VIDEO: Historic West Side conservatory re-opens

The Garfield Park Alliance strives to create exciting and eye catching accents to the conservatory for every season. For spring this year, the cellings are peppered with vibrant yellow umbrellas.

By Rachael Ponn

It was early evening on June 30, 2011, when ominous dark clouds rolled into the skies, bringing with them severe thunderstorms that caught everyone by surprise. Lightening struck skyscrapers like The Willis Tower but the real casualty was The Garfield Park Conservatory.

Golf-ball sized hail destroyed over 50 percent of the glass pane facade, which forced the historic site to close off many sections of it’s glassed landscape.

Eunita Rushing, president of The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance, will never forget the moment she saw the conservatory in pieces.

“Oh I remember so many things…” Rushing said, “ I walked in the door and could see that the production houses were all damaged severely… [I] was really, really stunned at what I saw. It was almost like a stake in the heart.”

According to Rushing and the alliance, the skies had barely cleared before Park staff and community volunteers were flocking to the conservatory to see what they could to to help.

“We cried for a day,and then the next day we were ready to start asking what we needed to do to fix this.”

Rushing loves the West Side and has considered home for her entire life. This neighborhood is resilient and so is this structure, Rushing explained.

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The Fern room and Desert house sustained the most damage. Including insurance, donations and money that the alliance raised, approximately $15 million went into the rehabilitation effort.

On Wednesday, April 22nd, the conservatory re-opened with crowds gathering in the Fern Room to see the repairs and once again the four and a half acres of lush garden space.

Community members, Vanessa Maya, Andrew Paratus and their son, Benjamin, were among the attendees at the opening ceremony.

“We’re very excited, we spend most days here but now we’ll have more area to cover and we’re excited about that,” Paratus said.

Rushing hopes that soon even more people will realize the treasure of this oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

Celebratory festivities will continue this Sunday starting at 10am.

Photo at top: Garfield Park Conservatory (Rachael Ponn/Medill)