Yoko Ono partners with Chicago non-profit Project 120 to reimagine Jackson Park

Yoko Ono (left) and an April 2014 rendering of a planned multi-million dollar visitor's center for Jackson Park. 
Yoko Ono (left) and an April 2014 rendering of a planned multi-million dollar visitor’s center for Jackson Park.

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Staff Writer

Yoko Ono is consulting on designs for a new landscape in Jackson Park.

The project is part of Chicago non-profit Project 120’s sweeping vision for Jackson Park that includes a multi-million dollar visitor’s center and an updated framework plan inspired by Frederick Olmsted’s 1895 designs for the park.

Project 120, headed Masuda Funai lawyer Bob Karr Jr., is raising private money for the plans irrespective of whether the Obama presidential library will be built there, and taking into consideration the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) current restoration of native park habitats.

Yoko Ono is consulting Project 120 on landscaping for a “sky landing” just to the west of the Japanese Garden, around the site of the now-gone Phoenix Pavilion — a gift from Japan to the U.S. during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

At a Wednesday meeting hosted by Ald. Hairston (5th), Karr said “discussions with Yoko Ono have been personal and complete” and that Ono “visited Chicago on many occasions to walk the space and help us envision” the site of the Phoenix Pavilion and Japanese Garden.

“Basically it’s a landscape,” said Project 120 architect Kulapat Yantrasast, who was wearing a shirt reading “Imagine Peace” — a gift from Ono. “I think it’s a place for meditation.”

Yantrasast also shared what he called designs for what he called a “light and appropriate” visitor’s center incorporating wood and paying homage the Phoenix Pavilion. He said the space could serve as a hub in the park and host concerts, as well as rooms that could host community meetings, music rehearsals and children’s programs.

Nearby Hyde Park resident 59th and Stony Island Jennie Strable shared concern about noise coming from the visitor’s center.

“Currently when there are parties and such over on the island in that surrounding area and there is amplified music we can hear it in my building loud and clear,” she said. “So the thought of an outdoor music pavilion does not make me happy.”

But Jackson Park Advisory Council President Louise McCurry expressed support for the visitor’s center because it would promote the parkland and provide visitors with a restroom.

“When we bring tour groups over to Jackson Park,” McCurry said, “particularly to Jackson Park, one of the first things they ask is ‘Where’s the bathroom?'”

Patricia O’Donnell, who consulted Project 120 and the USACE on Olmsted’s designs, also shared drastic plans to free up the Great Lawn by moving the parking lot and two basketball courts on its south end further south, with a berm to boot to reduce noise from Lake Shore Drive.

She also discussed removing some parking lot pavement from Jackson Park, which she called “cancerous,” and eliminating outer two lanes of Cornell Drive to free up space for new parking.

Hairston shared concern that carving out narrow lanes for parking would be dangerous, but O’Donnell defended it as a traffic calming measure.

“It’s dangerous for the cars coming out,” Hairston said, adding that another meeting would have to be held to discuss the matter specifically.

The park’s new amenities will be maintained and operated with money from donors to Project 120 for the foreseeable future, according to Karr.

“I guess the endgame for the park is not just to invest in the projects, to build them out, but to make sure that there’s sustainability, to maintain those over time, and

The goal is to make sure that Project 120’s investment “doesn’t become a burden on the taxpayers,” Karr said.

The question of what Project 120 “will do a year from now, or two years from now, or 10 years from now we can inform by other examples but we can’t say what its exact path will be,” O’Donnell said.

According to Karr, Project 120 will share details on its plan later this week on its website, project120chicago.org.

Email: j.bishku@hpherald.com

Twitter: @jeffhba