Event Recap: Cantigny Park and Gardens Tour

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October 8, 2019

Cantigny Park, Gardens and McCormick House tour

The AIA-Northeast Illinois Chapter hosted a tour of the rehabilitation of the Cantigny Park and Gardens on the historic McCormick Estate in Wheaton, IL. Colonel Robert R. McCormick was editor, publisher and president of the Chicago Tribune for 44 years. In 1922, McCormick and his co-publisher Joseph Patterson launched a competition for the newspaper's new headuarters, known today as the Tribune Tower Competition. He also distinguished himself as a soldier in WWI, as an Alderman in the 21st Ward of Chicago, as President of the Chicago Sanitation District, as the founder of  WGN (World's Greatest Newspaper) radio, WGN TV and as a lifelong advocate for freedom of the press.  After his death in 1955, his will established the Robert R. McCormick Charitable Trust and designated his 500-acre Cantigny estate a public space for education and recreation (1).  

The Park’s Horticultural Design Manager and registered landscape architect, Craig Kruckenberg,  began the tour with a literal overview of a model of the Park built into the floor of the visitor’s center. Cantigny hired the interdisciplinary firm Sasaki to lead the planning and design of the park's rehabilitation.  Construction of a new formal fountain, stone garden, decomposed granite gravel pathways and site drainage improvements make up phase #2 of an eight-year improvement plan.  The completed phase #1 included a detention pond, rose garden and improved wayfinding elements to enhance the experience of park visitors.  Much of the earth that had to be removed was relocated on site, creating what is now Butterfly Hill. One of the many challenges when designing the park features was to keep the utilities accessible yet hidden.

After the Park and Gardens tour the group gathered in the original Art Deco movie theater located in the lower level of the house for a brief video presentation on Colonel McCormick’s life and times.  The mansion was built by Robert McCormick’s maternal grandfather Joseph Medill in 1896 which he originally named Red Oaks Farm.  While Joseph referred to it as a “cottage” it was in fact a large country estate designed by architect C.A. Coolidge (2) in the Georgian style.  Colonel McCormick renamed the estate Cantigny after a French town his battalion helped liberate in WWI (3).  The brick home was added onto and later equipped with high tech inventions such as the first television with a remote control and hidden communication devices that would alert the staff when to serve the guests food and spirits.  Both McCormick’s first and second wives had much to do with the interior design including Chinese wall tapestries and porcelain Foo Dogs for good luck.  The final phase #3 starts next spring and includes restoring the Mansion and rejuvenating its surrounding grounds. The McCormick's have endowed the western suburbs with a beautiful treasure for generations to enjoy for years to come.

The AIA Northeast Illinois Chapter would like to extend a special thank you to USI for sponsoring this event, Cantigny Park and Craig Kruckenberg for making this event possible.  

Noteworthy Facts and Sources:  

1. The Life and Times of Colonel Robert R. McCormick https://www.fdmuseum.org/researchers/robert-r-mccormick-biography/

2. C.A. Coolidge was one of the Boston Architects who designed the Art Institute and the old Chicago Library .  https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1996-08-04-9608040086-story.html

3.. The Battle of Cantigny was the first U.S. victory in WWI. https://www.fdmuseum.org/researchers/robert-r-mccormick-biography/

New Brick Trail

Gold Pond Garden

Rose Garden Trellis

Brick Edging Installation

Image credits

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