The Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society supports the renaming of Jarvis Beach and Park in Rogers Park to Marion Mahony Griffin Beach and Park. On December 9, 2014, RP/WRHS Vice-President Kay McSpadden, acting on behalf of the RP/WRHS, sent this letter of support to Julia Bachrach in the Chicago Park District’s Department of Planning and Development.
“As Vice-President of the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, I am writing to express the Society’s support for the Chicago Park District’s initiative to rename Jarvis Beach and Park in Rogers Park as Marion Mahony Griffin Beach and Park.
One of the goals of the Historical Society is to encourage the residents of Rogers Park and West Ridge to become familiar with and take pride in the contributions of our outstanding citizens. That Marion Mahony is a founding member of the important Prairie School of architecture and that she spent twenty-five of her ninety years living and working in Rogers Park, making contributions during those years that added to her international reputation as an architect, are reasons why she is deserving of having a memorial to her in the neighborhood.
As you know, Mahony’s true contributions to Chicago’s Prairie School of architecture have been subsumed under the reputations of her male counterparts including Frank Lloyd Wright and her husband Walter Burley Griffin. We applaud the Chicago Park District’s effort to bring her to the attention of city residents. Hopefully, the naming of the beach for her will help to redress the neglect that her reputation has suffered.
In an article on Marion Mahony, Dr. David VanZanten, distinguished Professor of Art History at Northwestern University, stated, “I would argue that Marion Mahony Griffin was the third great progressive designer of turn-of-the-century Chicago after Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.” (David VanZanten, “Marion Mahony Griffin,” in Marion Mahony Griffin: Drawing the Form of Nature [Evanston, IL: Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art and Northwestern University Press, 2005], 2.)
Recently the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society held two programs to acquaint residents and others with Marion Mahony’s life and work. Both programs were very well attended, demonstrating that those active in preserving the history of the neighborhood value the opportunity to celebrate this important figure and to identify her as a member of their community.
Presenters at these programs gave us an insight into the esteem in which Mahony is held by architecture scholars. Dr. Shiben Banerji, Assistant Professor of Art History at the School of the Art Institute, has recently completed a doctoral dissertation on Marion Mahony. In the course of his talk emphasizing Mahony’s international reputation, Dr. Banerji commented that the naming of a beach is a very fitting way to memorialize her love for the natural environment and her use of the forms of nature in the architectural drawings which were her great contribution.
For the second program, Dr. David VanZanten led a tour to view the mural which Mahony painted at George B. Armstrong International Studies Elementary School in West Ridge. The mural, a natural and mythical scene entitled Fairies Feeding the Herons, shows continuity with her series of Forest Portraits which along with her use of “Japonisme” nature elements in her architectural drawings, established her reputation as a visual artist. Furthermore, the existence of the mural demonstrates that Mahony felt a connection with this community and wished to make a visible and lasting contribution to her home.
The Society hopes to continue to provide opportunities for neighborhood residents to become familiar with the professional contributions of Marion Mahony and with her presence in Rogers Park. A letter in our possession from Chicago lawyer and amateur historian John Notz, now retired, has led us to other sources for documenting Marion Mahony’s contributions to Rogers Park.
Professor Christopher Vernon, Senior Lecturer in Landscape Architecture at the University of Western Australia, shared with us his article based on his visit to Marion Mahony’s family homestead at 1946 W. Estes Avenue in Rogers Park. He discovered that the house bears several prairie architecture features which Mahony was probably instrumental in installing. A member of Mahony’s extended family, who knew her during the last two years of her life, attended our mural tour and has given us contact information for other, closer family members who might be willing to contribute to our oral history collection.
Mr. Notz, who was instrumental in establishing an appropriate memorial at Mahony’s burial site in Graceland Cemetery, has offered to lead a tour to the burial site. We also plan to establish an online archive of materials related to Mahony.
For the residents of Rogers Park, especially the young people, the beaches and parks along Lake Michigan are an important element in giving the neighborhood its distinctive character. The naming of one of the beaches for Marion Mahony Griffin will keep before beachgoers the model of a vastly talented woman who not only broke down barriers by entering a field still today dominated by men but became one of the foremost innovators of the twentieth century. Furthermore, she will be celebrated as an artist in a neighborhood that has become a home to many contemporary artists.
Thus may I reiterate the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society’s enthusiastic support for the naming of Marion Mahony Griffin Beach and Park. We look forward to active participation in the effort to extend the community’s knowledge and celebration of this distinguished resident.”
If you have questions about this letter, please call us at (773) 764-4078 or email us at email@example.com.