Special Collections and Preservation Division
Neighborhood History Research Collection
Millennium Park Inc.
Introduction to Millennium Park Inc.
(Bulk dates 1998-2004)
15 linear ft., 13 VHS videos, 755 photographs, 6 CDS
Call number: Archives_MPI
Note | Scope Note
Arrangement | Provenance | Access
General | Opening Weekend | Jay Pritzker Music Pavilion/B.P.
Pedestrian Bridge | Cloud Gate | Crown Fountain | Lurie Garden
Millennium Monument and Wrigley Square | Harris Theater | Exelon Pavilions
Boeing Galleries | Audio-Visual | Artifacts
In 1852 the City of Chicago granted a right of way to the Illinois Central Railroad (ICR) if it would construct a breakwater along the lakefront, from 12th Street to Randolph Street, to protect the lakeshore from erosion. So began an occupation of some of Chicago's prime real estate for 145 years. Popular belief held that the ICR owned the property. Over the years, several plans to construct a park in this area were suggested and they all foundered for one reason or another. However, each plan, including Burnham and Bennett's 1909 Plan for Chicago, worked around the land occupied by ICR. The site remained an eyesore as downtown Chicago grew taller and real estate prices soared.
In 1996 the Chicago Park District's General Counsel and Lakefront Director, Randall Mehrberg, began to investigate the ownership of that parcel of land. Amazingly, he found that the City did not cede the land to ICR in 1852, rather they allowed an easement as long as the site was being used for railroad purposes. Clearly, by 1996, the land, an unpaved parking lot used by ICR subsidiary employees, was no longer being used for rail transportation. Consequently the Chicago Park District filed a lawsuit terminating the easement. As a result of the lawsuit, the ICR donated the rights, title and interest in the disputed land to the City in December 1997. This became the site of Millennium Park.
Millennium Park is the culmination of a massive public and private collaboration to bring to Chicago a lakefront park with world-class sculpture and architecture. The Park is also the largest green roof in the world, at 1,067,220 square feet, or 24 ½ acres, over parking garages.
In March 1998 Mayor Richard M. Daley asked John Bryan, CEO of the Sara Lee Corporation, to raise $30 million in private donations to offset the cost of the Park to taxpayers. This private money was to pay for "enhancements" on top of the parking garage. John Bryan had previously been involved with a campaign that raised over $100 million in private donations to renovate Chicago's Orchestra Hall, home of the Chicago Symphony, and the Civic Opera House of Chicago. Thus, Bryan was already a well-known and proven fund-raiser in Chicago.
Bryan had far more ambitious hopes for these "enhancements" for the Park. He hired James Feldstein to help raise funds and he put together a "Blue Ribbon Committee" comprised of fellow corporate officials with experience in civic and cultural affairs to coordinate the effort. This committee evolved into the Millennium Park Board of Directors.
In August 1998 Mayor Richard M. Daley asked the Chicago Park District's Ed Uhlir to serve as project director of Millennium Park. Uhlir's extensive experience as the Park District's Chief Architect, Director of Engineering and Director of Research and Planning gave him the required knowledge to manage the construction of Millennium Park. Furthermore, Uhlir's congenial personality, combined with his skills in art, planning and architecture, was instrumental in convincing Frank Gehry to build in Chicago.
Originally budgeted to cost $150 million and scheduled to open in 2000, Millennium Park eventually cost $475 million opening in July 2004, with $173.5 million coming from the private sector. The original plans for the Park were far more modest than what was eventually built and this, in part, accounted for the increased costs.
As the size of the Park grew, from 16 acres to 24.5 acres, "enhancements" were added as more corporations and individuals donated more and more money. The increased donations enabled the planners to attract acclaimed architect, Frank O. Gehry, to build the Pritzker Pavilion and his first-ever pedestrian bridge. Spanish artist Jaumé Plensa, was commissioned to design the water feature, the Crown Fountain, and British artist Anish Kapoor, was selected to design his dramatic Cloud Gate. An international garden design competition resulted in 11 of the world's most accomplished landscape architects submitting entries for the Lurie Garden. Internationally acclaimed landscape architects, Kathryn Gustafson and Partners, won the competition.
The increased costs were not all attributed to these "enhancements" however. An existing underground parking garage had to be essentially torn out and replaced; the size of the Park increased by almost 50%; and the decision to "fast track" the construction [when construction begins before the final plans are completed] trying to get the Park open in the year 2000 caused much work to be done, and then redone. During construction the Park underwent dramatic transformations. In one year over 1,000 design revisions were issued by the City - causing costs to rise.
Despite much negative publicity during construction, both Chicagoans and visitors to Chicago have embraced Millennium Park wholeheartedly since it opened. Crown Fountain is a firm favorite with children on hot summer days while the Jay Pritzker Music Pavilion continues to impress concert-goers and architectural enthusiasts for different reasons. The Lurie Garden continues to grow into its 10-year plan, attracting wild life, nature lovers and people seeking a quiet, serene space in the heart of Chicago. Cloud Gate continues to "wow" spectators, its seamless skin inviting people to touch as they encounter the art. In cold weather the McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink continues to draw people to the Park.
For a more detailed history of Millennium Park researchers are encouraged to consult Timothy J. Gilfoyle's excellent Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark, published in 2006 in Chicago by the University of Chicago Press. F548.65.M55G55 2006
For a thorough history of the international garden design competition that resulted in the Lurie Garden, please see Constructed Ground: The Millennium Garden Design Competition by Charles Waldheim, published for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs by the University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Illinois, 2001. SB466.U65C568 2001
For information about the construction of Millennium Park researchers should consult Better Than Perfect: The Making of Chicago's Millennium Park, by Robert Sharoff, privately published by Walsh Construction Co., W.E. O'Neil Construction Co., U.S. Equities Realty, in Chicago, Illinois, 2004. F548.65.M55S43 2004
The Millennium Park Inc. Archives contain information from the early planning stages of Chicago's "Lakefront Millennium Project" in 1998 through the completion and opening of the Park in July 2004. The overwhelming majority of the collection consists of presentation boards showing elevations, site plans, renderings and architectural sections of the various sites of the Park. The international garden competition which resulted in the construction of the Lurie Garden is particularly well represented, with presentation boards from all 11 entrants and with architectural models from the 3 finalists. Additional models from the winner of the garden competition show a more developed plan; there are two models of Crown Fountain, one showing the inside structure of the towers; there is a model of Cloud Gate; and there is a model of the Millennium Monument and Wrigley Square, currently on exhibit on the 8th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center.
There was no existing organization to the papers in the Millennium Park Inc. Archives when they were accessioned and they have been organized into subjects that correspond to the major sites in the Park itself by the archivist:
Jay Pritzker Music Pavilion/B.P. Bridge
Millennium Monument and Wrigley Square
Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance
Exelon Pavilions/Exelon Gallery
In addition to these sites, there is a General section and a section related to the events surrounding the Opening Weekend and gala. Current brochures published by the Park will be added to the General section as they are created. Audiovisual material and artifacts have been described in their relevant sections.
Millennium Park Inc. designated the Chicago Public Library as the official repository for its archives in 2005, one year after the Park opened to the public and represent donations from the Millennium Park Office itself. The initial donation consisted of around 100 presentation boards concerned primarily with the Garden Competition that resulted in the Lurie Garden. The next donation consisted of 11 boxes and 8 architectural models. Both donations were processed together in 2006.
Millennium Park Inc. Archives are available for research in the Reading Room of the Special Collections and Preservation Division Reading Room on the 9th floor of the Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center, 400 South State Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60605. The collection does not circulate, although photocopy and photo reproduction services are available depending upon the condition of the original materials. Some copying restrictions may apply. Items with the prefix "D" are oversize and require 24 hours notice to make available. Also, researchers wishing to see the artifacts must make an appointment with the Museum Specialist, please see the archivist on duty for help. First time patrons to Special Collections must present photo identification and complete a Reader Registration Form. Telephone inquiries on this collection and other Special Collections holdings can be directed to (312) 747-4875.