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JACKSON PARK

Neighborhood Spotlight

By Rosalind Cumming-Yeates

Bordering the South Side communities of Woodlawn, Hyde Park and South Shore is Jackson Park, which is perched on the shores of Lake Michigan. Noted for its striking architecture and scenic lake views, the expansive park regularly hosts recreational and cultural activities for residents and area visitors and is the future home of the Obama Presidential Center. Created by Frederick Law Olmsted (who designed New York’s Central Park), Jackson Park stretches over 551 acres and was once a marshy bog along the lakeshore. Focusing on the water element as a unifying feature, Olmsted designed a series of basins and lagoons to give the park a serene feeling.

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Jackson Park
Credit: Choose Chicago

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Obama Presidential Center
Credit: The Obama Foundation

The city’s third-largest park was initially laid out in the 1870s when Chicago was selected to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Architect and urban designer Daniel Burnham worked with Olmsted to expand the park as the fair’s site and the result was “the White City,” a gleaming landscape of white neo-classical buildings encircling reflecting pools, lagoons and a manufactured isle known as Wooded Island. The grounds were transformed back into parkland once the fair concluded, but several buildings were repurposed including the Palace of Fine Arts, which became the present-day Museum of Science & Industry.

​Today, Jackson Park boasts a gym, tennis courts and the Golden Lady statue replicating the Exposition’s famous statue of The Republic. The park also lays claim to three harbors and the nearby 63rd St. Beach that have made it a haven for the South Side’s boating community. At Bobolink Meadow, park visitors can navigate through a nature trail, prairie land, woods and a birding area. Another highlight is the Jackson Park Golf Course, which offers a 500-acre, 18-hole course shaded by hardwood trees, and is accompanied by a 36-station driving range with challenging fairways and greens. Golf lessons, a youth caddie program and a snack bar are also available — appropriate golf attire is required.

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Jackson Park
Credit: Choose Chicago

Museum of Science & Industry
The largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science & Industry is a mecca for kids and adults alike. This unique museum, which opened 40 years after the 1893 Exposition, was the first in North America to provide interactive exhibits. The museum continues to provide technologically advanced exhibits with over 400,000 square feet of displays designed to stimulate scientific inquiry and creativity.
 

Crowd favorites of the permanent exhibits include “Science Storms,” where visitors can step into a whirling artificial tornado. Another favorite is “Genetics and the Baby Chick Hatchery,” which teaches the chemical components of DNA while watching adorable baby chicks hatch in an incubator before your eyes. There’s also “Transportation Gallery,” which showcases a range of historic vehicles including the first train to hit 100 miles per hour, the gondola that held the first humans to reach the stratosphere and a Boeing 727 complete with flight simulators. 

In time for summer 2024 are new exhibits like “007 Science: Inventing the World of James Bond,” where visitors can experience the science behind the cars, gadgets and props in the first-ever official exhibit for the Bond film series; and “The Blue Paradox,” which examines plastic pollution in an immersive experience below the ocean.
 

Also, the museum will display the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft in a new Henry Crown Space Center exhibit for the summer. The vessel delivered NASA’s cosmic ray particle tool and various space supplies to the International Space Station in 2017 and 2019. The exhibit is an exciting launch into modern-day space exploration.

SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft
Credit: Museum of Science and Industry

Japanese Garden
Green features inside Jackson Park include the gorgeous Garden of the Phoenix, commonly referred to as Japanese Garden. Located in the park’s Wooded Island, the surrounding garden was originally the site of the Japanese pavilion for the Columbian Exposition. The traditional Japanese garden has tree-lined paths, a double pond with islands, a flowing waterfall, stepstones and a moon bridge.
 

Carved stone lanterns guide visitors throughout the garden. In the spring, the spotlight goes to the garden’s 150 cherry trees that bloom around late April. Cherry blossom viewing in Japan is called Hanami, and those frequenting the garden celebrate the blooms’ progress with an annual Hanami festival featuring Japanese dance, music and crafts held every May.
 

The garden also features Sky Landing, created in 2016 by artist and musician Yoko Ono. Ono’s first permanent public art installation in the U.S., Sky Landing is represented by a dozen polished steel lotus petals that reach 12 feet into the sky, symbolizing peace and spiritual awakening.
 

Obama Presidential Center
The highly anticipated, 19-acre Obama Presidential Center — slated to open in 2026 — will provide an expansive museum, a public library and gathering spaces including the Hadiya Pendleton Winter Garden, the Eleanor Roosevelt Fruit & Vegetable Garden and the John Lewis Plaza. The museum’s architecture will feature an upward sweeping movement, and the exterior will display words from President Obama’s speech marking the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March. 

President Obama 
Credit: The Obama Foundation

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President Obama at Parkside Community Academy
Credit: The Obama Foundation

Yacht & Beach Clubs

Jackson Park Yacht Club
Jackson Park is home to three major boat clubs and the oldest is the Jackson Park Yacht Club, originally formed in 1896 and headquartered in the park’s outer harbor across from a former Coast Guard station. The club operates a racing program and has participated in the Chicago Yacht Club’s annual race to Mackinac Island, Michigan. The club also holds sailing classes and operates as a nonprofit that promotes youth interest in boating.

Southern Shore Yacht Club
Formed in 1912 to preserve the sport of powerboating on the South Side, the Southern Shore Yacht Club is another veteran marine club of the park. Operating in Jackson Park’s inner harbor, the club regularly holds events such as jazz concerts, dances and cookouts. It provides outreach such as hosting boat-building classes for youth and picnics promoting community-based policing strategies.

Museum Shores Yacht Club
Established in 1970, the Museum Shores Yacht Club is situated in an inlet by the Museum of Science & Industry leading out to Lake Michigan. The club promotes power boating activity to South Shore residents. Like the Southern Shore Yacht Club, Museum Shores has been active in helping law enforcement promote community-based policing strategies. The club also provides programs that teach water safety to adults and youth. 

South Shore Social Beach Club
Located a stone’s throw from Jackson Park is the South Shore Social Beach Club, which serves food, drinks and fun on the beach’s edge behind the South Shore
Cultural Center Park
. (The Cultural Center Park is separated from Jackson Park’s southeastern tip by Lake Shore Drive.) While the beach club’s menu is a crowd pleaser — with burgers, wings, club sandwiches, salads and nachos — so are the events and activities regularly held on and outside club grounds. Some of the fun the beach club hosts from Memorial Day through Labor Day include live bands, movie nights, paint and sips, DJs, line dancing and beach workouts.

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