NORTH LAWNDALE — For years, a mini-golf course has stood in the shadow of the Douglas Park Fieldhouse in a state of disrepair, an eyesore where a vibrant attraction once lived.
But the state of the course will change next year — all because in this decaying spot, young people and artists from the community saw the potential to bring back to life one of the only mini-golf courses in Chicago.
It all started with Haman Cross, a Lawndale native artist, taking a walk through the park last year. He had recently spoken to Ald. Michael Scott (24th) about collaborating with the park district to leverage visual art to bring the community together.
“He basically sent me over to Douglas Park. … So I was here trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do,” Cross said. “And after walking through this beautiful Douglas Park Fieldhouse and seeing the grounds and what’s here, I came across this 18-hole miniature golf course, which hadn’t been used for probably almost 10 years really.”
After stumbling upon the mini-golf course at 1401 S. Sacramento and seeing it out of commission, Cross knew this was a project he wanted to commit to — but he couldn’t do it without a little help. Cross began reaching out to the community, eventually forming the Conservation Architect Team — a group of youth collaborators recruited to envision and design a new 18-hole course.
The teens were tasked with designing prototype installations for each hole. Their designs debuted June 22 at an open house for the project, entitled “Douglass 18.” The open house marked the completion of the design phase of the project, where the students worked with Cross and Eric Hotchkiss, a lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, to design the obstacles that would be featured on the completed mini-golf course.
“This entire project is youth-led, from the concept of the holes and designs of the holes, all the way to the aesthetics of what the props that go on top of the holes look like,” said Hotchkiss.
In addition to the students, several collaborators including Firehouse Community Arts Center, the Chicago Park District, Professor David Brown from the UIC School of Architecture, LL Bean, the Trust for Public Land, Open Architecture Chicago and Lincoln Park Zoo came on board to support the endeavor.
After about a year of working on the designs and building life-size paper mache models for what the sculptures and obstacles on the final course would look like, the team presented the completed designs at the course Saturday.
“We want to be able to make them full-scale to fully kind of show what the students want them to look like,” Hotchkiss said. “So there’s no miscommunication about what the aesthetics of this golf course should be.”
In celebration of Douglas Park’s notably diverse population of up to 200 species of migrating birds, the design of each hole is inspired by a bird found in the park, incorporating details like the bird’s color, habitat and diet into the course’s obstacles. The project’s conservation theme, which was developed in partnership with the Lincoln Park Zoo, became one of the most important elements of the creative process for the students involved.
“Our role as the zoo in this project has been to educate the young people and sort of inspire them to learn about the wildlife, specifically birds in the community, especially here in Douglas Park,” said Lisa Hyatt, Lincoln Park Zoo’s Community Engagement Manager.
The hole designed by Jereka Dunn was thematically inspired by the American Tree Sparrow. Her hole is meant to reflect the seasonal differences between the diet and habitat of the bird.
“When you play my hole, half of it’s going to be summer and you’re going to see what they eat, you can see their eggs, and then when you go to the other side is going to be wintertime,” Dunn said. “Because, like, they do different things, as I said. They bathe in dirt and things like that, which is different from what they do in the summer. But just to learn the difference between how they adapt during different seasons”
Another student, Jacob Anders, designed sculptures inspired by the Yellow Warbler and the American Crow.
“The American Crow also turned out to be one of my favorite birds around because like the color of it, it’s like a blackish color, but it actually looks blue,” said Anders.
Now that the students have completed this phase of the project, they are excited to see the next stages of the development for the course.
“I’m looking forward to this, the next phase two. I definitely can’t wait to see how it’s going to look at the end and how everybody smiles going to be on their faces,” said Anders.
The next phase of the project will professionalize the students’ designs and see the papier-mâché e prototypes be developed into permanent structures that will be installed on fresh, colored turf at the park.
“This is kind of a design exercise for us to make things full-scale, knowing that there’s going to be a design firm is going to come and make these out of much more sustainable materials, much more permanent materials,” said Hotchkiss.
The permanent structures will be fabricated by Site Design, and the team is taking care to ensure that the final results are true to the intentions of the young people who designed them. According to Cross, by having the students involved in each part of the process, the project is providing entry points for young adults to build a space for themselves in the creative industry.
“They actually worked through the process to design it, build it, use their resources, use their time, collaborate, work together, work with professionals, work with a major education institution like [SAIC] to actually bring their ideas into fruition,” said Cross. “They’ve learned and kind of experienced that whole process of creating and making your community better.”
Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods