SOUTH LOOP — A section of Grant Park around the John A. Logan Monument commemorating the Civil War general and U.S. senator from Illinois will get an overhaul in the next year that includes a new fountain, paved walkways and all new landscaping, thanks to an anonymous $6 million donation.
Bob O'Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, said the money came from donors committed to funding improvements to the green space surrounding the bronze statute of Logan, which was erected in 1897 on a sloping hill in an an area that is now on the east side of Michigan Avenue at 9th Street.
The renovated site — tentatively named "Peace Park" in newly released renderings — calls for a fountain adjacent to the railroad tracks to the east of the statue, new sidewalks, trees and landscaping, and upgrading existing benches and other infrastructure to "higher-grade finishes," according to O'Neill and the renderings by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture.
Despite entreaties from the Grant Park Conservancy that the money be spread out to include the planned skate park to the south or the Chopin statue in the works for 11th Street and Michigan Avenue, O'Neill said the donors wanted to specifically spruce up the area commemorating Logan.
Logan, who lived from 1826-1886, was also a congressman and state lawmaker who was the general for the 31st Illinois Regiment in the Civil War, according to a biography on the website of the John Logan Museum in Murphysboro, Ill.
The museum calls him "General [Ulysses S.] Grant's favorite officer, one of Illinois' most powerful Senators, Founder of Memorial Day as a national holiday, and among Mark Twain's favorite public speakers." The website notes that Logan went from an "avid racist" who opposed Abraham Lincoln to someone who later fought for the union, pushed for civil rights for blacks and supported Lincoln's reelection.
"Frederick Douglas said, if a man like Black Jack Logan can have a change of heart then there is hope for everyone," the site says.
The Logan monument was unveiled before a huge crowd at Grant Park after it was completed by well-known American sculptor August Saint-Gaudens, and its siting and design atop a hill was done with an assist from architect Daniel H. Burnham, according to the National Park Service.
The sloping grass around the monument is now a sledding hotspot in the winter, something O'Neill said the new plans will respect and accommodate.
"We want people out in the winter time, and a lot of people bring children there because it's a good-sized hill, and in Chicago there's so little area to sled," he said. "We don't want any interruption to that, so we made sure that plans were changed so the sled hill will remain."
The anonymous donor's funding includes money from one man's estate and individual contributions, and will fund maintenance for Peace Park in the future, O'Neill said, "so that would allow for the Park District to spend [its] funds on other areas."
O'Neill says the plans have already been approved by the Park Enhancement Committee and the Park District "is on board now," leaving public approval as the only hurdle before construction can begin. The plan will be presented at a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Northerly Island Fieldhouse.
The Park District did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The plan was first proposed "four or five years ago," O'Neill said, but could be finished by the end of next year.
"Now is the time to do all this, while all these projects are going on," he said, referencing the nearly-completed Maggie Daley Park and plans to start the skate park and Roosevelt Road bike path in 2014. "We want it all coordinated, and quickly."