Many residents in Logan Square were drawn to the area because of the beautiful open green spaces along Logan, Kedzie, Palmer and Humboldt Boulevards. However, some may not realize that these roads are actually categorized as a historic landmark system by the City of Chicago.
The Boulevard System of Chicago, first conceptualized by urban developer John S. Wright and constructed in 1870, was a series of boulevards that ran around the entire city. Originally conceived as a bunch of narrow parks, Wright sought to bring the beauty of nature into the urban city. “I foresee a time, not very distant, when Chicago will need for its fast increasing population a park or parks in each division [referring to the south, west and north sides of the city]. Of these parks I have a vision. They are all improved and connected with a wide avenue extending to and along the Lake shore on the north and south, and so surrounding the city with a magnificent chain of parks and parkways that have not their equal in the World,” he said.
Today, many of the scenic boulevards have been built over, and according to the Logan Square Preservation Society, “the final 2 1/2 miles of boulevards in Logan Square remain as the only vestige of the original system that looks today as it did in 1900.”
Even though there are some gaps where the scenic boulevards used to be, you can still bike the whole thing like someone did in 2008. A map at the far west end of Palmer Square (taken by chadn on Flickr) depicts the original 28-mile “Emerald Necklace” boulevard system. The Logan Square Preservation Society has been fighting since the 1980s to keep the boulevards looking nice (you can thank them if you want).
As an ambitious series of plans by the Parks Department, the boulevards aimed to make the city beautiful in a functional way. City officials envisioned a series of parks for people to enjoy the outdoors and socialize with neighbors. At the time, residents could show off their fancy carriages and boating hats (since they didn’t have much to do back in the early 20th century) and the area was home to many mansions at the time.
Then, in the 1920s, they started building nice-looking apartment buildings next to all the mansions. Basically it all looked like that stretch of Logan just past the farmer’s market. Some of you out there still live in those drafty old apartment buildings. If yours still has radiators, then I’m jealous of you.
Officials at one point pulled out funding for upkeep and decided to just see what happened. Turns out nothing good. And it seems like letting parks fall into disrepair is less of a call to arms than failing to remove snow like the snowpocalypse in 1979. After World War II, old buildings were demolished and new ones built, and in this flurry of change people were somewhat careless about maintaining the pride and tradition behind the once-charming boulevards. (For historical context, this is also the period of American history that popularized canned green beans and other food atrocities.) They didn’t really know what they were doing, but they did their best.
This disrepair continued until the 80s when a group of concerned citizens got together and fought (although not literally) for their boulevards to be preserved. To defend the boulevards, citizens planted, mowed and filed the appropriate paperwork in order for the boulevards to become protected. Eventually, in 2005, the boulevards were recognized as an official landmark. You can read about the whole struggle on the Logan Square Preservation Society webpage here, but be warned: There’s some talk about zoning laws.
So next time you drag your grill, dog or yard sale to the open green space throughout the neighborhood, remember that a lot of people put a lot of work into making sure the remains of the boulevard system wasn’t torn up and replaced with condos. Enjoy your boulevards. They’re really nice, and a lot of cities don’t have anything like them.