Warren Park and the Edgewater Golf Club

From HistoryWiki

Warren Park and the Edgewater Golf Club

by Arlene Swartzman

Written for the 2013 Annual House Tour Booklet

Warren Park, an 88-acre recreational center for Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood and the largest park in the Chicago Park District’s North Region, has an interesting – even tumultuous – history.

Today, it is a community treasure featuring a baseball field, the nine-hole Robert A. Black Golf Course, community gardens, playgrounds, tennis and racquetball courts, and activities for all ages: guitar, drawing, and photography classes, and preschool programs for the under-five age group.

But the process of establishing this great park is a tale filled with political wrangling, social class tensions, and conflicting ideas for use of public and private space.

The story begins in 1896 with the founding of the Edgewater Golf Club, a private association originally sited in the area bounded by Evanston (Broadway), Foster, and Balmoral Avenues in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood.

One year later (1897), the site’s small size, its 5-hole course, and the unavailability of land for expansion led to the Club’s relocation to a 55-acre site south of Devon Avenue and west of Sheridan Road and Evanston Avenue (Broadway) where a nine-hole course was built. By 1910, the Club purchased 92-acres at Ridge Avenue and Pratt Avenue, and in May, 1911, the new clubhouse and 18-hole golf course opened its doors. In 1916, golfer Chick Evans, the Club’s most illustrious member, won the U.S. Open and the U.S. Amateur.

The opening of the golf club spurred not only the interest of club members for homes nearby (five were built on Pratt Avenue between 1912-14) but of real estate developers, who advertised how close their new homes were to the Club. By 1953, however, it was the land on which the Club stood that became coveted property as real estate developers, eager to capitalize on the rapidly growing West Ridge and Rogers Park housing market, saw dollar signs.

In 1965, the Club voted to sell the site to Kenroy Realtors and the Jupiter Corporation for $7.6 million; in November, 1968, the sale to Kenroy was completed – but not without a vociferous community outcry. Contending that creating a densely packed area of multi-story apartment buildings, townhouses, and a shopping center would affect the entire community, the Allied North Side Community Organization (ANSCO), a federation of community groups led by Laurence C. Warren, Lily Pagratis Venson, and Theodore Berland, among others, was joined by Alderman Jack I. Sperling, (50th) to preserve these grounds as open public space. ANSCO prevailed: Governor Richard B. Oglivie, at the behest of Mayor Richard J. Daley, acquired the western two-thirds of the land, paying $3.5 million (with additional grants from HUD for $4.5 million and $2.5 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior) and turning it over to the Chicago Park District. The Chicago Public Building Commission condemned the property north of Arthur Avenue (this southern portion remained in private hands) and bought it for $10.3 million in 1974.

Warren Park (named for Laurence C. Warren) is a community treasure because of the efforts of a determined community group, politicians who listened, and a commitment to public parks. Whoever said that Chicago is “The City that Works”? They’re right!