Monday, September 13, 2010

New Buck Pocket Park (with City Bucks) opens at Randolph and Franklin

The dedication looks generous . . .
. . . until you realize that it's more appropriate than you might suspect, since it is you, dear taxpayer, that kicked in $7 million - courtesy of one of the city's many TIF slush funds - towards the $20 million cost for the new park recently opened at Randolph and Franklin.
The park eliminates a rather rough end wall, shown above, to the spectacular arcade along the Randolph street side of Goettsch Partner's 45 story skyscraper, 155 N. Wacker.  The city demolished three buildings where the 9,600 square-foot park now stands, including the 1870's Showmen's League Building that, for over half a century, was home to Harry Heftman and his hot dogs.   According to the original agreement, the park should now be turned back to the city "in perpetuity", with John Buck agreeing to provide ongoing maintenance.
 Right now the park seems a not entirely successful match for 155 and it's arcade.  The arcade's walkway is mirrored by a long, fairly boring strip of empty lawn in the park, bordered on each side by already mature maple trees that line up outside the line of the pillars on the periphery of the arcade. At the moment, they seem to be almost dwarfed by the arcade's soaring height, but if the trees are sugar maples - as I think they may be - this will eventually change, as these typically grow to 70 feet or higher.
 
What won't change, however, is the way there seems to be - at least to my eye - an uncomfortable visual disconnect between how the components of the arcade and those of the park relate to each other.  The visual focal point through the arcade seems to be, not to the park, but through it, to the completely mundane Walgreen's building across Franklin, and the ugly parking garage behind that.

A new wall created to hide an alley driveway creates a space that is, in itself, incredibly ugly. 
The more interesting component of the park is how it relates to what was a party wall, previously concealed behind the demolished buildings.
This is as rough as the former end wall, but without the painted brick and faded Window Shades sign.  The openings for the arched windows, some bricked up, some closed with abject concrete block, and others  - at least for now - with wooden slats, along with the exposed fire escapes, provide a visual rhythm, a strong contrast and an gritty, muscular backdrop to the park's carefully manicured greenery.
In this photograph from our indefatigable correspondent Bob Johnson, we see the park is already a major hit on a sunny afternoon.
What is missing is any relationship to the history of the site, through naming or artifact, giving the park a bit of an anonymous feel. What about adding one or more of the elephants that were on the Showman's League building. maybe on that uber ugly back wall . . .
 . . . or giving the "Randolph Pocket Park" a name that recognizes its history:  Showman's League Park, or, better yet, name it after Harry Heftman, who provided the spot the kind of real character that it's currently lacking.

7 comments:

jack agrees and said...

Lynn, astute observations regarding this new park, particularly in reference to what remains of the party wall and the lack of any reference to what was torn down....

however, as far as a focus, that would appear to depend on what eventually gets built on the walgreens/garage site that will definitely be developed in the future...

Pete said...

I'm surprised Buck didn't just give the landlord of the neighboring building on Franklin the money needed to clean up that south wall. Though I like that worn-out look (certainly more visually interesting than Buck's sterile tower), I'm probably in the minority. I also wonder how long those tacky yellow ropes will be in place, keeping parkgoers off the grass.

I'm sure Buck has his TIF-hued sights on the Walgreens parcel next. Never mind that the last thing the Loop needs is another new office Tower - Buck will build one anyway.

Anonymous said...

That's great thinking, sugar maples planted in a city that is overrun with them. Anyone that ever did any tree business in Chicago knows that maples are the recommended tree NOT to use in Chicago, or the entire region for that matter. Over 35% of Chicago’s existing trees are maple which is setting us up for a major problem if a disease or insect begins to kill them (see Ash and Elm trees)… I hope the pretty fall colors are worth it!

urbaneddie said...

the walgreens & parking garage to the east (at randolph & franklin) are slated to be replaced with a similarly designed pocket park & tower, mirroring 155 n wacker.

franklin will be flanked on both sides by the plazas.

i was surprised as well that the money wasn't put into covering the building north of the park ... though i would rather it stay as-is ... i was sadened to see the entire corner demolished for this space & wouldn't be surprised to see the buildings to the north eventually succomb as well. maybe a wire trellis structure could work @ covering it if they don't want to see it?

Anonymous said...

you are damn right buck has his sights set on the walgreens site. he currently has the design of a exceptionally uninteresting office tower ready to go...check out his companies website (222 west randolph)

seems like this hot mess will continue the horrendous proportions set up by 155. further eroding the streetscrape of randolph

Anonymous said...

What streetscape do you speak of? Randolph in this area is not very pretty. Huge vacant lot where the Mercantile building stood, horrible Walgreens and vacant lot, very ugly parking garages, some forgettable older office buildings. Maybe when those future lots are also developed this area will have a cohesive feel but right now it's still a hodgepodge.

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