Portage Park

From HistoryWiki

Portage Park Soundex Code P632

4100 N. Long Avenue

Chicago, Illinois

Portage Park is Community Area 15

Portage Park was created in 1913 by the Old Portage Park District, an independent park board formed by local citizens to enhance property values and improve their northwest side neighborhood. The name of the new park district, and that of its first and largest park, makes reference to several nearby routes used by Native Americans and fur traders to portage their canoes between the Des Plaines River and Chicago River. The American Park Builders Company prepared the original plan for Portage Park and completed initial construction between 1913 and 1917. The park design included a naturalistic swimming lagoon, which opened to the public in July, 1916.

By the 1920s, the new park was thriving. Noted architect Clarence Hatzfeld designed a handsome prairie-style fieldhouse in 1922, followed by an attractive brick gymnasium in 1928. Portage Park quickly became the center of the community, providing athletics and team sports, cultural and club activities, festivities and special events. In 1934, the city's 22 independent park commissions were consolidated into the Chicago Park District, and the new agency soon secured federal funds through the Works Progress Administration. WPA improvements at Portage Park included additional plantings, whimsical stonework fountains and gateways, and a comfort station. WPA workers also removed the original swimming lagoon and constructed a kidney-shaped concrete pool. In 1959, the park district replaced the concrete pool with an Olympic-sized pool in preparation for hosting the Pan American Games. In 1972, Portage Park hosted the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, where Gold Medalist Mark Spitz set new world's records. In 1998, the swimming pools and plaza area were rehabilitated and an interactive water play area was created for children. The 1922 fieldhouse is now being used as a cultural center, offering art crafts, drama, music, and senior citizens programs.