $7 million in TIF funds, is expected to include two phases. Construction is anticipated to start by mid- to late 2021, according to the Park District, and it will remain partially open during construction.
“’I think the real benefit is that the Park District is saving a historically significant building,’ said Scott Baumgartner, a member of the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club. ‘There’s still some remnants remaining of the original structure, and to be able to preserve that for generations down the road, I think, is very important. And the other thing is that had the building been demolished, the train club would no longer exist, quite frankly. We would have had to close down.’ So, being able to one day open again to wide-eyed kids and railroad enthusiasts alike will be a plus, Baumgartner said.
“The possibility of what a teardown would mean for the railroad club’s miniature world (created on a 1/87 scale) worried community members. Last year, more than 2,000 people signed an online petition to save the center, named as one of Chicago’s most endangered buildings by Preservation Chicago in 2015.
“In a survey about program preferences, community members placed the ‘train display’ second in importance, only after the gym. Concerns of community members also included building operation during construction, and what that would mean for programming like the youth arts and hip-hop organization Kuumba Lynx, and gardening programs outside the center.
“If the railroad club had to relocate, members estimated it could take years to get the display, anchored at the center since 1963, up and running again. The club estimates the current railroad, with 1,500 linear feet of hand-laid track, to be one of the largest model railroads in the country.
‘It’s kind of like, could you deconstruct the Eiffel Tower and move it somewhere?’ Katharine Boyda, president of the Clarendon Park Advisory Council, said last year as debate over the future of the center grew. ‘Well, maybe. But what would that take?’
“’Improving Clarendon Park Community Center has long been the desire of the community,’ Gleason said. ‘The planning process resulted in a vision for that project that will fix fundamental problems — like the leaky gym roof and lack of accessibility, and create a more functional floor plan, as well as update the interior of the historic building,’ Gleason said.
“The renovation was celebrated at the meeting by both the board and Ald. James Cappleman, 46th. ‘It’s a dream come true,’ Cappleman said at the virtual meeting, noting the center is situated in a North Side census tract with a high rate of poverty. He called the rehab ‘remarkable.’
‘Because this community center serves as a beacon for all the residents,’ Cappleman said. ‘Going to the ribbon-cutting for this will be the highlight of my entire time as alderman.’
“Parks Superintendent Michael Kelly said the project stretches back decades. ‘This project, for me and many folks on our team, goes back so far for me. Personally, I had always wanted this to be a teardown and a new field house,’ Kelly said.” (Greene, 11/2/20)
Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune
Plans for Clarendon Park Community Center are chugging along as railroad club hopes for return, Morgan Greene, Chicago Tribune, 11/2/20