Constructed between 1906 and 1907, the Garfield Park Conservatory was designed by Chicago's general superintendent and chief landscape architect, Jens Jensen in collaboration with Prairie School architects Schmidt, Garden and Martin and the New York engineering firm of Hitchings and Company. It represents a unique collaboration of architects, engineers, landscape architects, sculptors and artisans.
Jensen conceived the Conservatory as a series of naturalistic landscapes under glass, a revolutionary idea at the time. The simple yet strong shape of the structure, which is meant to emulate the haystacks of the Midwest, complements the collection of plants and foliage that it houses.
Today, the Conservatory still follows the original tenets of Jensen. One of the most popular rooms is the first presented to visitors, the Palm Room. In it over 84 different varieties of palm trees can be found from the over 2,700 known to exist today. Of particular importance is the double coconut palm first grown by employees of the Conservatory in 1959. The double coconut palm is only found off the coast of South Africa in its native environment and produces what is believed to be the largest seed of any plant in the world weighing up to 50 lb. The double coconut palm at the Conservatory died of currently unknown causes in February 2012.
After many decades of neglect, the conservatory underwent a multi-million dollar restoration in 1994. The non-profit Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance formed to help maintain the structure and provide programs and services for visitors.
In a hailstorm on the night of June 30, 2011, the Conservatory suffered catastrophic damage to glass in showrooms as well as production houses where plants are grown or stored. Five recently-renovated showrooms contained laminated glass and therefore sustained less damage. Some areas were reopened to the public on July 3, 2011.
Photo captured April 27, 2012.
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