Have you visited Toni Preckwinkle Park? What about Lori Lightfoot Library? These places don’t exist in Chicago yet, but depending on who wins the city’s mayoral race on April 2, one of these (or others) may be among the sites named for former mayors.
By Chris Younkin-Wilson
Here are five sites in Chicago’s built environment that bear the name of a former mayor.
1. Harrison Park
Carter Henry Harrison III was a native Kentuckian who settled near Union Park, just two miles north of the park that bears his name. He was elected to five terms as Chicago’s mayor, starting in 1879, but only completed four of them. Several months after the fifth term began in 1893, Patrick Eugene Prendergast assassinated Harrison, on the night before the final day of the World’s Columbian Exhibition. A celebration for the fair’s closing was cancelled due to a large public memorial service that was held for Harrison. Four years later, Harrison’s son, Carter Henry Harrison IV, followed his father’s footsteps by becoming mayor.
The West Park Commission created Harrison Park in 1912 to add green space to the largely industrial Lower West Side. Famed landscape architect Jens Jensen designed the park’s first plans on a site that previously held a lime production facility. Today, Harrison Park is home to the National Museum of Mexican Art.
2. Cermak Road
Born in what is now the Czech Republic, Anton Joseph Cermak is considered one of the fathers of the Chicago Democratic Machine. Cermak engaged diverse ethnic groups to form a powerful political coalition and in 1931, defeated incumbent mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson, Chicago’s last Republican mayor to date. On Feb. 15, 1933, Cermak was hit by an assassin’s bullet intended for president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in Miami, Fla. Cermak died 20 days later.
In the months after Cermak’s death, the City Council voted to name a street in his honor. 22nd Street was chosen because it passed through Pilsen and South Lawndale, two neighborhoods with a high Czech-American population at the time. Cermak himself lived in South Lawndale at 2348 S. Millard Ave, less than two blocks south of what is today Cermak Road.
3. Daley Center
Perhaps Chicago’s most well-known mayor, Richard J. Daley held the office for more than 21 years. Daley was born in the blue-collar Bridgeport neighborhood, where he lived most of his life. Known widely as the “Boss,” Daley was known for his tight control of politics across the city and strengthening a system of patronage for political supporters. Daley’s eldest son, Richard M. Daley, was mayor from 1989-2011 and his youngest son, Bill Daley, came in third in the 2019 Chicago mayoral election.
Originally known as the Chicago Civic Center, the Daley Center houses more than 120 court and hearing rooms, the Cook County Law Library and offices for the City of Chicago and Cook County. The Daley Center is characterized by its notable rust color, caused by Cor-Ten steel. The weathering steel strengthens the structure over time and Daley Plaza (the open courtyard adjacent to the building) features a matching Cor-Ten sculpture by Pablo Picasso.
4. Jane Byrne Interchange
At the conclusion of the 2019 mayoral run-off election, Jane Byrne will lose her status as Chicago’s only female mayor, since both candidates in this year’s run-off election are women. Early in her career, Byrne rose through the ranks of Richard J. Daley’s administration, but lost favor with Daley’s powerful friends after his death. Byrne opted to take on the political establishment as an outsider and won in 1979 following the city’s mishandling of record snowstorms. Many early supporters were later disappointed with her turn toward Machine-style politics after Byrne achieved the rank of mayor.
The Jane Byrne Interchange is the convergence of the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and Congress Parkway, just west of Chicago’s downtown Loop. Built during the late 1950’s and early 60’s, the wide curves of the ramps appear to form a circle from above, hence the original name of Circle Interchange. The interchange was renamed in honor of Byrne in August 2014, just months prior to her death in November of that year.
5. Harold Washington Library
Harold Washington is another significant “first” in Chicago’s history: in 1983, he was elected the city’s first African-American mayor. Facing resistance from a bloc of 29 aldermen, Washington’s first term was fraught with inaction termed “Council Wars” – a reference to the new-at-the-time Star Wars films – as Washington’s opposition refused to pass his legislation or approve his appointments. Washington suffered a fatal heart attack less than a year into his second term, joining three others from this list as the four Chicago mayors who died in office.
Across Chicago, there are more buildings and parks named in honor of Washington than any other mayor – eight locations in all. Perhaps the most prominent is the main branch of the Chicago Public Library system, the Harold Washington Library in the Loop. The competition to design and build the library was initiated by Washington in 1987, and a design from Hammond, Beeby, & Babka, Inc. was chosen in 1988. In recognition of Washington’s support of the construction of this branch and his advocacy for public education, Mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated the new library to Harold Washington when it opened in 1991.