Garfield Park Conservatory celebrates full re-opening

SHARE Garfield Park Conservatory celebrates full re-opening

The Fern Room of the Garfield Park Conservatory had been closed since 2011, when a hailstorm shattered many of the glass panels in its roof. | James Foster for The Sun-Times

Children skipped through the steamy, lush landscape, passing ferns with glorious names like “Giant Dioon,” “Contorted Tongue” and “Fluffy Ruffles Sword.”

Perhaps some of the young minds wandered to another era, when leathery-skinned dinosaurs roamed the land.

“That’s what we do it for — we do it for the kids,” said Mary Eysenbach, the Chicago Park District’s director of conservatories, as she celebrated the re-opening Wednesday of Garfield Park Conservatory’s Fern and Desert rooms.

A host of dignitaries, including Chicago first lady Amy Rule, came for the event — almost four years after a massive hailstorm shattered 60 percent of the conservatory’s glass roof plates.

Rule was there to flip the switch, turning on the Fern Room’s picturesque mini-waterfall.

Designer Jens Jensen designed the Fern Room as a fanciful tribute to what the city might have looked like in prehistoric times.

It’s been a long journey for the conservatory’s 18 staff members, who witnessed the devastating damage at its worst. The massive storm that roared through the West Side on June 30, 2011, scattered pieces of jagged glass across the conservatory’s rooms.

Most of the plants survived the storm, but cleanup efforts — workers stepping on plant beds — damaged some plants. In the conservatory’s Fern Room, which sustained the most damage, employees hand-picked glass, then vacuumed the rock walls and soil to make sure the glass was gone.

The new roofs now have quarter-inch double-laminated glass to defend the building from the next storm. Wood framing on the roof was reinforced with steel to accommodate the heavier glass, and trusses were made out of cypress trees.


An aerial photo of the Garfield Park Conservatory after a hailstorm damaged the glass roof the night of June 30, 2011. | Lee Hogan/For the Sun-Times

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