In 2012, the Chicago Park District began transforming the northeastern part of Grant Park into Maggie Daley Park. For many decades, an expansive surface parking lot occupied this site with a portion of the Illinois Central’s sunken rail yard extending along the northwestern edge. In the mid-1970s, the Chicago Park District replaced the old park lot with the Richard J. Daley Bicentennial Plaza, a complex that provided a new 3700-car underground garage with major recreational facilities. Dedicated to Chicago’s former Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902 – 1976), the facility included a new fieldhouse for indoor recreational programming as well as several outdoor amenities such as tennis courts, an ice skating rink, picnic areas, and Grant Park’s first playground.
In 2009, the City of Chicago and the Park District began plans to renovate the underground parking garage and fieldhouse and enliven the outdoor elements in this area. Over the next several years, thousands of citizens participated in community workshops and meetings to help determine the programming for this prominent lakeshore site which lies just east of Millennium Park. The Park District hired Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, an internationally renowned landscape architecture firm to design the new park space. Serving as a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park, the design incorporates curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.
The Chicago Park District Board of Commissioners renamed the site in honor of Maggie C. Daley (1943 – 2011) Chicago’s longtime first lady, who was deeply committed to improving the lives of children and making the city culturally rich for all of its citizens. Maggie Daley was the co-founder of Gallery 37, a cultural arts program for teens in the summer. This led to the creation of After School Matters, a non-profit organization that offers Chicago teens innovative activities in the arts, communication, science, sports and technology. It is now the nation’s largest out-of-school program of its kind for teenagers.
A dynamic force behind many of Chicago’s non-profit organizations, large and small, Mrs. Daley was a tireless advocate for her city. Today, she is remembered for her grace, perseverance, zest for life, and commitment to a better Chicago.