LOGAN SQUARE — The Chicago Park District on Wednesday recognized the Unity Park Advisory Council for three decades of service.
Over the years, the council and other residents have been instrumental in shaping the once-dodgy Logan Square park at 2636 N. Kimball Ave., which turned 30 this year, into the oasis it is today.
"I've been involved with Unity Park for more than 20 years. My late husband, John, played at the park as a child," Robert Castillo, the park advisory council's director of development, said at the park district board meeting.
"It's important not only to improve this resource, but to honor his legacy. So those who want to come from all over the city can stop in Logan Square."
The Unity Park land used to be home to an underutilized parking lot before determined residents stepped in. In the late 1960s, residents banded together to ask the city to convert the parking lot into a playlot. Eight years later, Playlot 293 was born with basic playground equipment and a sandbox.
Years later, in 1987, residents formed the "Citizens for a Decent Playlot" group to demand an actual park with better, more modern playground equipment and plantings. The park district partnered with the group on the renovation project, which the agency called a "great success" despite "some urban problems [that] persisted in an adjacent city parking lot."
The last updates came in the 1990s, when the park district expanded the park by three quarters of an acre and installed new playground equipment — all thanks to the persistence of residents.
According to local blog Logan Squarist, a resident-led plan to install permanent basketball hoops was controversial. Then-Ald. Vilma Colom (35th) opposed the hoops for fear they would attract gangs, citing concerns from a group of neighbors.
But other residents fought back, saying the outdoor courts were desperately needed in Logan Square. The courts eventually went up when Colom's successor, Ald. Rey Colon, took office. The struggle was illustrated in a short audio documentary.
"Unity Park's name recognizes the persistent efforts of the diverse Logan Square community in making the park a reality," the park district wrote on its website.
Wednesday's honor comes after the City Council extended congratulations to the advisory council a few months ago.
Take a look at historic photos of Unity Park below:
Unity Park under construction in 1986 - 87 [All photos Courtesy/Unity Park Advisory Council]
Ashley Dearborn speaking at a rally for basketball hoops
Ald. Rey Colon, Mayor Richard Daley and council chairwomen Teresa Garcia and Jane Michalski at the expansion dedication in the early 2000s
Rally for basketball hoops outside Ald. Vilma Colom's office in the mid-1990s