AVONDALE — The neighborhood's "secret park" is due for a creative public relations makeover, according to one artist and members of the Avondale Neighborhood Association.
Avondale Park, 3516 W. School St., has had its ups and downs since it was constructed in the 1930s, but community organizers say plans to add a colorful youth-oriented mural could herald a revival at the triangular playlot and fieldhouse.
While regular members of the park have been privy to the park's maintained facilities, its wide array of youth programs and its heroic staff for years, community organizers say structural developments over the last few decades have rendered the park a mystery to most residents.
"We just thought, "how do we get attention to this park?' Then the idea of a mural came along," said Emily Taylor, president of the Avondale Neighborhood Association. "The main goal is to get that park noticed, but it's also a great tool to get people involved in the park and have a project that everyone can get behind."
The secret park is "tucked away" between the Kennedy Expressway and neighborhood homes, according to Taylor. Due to a series of one-way streets in the area, it's only accessible from one direction, and only after several preceding turns and stop signs near the Kimball I-90 exit ramp.
The park was planned and built as a 5-acre green space with a fieldhouse, separate boys and girls playgrounds, a wading pool, a sand box and tennis courts, according to the Chicago Park District, but it was chopped down to a single acre around 1960 when the Kennedy Expressway was built directly through its center.
The park has sat in relative obscurity ever since, Taylor said. Though it retained a basketball court, the fieldhouse, a small pool and a sizeable playground, the basketball court was removed at the request of residents after two young girls — ages 7 and 2 — were shot by gunmen driving a purple van in June 2011.
While acknowledging the park's past difficulties, Taylor said the lot "has suffered from a lack of recognition over the years."
The mural will be located close to the park's exit, along a low wall beside the expressway. Design renderings show bright and colorful scenes of childhood play and excitement.
"We want to tie in everything from kids putting on skates to bouncing balls, going swimming, hula hooping and dancing — that was sort of my inspiration — all the fun you associated with a park as kids. A place where great, magical and exciting opportunities can happen," said artist George Berlin.
Berlin, a Ravenswood animator, expects the painting to take about a month, with a scheduled completion marked for late summer/early fall.
"My work is about play and fun and all the good things we did as kids. So it means a lot to me to have my work tie into a playground that's really important to people," Berlin said.
According to Taylor, the mural project will move forward soon after organizers reach their fundraising goal of $1,000. Any amount over the goal will be rolled into three subsequent murals planned for the neighborhood, she added.
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