Aussies Want Chicago Park Named for Architect Who Designed Their Capital

By Benjamin Woodard on June 18, 2013 6:24am 

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 Marion Mahony Griffin and her husband designed Australia's capital city of Canberra in the early 1900s.
Marion Mahony Griffin
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WEST ROGERS PARK — The Australian representative to the Midwest hopes a small Chicago park will soon be named after the late Marion Mahony Griffin, who helped design the Aussie capital city a century ago.

Griffin designed the city, Canberra, with her husband, Walter. Both architects were known for working with Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago.

In the early 1900s, the two won an international competition to design the first capital city of Australia after the continent's British colony declared its independence in 1901.

"In Chicago, Frank Lloyd Wright is the superhero, but in Australia, it's Walter and Marion Griffin," said Consul-General Roger Price, who heads the Australian consulate in Chicago.

Since Price, a former member of the Australian parliament, assumed his new post in Chicago 18 months ago, he said he's been working with the Chicago Park District to have the park-naming coincide with centennial celebrations of his country's capital.

The Griffins moved from Chicago to Australia after winning the competition, and work began in 1913 to construct the city in former farmland in southeast Australia, Price said.

"There’s a strong American connection to Australia's capital," he said, mentioning that the artificial lake at the city's center is named after Walter Griffin, and a prominent lookout there would be named after Marion Griffin this year.

The Griffin's design encompassed everything about the city, from its circular street layout to it's parliament buildings and public green space, although not all of it was eventually implemented.

The Griffins lived in Australia until 1936, before moving to India where Walter Griffin died. Marion Griffin eventually returned to Chicago in 1939 and lived in Rogers Park on Estes Avenue until her death at age 90 in 1961.

Julia Bachrach, the park district's unofficial chief historian, said the City of Chicago was in the beginning stages of renaming Park No. 557 — a 1,000-foot-long, narrow green space located just northeast of the intersection of Touhy and Kedzie avenues — for Griffin.

The district had singled out Griffin because of her ties to Rogers Park and because of a push to name more parks after women, but it's possible her husband could be included, too.

Bachrach said if the community was supportive, the park district's Board of Commissioners could vote to rename the park —  which currently does not feature much more than a walking path, bench and a few trees — within the next few months.

"We've always wanted to find a park for her in East or West Rogers Park," Bachrach said.  Since 2004, Griffin's name has been on a list of women the district hopes to honor.

Griffin's career began in the offices of Frank Lloyd Wright, where she beautified renderings of his projects. Although she wasn't credited with creating the drawings at the time, they were often a big selling point for Wright's clients, she said.

Griffin was also the first licensed female architect in Illinois, and one of the first in the country, the historian said.

Ann Glapa, who lives near the park, said she'd been working with the Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society to name the park after Marion Griffin.

"She was a master artist" who has a strong connection to the neighborhood, Glapa said. She also painted murals at Armstrong Elementary School, 2110 W. Greenleaf Ave.

Price has met with Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) about the renaming.

Silverstein said Monday afternoon she was waiting for instructions from the Park District to move forward with renaming the park. She said she would be receptive to the idea if the community supported it.

Price said while he and other Aussies want the park "selfishly" named for a woman who greatly influenced the look of their capital city, "hopefully Chicago would [also] appreciate what an outstanding woman she was."

Added Glapa: "She was a cool lady."

The Block Museum of Art in Evanston is featuring an exhibit of the Griffins' work through September.

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