As you’ve likely heard by now, the Garfield Park Conservatory — 105 years old, and one of the largest and most beautiful conservatories in the country, if not the world — was devastated by the June 30 storm that downed trees, cut power, and hammered the city of Chicago with golf-ball-sized chunks of hail.
The conservatory’s website reports:
The Garfield Park Conservatory sustained catastrophic damage in last night’s hailstorm, shattering approximately half of the glass panes in the roofs of the historic Fern Room, Show House, and nine propagation greenhouses. The glass panes in the Desert House also sustained significant damage. The pathways, ponds and plants in the Fern Room, Show House, Desert House and propagation houses are covered with broken glass, and shards of glass hang dangerously from the roofs. Until the roofs are repaired, rain will cause the ponds to overflow, and direct sunlight will destroy and kill the plants that have been so carefully and lovingly conserved for so many years.
Conditions right now are too dangerous for Conservatory staff to go in and care for the plants — which include a huge range of succulents, tropicals, cacti, and ferns as well as a rare double coconut palm that’s possibly the largest of its kind anywhere outside the rainforest. There is glass everywhere: on the floor, in the trees, in the ponds, embedded in bark and leaves and buds. It is, a friend on staff told me, so disastrous on so many levels — structural, horticultural, financial — they’re still trying to sort it all out.
What is known is that thanks to this nasty act of Mother Nature, the facility will likely be closed for months. And it’s going to take a whole lot of money to get it up and running again. So, clearly, the situation calls for some soup. And maybe some bread.
This Wednesday, July 6, from 5:30 – 8, come join us at the Hideout for a Very Special Summer Soup & Bread to benefit an institution that’s one of the few things in Chicago that I, at least, believe is an unqualified public good.
Because the Conservatory isn’t just an architectural treasure — though it is that, designed by Jens Jensen, the MAN of Chicago landscape architecture, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And it’s not just an oddly successful tourist attraction, drawing visitors who might otherwise never venture beyond the Bean to the uncharted west side with the twinkly lures of Dale Chihuly glass — though that’s of course great too.
The Conservatory’s also home to the propagation greenhouses (above) that nurture plants for parks across the city – and allow community gardeners and nonprofits to colonize a bit of their bench space for their own heirloom tomatos. It teaches beekeeping and worm composting and provides a home for the U. of I. Extension’s master gardener program (which I was a part of in 2007).
It teaches the littlest kids how to nurture a sunflower seed in a Dixie cup. It provides professional development opportunities for teachers interested in botany and ecology. It wrangles rowdy thousands of field-tripping CPS students every year. It reaches out to west-side community groups to help develop their own green spaces and gardens. It hosts a farmers’ market. And, like just about every public programming outfit anywhere, it’s already operating on the slimmest of shoestring budgets.
In other words, it is an irreplaceable community resource, one I’ve been lucky enough to volunteer at and learn from over the years.
OK. Sure. Realistically, the money we raise at Soup & Bread might repair four panes of glass. But it’s the least we can do. And it will be fun! We miss you! It’s been lonely around there this spring, and we’ve got a brand new patio and everything.
So please come out Wednesday and join the Hideout, Swim Cafe, and all the other soup cooks I have yet to round up, in showing our support. We’ll be serving COLD SOUP ONLY, with bread donated by our friends at La Farine Bakery, and tunes spun by Numero Group‘s Michael Slaboch.
Oh — and if you can’t make it on Wednesday, you can donate directly to the Conservatory via their website. Every little bit helps. Want more gory details? See this FOX News Chicago report for the full monty: Garfield Park Conservatory Closed Due to Hailstorm Damage: MyFoxCHICAGO.com
ETA: Parts of the Conservatory–the undamaged parts–reopened today (Sunday) so go on out and show them some love. Also, the Fern Room turtles have been sighted and seem to be doing fine. (Shells. They’re handy!) Here they are (above) having a meeting to assess the damage to their pond.