Exploring Chicago Neighborhoods,  random adventures

secret gardens of chicago – part 2 – garden of the phoenix

This post is the second in a series revealing the Secret Gardens of Chicago – Part 2 – Garden of the Phoenix. If you missed Secret Gardens of Chicago – Part 1 – Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond you can read it here.

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Full disclosure, it took me a couple of times to find this garden. Seriously, it was not easy to find even for this native Chicagoan. Currently it is closed because of erosion but I encourage you to put it on your list anyway of new places to discover in Chicago in the future. It’s worth it.

1893 world’s columbian exposition

The Garden of the Phoenix is one of several physical relics left over from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE) scattered throughout the city. It was left to us after the fair as a gift from the Japanese government. The WCE was a pretty significant event in Chicago history that we lobbied hard for and eventually won along with one of our nicknames. Yes, we are called the Windy City but not because of the wind, although we do have some very, let’s say interesting weather.

We sent our politicians to the East Coast to lobby for the WCE competing against St. Louis, New York & Washington DC to host this grand event. New Yorkers called us those ‘windbags’ from Chicago. Now you know. I guess some things never change. Just look at politics today, more than 125 years later.

back on the map

This was a very big deal for us because it was 22 years after the Great Chicago Fire and we were ready to get back on the map. Come back to Chicago! We have rebuilt! The WCE (aka The White City) commemorated the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the new world. The event was epic for us. It lasted 6 months and drew over 27 million visitors. That’s crazy considering that the population of the whole U, S of A was about 62 million & Chicago was just above 1 million at that time.

Forty-six nations participated in the exposition, each represented by an authentic ‘village’ showcasing their unique cultural traditions including belly dancing & snake charmers. It occupied 630 acres on Chicago’s South Side in Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. Among the Midway attractions was the world’s first Ferris Wheel, invented by George W. Ferris. It was a 250-foot steel structure that had 36 cars that could carry 60 people each. It was illuminated by 2,500 Edison incandescent lights and was meant to rival the newly completed Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Of the WCE’s more than 200 buildings (built to be temporary) only one remains in Chicago. The Palace of Fine Arts building, built to last two years at the most, was renovated and reopened as the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) in 1933. Just in time for Chicago’s second World’s Fair, the Century of Progress.

Among the new items & inventions introduced at the WCE were Cracker Jack, Juicy Fruit gum (Wrigley), shredded wheat, commemorative coins, a moving walkway or travelator & the zipper to name a few. Electricity was newly invented along with the first line of the ‘L’ (elevated) train that was created as a people mover getting them to the WCE.

devil in the white city

If you want to learn more about the 1893 WCE I suggest you read ‘Devil in the White City’ by Erik Larson. It is historical non-fiction featuring two men Daniel Burnham, lead architect for the WCE & Chicago’s city planner and a serial killer, pharmacist Henry Holmes. Their stories are based on real characters & events that are concurrently intertwined during the construction of the White City. A fascinating yet horrifying must-read if you are interested in Chicago history. Who doesn’t who like a good horror story?

finding the secret garden

I found even using Google Maps it was difficult to find, so here’s how to get there. Heading south on Lake Shore Drive turn right at East Hayes Drive (63rd St). You’ll pass the first parking lot on the right and the Statue of the Republic (a 24-foot replica of Daniel Chester French’s 65-foot statue) on your left. She’s another reminder of the WCE in all her glory which stood in the Grand Basin in the Fair’s Court of Honor. Keep veering right after you pass the Republic until you see another parking lot. Park here. Don’t forget to pay the meter. You want to exit the parking lot right past where you pay to park. Heading north find the path and follow it. You will have a good 5-10 minute walk. It’s beautiful & serene. Hard to tell you are in a large, bustling metropolis.


You’ll know you are close when you come across Yoko Ono’s striking sculpture “SKYLANDING”. Composed of a dozen 12-foot tall lotus flower petals her sculpture is a symbol of peace. At the October 17, 2016 dedication ceremony she described the artwork as the “place where the sky and earth meet and create a seed to learn about the past and come together to create a future of peace and harmony, with nature and each other.”

I took these photo’s last Spring. It was chilly & dreary but you can see the flowers starting to bloom. You can just image what it looks likes in full bloom.

welcome to the garden of the phoenix

The Garden of the Phoenix symbolizes the mutual respect and friendship that Japan and the United States initiated more than 120 years ago. In 1893, here on Jackson Park’s Wooded Island, the Japanese Government built the Ho-oh-den (Phoenix Temple) as its pavilion for the World’s Columbian Exposition. The Ho-oh-den introduced Japan’s artistic heritage to Americans and remained as a gift to Chicago after the Fair. The original pavilion had only a small garden; however, in the mid-1930s, the newly-formed Chicago Park District restored the pavilion and added a more extensive Japanese Garden. Funded by the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the project incorporated Japanese elements including a small tea house from Chicago’s 1933-34 World’s Fair, A Century of Progress, in Burnham Park.

After the site was repeatedly vandalized during WWII, fire destroyed the Phoenix Temple in 1946, less than a year after the war ended in the Pacific. Although Japan and America entered into a peace treaty in 1952, the garden deteriorated and received only minor improvements until the early 1980s when the Chicago Park District received a federal grant for its restoration. Since then, the Garden of Phoenix has been revitalized several times, including a 1992 project that celebrated Chicago’s Sister City relationship with Osaka, Japan. Today the Chicago Park District works with non-profit organizations Project 120 Chicago and The Garden of the Phoenix Foundation to enhance, maintain, interpret and promote the legacy of this historic garden and Jackson Park.

I hope you enjoyed this second post in the series, revealing the Secret Gardens of Chicago – Part 2 – Garden of the Phoenix. If you don’t want to attempt trying to find this hidden gem on your own, I’d be happy to take you there. It can be one of the stops on my tour-by-car route. Click here to search for Mimi in Chicago. Check out my routes, my reviews and if you don’t see exactly what you are looking for, contact me and I’d be happy to create a custom tour for you to book.

Until the next adventure my friends, be well & stay safe!

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