What’s now known as the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park has been called “the quintessential oasis.” It’s one of the few examples of landscape architecture listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The lily pool is named after Alfred Caldwell, the landscape architect who designed it and oversaw parts of its construction. In the video, Caldwell talks about his creation and what became of it.
Passion has been a much overused word these past few decades, but you’ll have no doubt of Caldwell’s if you watch his cameo appearances in the video about the lily pool’s restoration.
I did my part. It goddamned near killed me. If you don’t fight for these things then you’re lost – totally, completely.
I had lived through a very harsh life at that time … a really hard life. You wouldn’t tolerate such a life, but I did. I lived through it. And I thought whatever is going to happen to me hereafter at least I shall have beautiful parks to walk through. And you see, I was fooled. I don’t have beautiful parks to walk through. You ruined every damn one of them.
Caldwell left the Chicago Park District in 1939 and never set foot in a Chicago park again until 1990, when he returned to the lily pond and was dismayed by what he saw.
I did it. It was my dream. I wish I could tell you now it’s lovely. No. It’s not lovely. It’s ugly and ridiculous, but it can be fixed. It can be made proper.
Thanks to the efforts of, among others, the Lincoln Park Conservancy and the Chicago Park District, the lily pool was restored to Caldwell’s original vision over a 5-year span.
My kids loved the lily pool when they were young, and we spent many pleasant hours there before its restoration. Caldwell wouldn’t have agreed, seeing only its decayed state, but the kids and I clearly felt we had a beautiful park to walk through.
I visited the lily pool nearly 3 years ago in the following video, after its restoration, and had mixed feelings about its “improvement.”
Here’s another view of the lily pond, shot just two weeks ago by a visitor who considers it his favorite place in Chicago.