Thursday, May 30, 2019

The new Gymnasium and Natatorium at Douglas Park, Chicago. (1896)

Along with bicycling, many other forms of “active recreation” were on the rise in late 19th century Chicago. Douglas Park was the smaller of the three great parks, Garfield Park, and Humboldt Park, of the West Park District and governed by West Park Commission.
“New Gymnasium and Natatorium at Douglas Park,” Chicago Daily Tribune, August 1896.
At the time, Germans accounted for the city’s largest ethnic population, and many were enthusiastic members of clubs that encouraged physical and moral fitness called Turnverein. In 1895, the Turnverein Vorwaerts, a Turners club located at West 12th Street (now Roosevelt Road) and South Western Avenue, petitioned the West Park Commissioners for an “outdoor gymnasium and public swimming bath” in Douglas Park.

Agreeing to the request, the commissioners soon hired Bohemian immigrant architect Frank Randak (1861-1926) to design the facility. He produced a brick natatorium with turrets, pitched roofs, and open courtyards that had separate outdoor pools for men and women. Randak’s complex included a quarter-mile-long running track with gymnastics apparatus—parallel and horizontal bars, trapezes, swings, vaulting horses, and ladders in the center of the oval.
With separate pools for men and women, the 1896 Douglas Park natatorium was the first swimming facility in a Chicago park. Douglas Park Men's pool. (1900)
This photo of the women’s pool dates from 1914.
In celebration of the natatorium’s opening, the West Park Commission held an extensive dedication ceremony. The event included a parade from Union Park to Douglas Park in which members of numerous Turners clubs marched alongside Polish and Bohemian athletic club members and representatives of trade unions. Towards the rear of the procession, members of the Chicago Bicycle Club rode past cheering crowds.

The impact of changing recreational trends accelerated over the course of the 20th century.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. Pretty nice facility! My husband's family (Polish and Czech) came from that neighborhood.


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