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'McGuane Memories' Park Project Aims to Raise Money, Nostalgia

By Casey Cora | February 28, 2014 9:13am
 Organizers of the project are asking for Bridgeport residents' memories of the century-old park.
McGuane Memories
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BRIDGEPORT — What are your McGuane memories?

The McGuane Park Advisory Council is collecting recollections of the neighborhood park, 2901 S. Poplar Ave., in an effort to raise money for kids programming there.

“Park District prices have gone up for kids programs. Families shouldn’t have to kill themselves over the cost,” said Mary Welter, a Bridgeport resident who’s leading the “McGuane Memories” project.

Organizers are asking people to share park memories — essays, stories, snapshots and the like — which will be compiled into a website and perhaps included in a printed or electronic book, the proceeds of which will support park programs for kids.

But that’s just part of the project.

Welter said the group’s ambitions are two-fold: they’re hoping to lure in some park "boosters," who could call attention to the park’s features as well as its structural woes, which include a field house roof in dire need of repair and poor drainage along entry paths.

And it's also about exposing residents to the park’s history, which is rooted not only in the formation of the Bridgeport neighborhood but also the entire city.

With a field house designed by famed architects Daniel Burnham, the Olmsted brothers and "Burnham plan" co-author Edward Bennett, McGuane Park originally opened as Mark White Square in 1905, along with nine other South Side parks that year that contained ornate field houses. Those parks provided families with a place to play, relax, learn, and in many cases, take a dip in public bath houses.

The parks and field houses were an immediate, enormous success.

According to a Chicago Park District history, by the end of 1906 “hundreds of thousands of people from congested South Side neighborhoods had collectively visited these parks more than five million times” and the Chicago architects’ concept would go on to serve as an inspiration for cities across the country.

In Bridgeport, Irish immigrant families flocked to Mark White Square, named after a park project superintendent, for its facilities, including a popular outdoor wading pool.

The park's name was changed in 1960 to honor John F. McGuane, a civically involved World War I veteran who served as a park board commissioner.

The city knocked down the original field house in 1972 — it’s unclear why — and replaced it with a new building and swimming pools. Other South Side field houses still standing include Armour Square Park, Fuller Park and Cornell Square Park.

Today, McGuane Park contains ball fields, bocce ball and tennis courts, horseshoe pits and an indoor swimming pool and is home to the McGuane Magic, a recreation program for the developmentally disabled.

The park playground was overhauled in 2013 as part of the volunteer-driven Chicago Plays! Initiative.

Launched just this week, the “McGuane Memories” project is already generating some interest: Welter said she’s taken in 10 submissions.

“This is just a start. It will bring in nostalgia…I have one guy who called me and said a friend in Arizona wants to talk about some memories. Even retired people who left here are interested in participating,” she said.

“There’s a history here and we want to keep it.”

Interested in contributing to the project? Participants can drop off written notes at the McGuane Park field house, email them to McGuaneMemories@gmail.com or call Mary Welter at 312-265-0754. The McGuane Park Advisory Council meets at 6 p.m. on the first Monday of every month.