You may recall earlier this summer I wrotean email blast asking your opinion on a proposal to change the name of the Jarvis Beach and Park (see photo on right) to the Marion Mahony Griffin Beach and Park in honor of the renowned Rogers Park artist and architect, Marion Mahony Griffin (1871-1961). I also solicited opinions on my Facebook page and various social media sites in the neighborhood.
Based on the comments I’ve received, which have been overwhelmingly supportive of the proposed name change, and the absence of any compelling argument against the proposal, I have informed the Park District that I plan to support the name change.
Below is some background information about the proposal, a brief summary of Ms. Mahony Griffin’s illustrious life and her connection to Rogers Park, and my reasons for supporting the renaming:
The proposal originated from Park District Superintendent Michael Kelly and Australian Consul General Roger Price, both of whom who expressed a desire to name a park or beach in Rogers Park in honor of Ms. Griffin, a protégé of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and former resident of Rogers Park. I indicated I was open to the idea and, after some consideration, recommended Jarvis Beach and Park as the most suitable candidate for renaming because of its close proximity to Wright’s landmark Emil Bach House at 7415 N. Sheridan (see photo below).
But before I gave my final approval to the renaming, I wanted to solicit your opinion of the idea. If the proposal engendered significant community opposition or if someone offered a compelling argument against the proposal, I would withhold my support.
I received 119 replies to my email blast, which is more replies than I’ve received from any email blast I’ve ever sent. I also received over 20 replies to my Facebook page post and dozens of replies to my posts on the other social media.
The issue also received coverage on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight show:
Though the renaming of the park certainly is not the most important issue that has come before me during my tenure as alderman, it clearly struck a chord with many people. I thank everyone who took the time to express an opinion on this matter.
The overwhelming number of people who weighed in voiced their support for the proposal. Of the 119 people who emailed my office, 93 (78%) expressed support for the renaming and 26 (22%) expressed opposition. A much small number of people replied to my Facebook post, but the percentage of support was roughly the same. Of the people who offered an opinion, 16 (73%) expressed support and six (28%) expressed opposition.
Opinion on the issue was split more evenly on the social media sites, but it is difficult to ascertain the precise number of pro and anti-renaming sentiment because those sites allow for anonymous posts and individuals who use multiple screen names.
Though the Park District staff solicited my support for the renaming, the Park District Board of Commissioners must make the final call. The Board will consider the proposal at its meeting onWednesday, November 12th, 3:30 p.m., at the Park District Headquarters, 541 N. Fairbanks, 8th Floor Board Room.
In case you missed my initial email on this topic, below is a brief summary of Marion Mahony Griffin’s illustrious life and her connection to Rogers Park (see photo on right taken in 1930 with husband, Walter Burley Griffin). I’ve provided additional biographical information since my first email, courtesy of her biographer, Paul Kruty, Professor Emeritus of Architectural History at the University of Illinois.
Professor Kruty is the author of several books including Frank Lloyd Wright and Midway Gardens, Marion Mahony and Millikin Place andWalter Burley Griffin in America. He reached out to me to convey his support for the renaming. His thoughtful and detailed letter, in which he summarizes the magnificent life of Mary Mahony Griffin, is attached here:
Ms. Mahony Griffin was the first woman in the history of the world to pass an examination to receive an architecture license, an ambassador of the Chicago-style architecture, and a pioneer for professional women in the first decades of the 20th Century. She was the first employee hired by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and became his right hand person. Her design work and watercolors became synonymous with the Prairie Style of architecture.
Her beautiful watercolor renderings of buildings and landscapes became known as a staple of Wright’s style, though he never gave her credit for her work. Despite her talents, her work went largely unrecognized during her tenure with Wright.
Marion Mahony’s talents finally emerged from Wright’s shadow when Wright left the U.S. in 1909 She finished all of his work and created a half dozen houses in his name.
She began working with Walter Burley Griffin in 1910 and married him in 1911. Together, they designed many homes in the Rogers Park area, including the J. Benjamin Mouton house, located at 1328 W. Sherwin (see photo above). They moved to Australia in 1914 and won the international design competition for designing the capitol city of Australia, Canberra (this is why the Consul-General of Australia is advocating for her to be honored).
Ms. Mahony Griffin returned to Chicago in 1925, and again in 1932, living in Rogers Park with her sister for the next two years. At that time, she painted two magnificent murals in the lobby of Armstrong Elementary School, 2110 W. Greenleaf, where her sister was a teacher. The murals remain to this day, having been restored in 1997. One of the murals,“Fairies and Woodland Scenes,” is pictured above.
Following her husband’s death in India in 1937, Ms. Mahony Griffin returned to Rogers Park, where she resided until her death in 1961. Her autobiography, “The Magic of America,” which she wrote while living in Rogers Park, is among the treasures of the Art Institute of Chicago. In addition, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University in Evanston holds the largest collection of her inked architectural drawings.
The naming public buildings, parks and roads is one way we traditionally honor those individuals who have made significant contributions to our history. Mary Mahony Griffin is one such person. Allow me to quote from her biographer, University of Illinois Professor Emeritus Paul Kruty, whose letter is attached above:
“Mahony’s significance is NOT that she was Griffin’s wife or that she lived in Australia or that she helped design the capital city of Australia. Her importance to world architecture is that she was one of the most talented contributors to the revolutionary architecture that was produced in Chicago between 1890 and 1915, following the inspiration of the great Louis Sullivan, a group that also included Frank Lloyd Wright and that we now call the Prairie School. The fact that she was also a woman, in fact the first woman to pass an exam to get an architecture license in the history of the world, only adds to her importance.”
Naming a beautiful beach and park, just steps from Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Emil Bach House, is a fitting and long overdue tribute to this giant of a woman who broke every glass ceiling in her chosen profession and blazed a trail for future generations of women during a time when women’s professional work was seldom acknowledged and recognized. The fact that she lived in Rogers Park and contributed to its local art and architecture makes the beach and park renaming even more apropos.
Few Chicago Parks are named after Women
Sadly very few parks and beaches in our City are named after women. Of the 348 parks named for people in the Chicago Park District system, only 62 (17%) are named for women. Three of those parks are here in Rogers Park: Lazarus Park on the 1200 block of Columbia is named in honor of American poet and philanthropist Emma Lazarus, Willye White Park on Howard Street is named after the famous Olympian, and Pratt Beach recently was re-named Toby Prinz Beach Park in honor of the late Rogers Park activist.
Changing the name of the Jarvis Beach and Park to the Marion Mahony Griffin Beach and Park would add to the Park District’s portfolio of parks named in honor of accomplished women.
Little is Known about R. J. Jarvis or if He Even Existed
Of course, renaming the park and beach in honor of Ms. Mahony Griffin would mean supplanting the name “Jarvis.” A number of those who expressed opposition to the proposal expressed the view that changing the name would dishonor the history of Rogers Park and the “Jarvis family.”
Little is known about Mr. Jarvis. According to the Chicago Park District website, the Jarvis Park and Beach was so named because it is located at the end of Jarvis Avenue. According to a street guide provided by the Chicago History Museum, Jarvis Avenue was named after “R.J. Jarvis,” who the guide says was a friend of the Rogers and Touhy families, the founders of Rogers Park. However, neither the Chicago History Museum, nor the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society has been able to provide any additional information to support this assertion.
In fact, it is possible that R.J. Jarvis never existed. A University of Illinois at Chicago researcher reported that his examination of census records and digitized editions of the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers revealed no record of an “R.J. Jarvis” in the Rogers Park area during the second half of the 19th century or early decades of the 20th century.
His research indicates it is possible that Jarvis simply was an arbitrary name assigned to the street. The street originally was named Bryan Street after a prominent Rogers Park land owner. In April, 1913, the City Council renamed hundreds of streets in Chicago in an attempt to rationalize street nomenclature and eliminate duplicate names. Bryan Street was renamed Juniata Street, apparently because there was a “Bryan Place” elsewhere in the City.
In December 1913, the City Council voted to change the name Juniata Street to Jarvis Street. No reason was given, though “Jarvis” was on a long list of acceptable street names in a 1912 report to the City Council. In addition to names that commemorated places and people, the City wanted names that were easy to pronounce, but distinct enough to be remembered. According to a Chicago Tribune report at the time, the Chicago City Club recommended that Juniata Street be renamed Joliet Street, but there is no record as to why the name Jarvis was selected.
Of course, it is possible that the name R.J. Jarvis was overlooked by the UIC researcher in the documents he searched. The Jarvis name also could have been misread by those indexing census records, or he could have lived in the area in between the years the census was taken. But the fact that no one has come forward with any information about an R.J Jarvis other than the one sentence explanation in a street guide leads to a strong presumption that he may never have existed.
And even if by chance an R.J. Jarvis did exist, his impact on the Rogers Park community and the world at large is at best negligible, certainly in comparison to Marion Mahony Griffin’s accomplishments. In short, I find no historical injury in renaming the beach and park after a woman whose contributions to the world and our community are clear and unquestioned, especially since the Jarvis name will continue as a street, a commercial district and a Red Line Station.
Many Chicago Street-End Beaches are named after People or Institutions
Finally, a number of people who expressed opposition to the renaming argued that it ran contrary to the longstanding practice of naming beaches after the streets that end at them. Others expressed concern that renaming the beach after Mary Mahony Griffin would make it more difficult to find.
Though most Park District beaches are identified by their street, this is by no means a universal practice. In fact, of the 25 street-end beaches in Chicago, seven (28%) are named for people or institutions rather than streets. These include Rainbow Beach Park at the end of 77th Street, which was named for the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division that fought gallantly in World War I; Osterman Beach (formerly Ardmore Beach), which was renamed in honor of former 48th Ward Alderman Kathy Osterman; and Lane Beach Park (formerly Thorndale Beach), which was renamed in honor of George Lane, a community activist and 49th Ward Democratic Committeeman.
Four of Rogers Park street-end beaches are named for something other than the street that runs into them. Hartigan Beach and Park (formerly Albion Beach and Park) was renamed in honor of former 49th Ward Alderman David Hartigan andLeone Beach and Park (at the end of Touhy Avenue) was named in honor of Sam Leone a beloved supervisor of the Park District life guard program.
Residents in the 1930’s voted to name the beach and park at the end of Greenleaf, Lunt, Morse and Farwell, Loyola Beach and Park in recognition of nearby Loyola University. Finally, Pratt Beach was just renamed Toby Prinz Beach Park, in honor of the community organizer and advocate for Rogers Park Beaches.
As the examples above indicate, naming street-end parks and beaches for something other than streets is by no means unprecedented. Moreover, I am unware of any complaints that those parks and beaches are difficult to find because they are not named after streets, especially in this era of Google Maps.
Honoring this Strong, Accomplished Woman is Long Overdue
I understand that some Rogers Park residents hold a sentimental attachment to the name “Jarvis.” Just as many people continue to call the tallest building in Chicago by its original name, Sears Tower, rather than Willis Tower, I’m certain many Rogers Park residents will continue to refer to the beach and park as “Jarvis.” They are certainly free to do so.
However, in terms of its official name, I believe sentiment must yield to the weight of history. Marian Mahony Griffin is emblematic of the many strong and accomplished women throughout history whose work has gone unrecognized and unappreciated. Renaming a tiny beach and park in Rogers Park in honor of this giant of a woman, who was a pioneer in her field and a trailblazer for future generations of professional women, is a small, but meaningful step towards redressing this wrong.
I support the renaming.