WIN: The Iowa Building Restoration Underway

“The building that sits in Jackson Park at 56th Street and South Shore Drive is known as the Iowa Building, but this small shelter didn’t greet Iowans in 1893. That honor went to its predecessor, the Jackson Park Pavilion.

“The original pavilion predated the World’s Columbian Exposition. It was a product of the South Parks Commission, which was authorized in 1869 to set up a network of parks and boulevards. The boulevards and Washington Park developed fairly quickly, but the commission struggled to gain control of Jackson Park as litigation dragged through the courts. In the 1880s, they decided to develop the section they did control north of 59th Street.

“Paul Cornell, one of the commissioners, had seen the lake rip away half of the beach at East End Park in a storm. He pushed for breakwaters and piers at 56th and 59th Streets and a paved beach of granite blocks. The commission landscaped shaded paths and an open meadow, at first for growing hay (South Parks once sold 366 tons in a year) and later for lawn tennis and baseball. They created two ponds that ran along Stony Island Avenue and expanded the existing lagoon (now known as the Columbian Basin). The commission also built a circuit of carriageways that entered at 57th Street, crossed the lagoons and looped the meadow.

“Transportation was good. The Illinois Central Railroad opened a grand station at the park’s entrance on 57th Street in 1881. Five years later, the cable car extended its tracks from Cottage Grove Avenue and 55th Street eastward to the 56th Street entrance of the park.

“With time, the car became king. Lake Shore Drive expanded to four lanes and eventually pushed through the park on new landfill, cutting the park off from the beach. The pavilion was in the way and had to go. Oddly, the name ‘Iowa Building’ shows up when the old building was torn down in 1936. Letters to the Tribune editor complained that no one called it that, but the name stuck.

“The new picnic structure, clad in Wisconsin limestone and financed by the Works Progress Administration and the newly redone Museum of Science and Industry, opened in 1933. It was 25% smaller than the pavilion and 60% smaller than the actual Iowa Building. It had restrooms, a concession stand and a small pool with a fountain, supposedly for washing sand off bathers’ feet, though the highway cut it off from the beach.

“In 2003, when the 57th Street intersection was reconfigured, the building was once more in the way. Construction of the 57th Street underpass cut it off. It decayed through neglect and vandalism. The bathrooms were locked, the fountain stopped working and trees grew through the roof. After a murder there in 2014, the Park District installed one of Indira F. Johnson’s sculptures, “Ten Thousand Ripples,” to promote peace. Soon after, new chess tables were installed, and the Hyde Park Bonfire Club began meeting there regularly, proving that there’s still a need for a pavilion. Now, in 2023, the Park District is finally bringing the Iowa Building back to life, redoing the walls and roof, and fixing the bathrooms, lighting and fountain, so that Jackson Park can have a working pavilion again.” (Morse, Hyde Park Herald, 3/29/23)

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