Saturday, October 20, 2012

Garfield Park Power House

Nestled along the railroad tracks, in the northwest corner of Garfield Park stands the second of three projects that Joseph Silsbee designed for the park in 1896. The plant was designed to house dynamo generators that would power lighting for Garfield and Douglas Parks. It is a huge Flemish Revival structure that is approximately 150 feet long and 60 feet wide. It is made of buff-colored brick with stone trim. Gables are crowned with finely carved stone that records the year the structure was built. Similar elements once crowned the side dormers as well. It was topped with a clay tile roof.    
The original steel chimney stood 164 feet high and was carefully placed at the corner of the building. This structure hasn't fared much better than Silsbee's other masterpiece in Garfield Park, the Garfield Park Bandstand. The current chimney and an additional tower now conceal much of the southwest corner of the building. The setting of the building has also been compromised as its park-like landscaping was replaced with a sea of asphalt. One story additions around the structure further detract from its original picturesque appearance.    

J. L. Silsbee had a distinguished career in the design of utilitarian structures for industrial and railroad uses. Since his structures for Solvay Process and other steel and chemical companies are all demolished, this power house may be the only structure that survives for this type of use. It is a testament to his creativity and evidence of how these structures could be given the same artful attention as the finest homes that he designed.


John Wolf said...

Thank you for this post, it's very interesting information. I was curious if any more information is known about the history of the building, and the timeline of its functions? When were the one-story additions added? When was the original chimney removed?

Chris said...

There is some excellent information about the original specifications here:

There is also additional info about some of the subsequent additions in the Park District board minutes. Many of them can be found online.

I don't know how the park district keeps their records now but I would think they would have quite a few drawings of the initial structure and all of the work that has been done to it. These have slowly been archived by the Chicago Public Library and some info is online there. I've gone down to look at the records in person but they are not fully organized and I wasn't able to find anything for the Power House.