Chinatown's Park LOST
In 1962, Chinatown lost it's park when Hardin Park was demolished to make way for the Dan Ryan Expressway. At that time, the city promised to replace the park. For many years, the Chinatown community waited.
With the development of Chinatown Square on the former Santa Fe railroad yard in the late 1980s, the Chinatown Riverside Park Advisory Council was formed to advocate for a new park. Around the same time, Mr. Raymond Lee (a long-time resident and business leader in Chinatown) was appointed to serve on the Chicago Park District Board by Mayor Eugene Sawyer. Through the strong support of Mr. Lee, the Chicago Park District purchased 12 acres along the Chicago River in 1991.
There were numerous obstacles in developing the park including a pedestrian crossing over a live railroad track, deteriorated river edge, environmental remediation and funding.
The development of the south riverfront parcel was started in 1998. The park was dedicated on October 2, 1999 by Mayor Richard M. Daley in memory of Mr. Ping Tom. Mr. Tom was a community leader who advocated for the Asian American community and served as an advisor to numerous Illinois governors and Chicago mayors.
In 2002, the Chicago Park District acquired about 5 acres at the northwest corner of Wentworth and 18th Street for athletic fields and a future field house.
The Ping Tom PAC was formed in the early 2000s by Mr. Leonard Louie. He invited representatives from the Chinese American Civic Council, Chinese American Service League, St. Therese Catholic Church and Pui Tak Center to advocate for the completion of the second phase (north portion of the riverfront park) and third phase (field house) of the park. In its advocacy. the PAC was repeatedly asked to raise one-third of the expected $10-12 million cost for the field house.
In 2011, the north riverfront portion of the park between 16th and 18th Street was developed. The architectural landscaping throughout the park was designed by Ernest Wong of Site Design. On June 9, 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel dedicated the boat house which was designed by Johnson and Lee.
25th Ward Alderman Daniel Solis advocated that TIF funds be allocated for Ping Tom Park's field house. This 30,000 square foot facility houses a swimming pool, gymnasium, fitness center, community rooms and a rooftop garden terrace. The building has a LEED Platinum certification due to its use of geothermal heating/cooling and low-flow plumbing supplemented by captured rainwater. The field house was dedicated on October 14, 2013 by Mayor Emanuel.
During the dedication, many grateful community members congratulated Mr. Louie for his 40+ years of advocacy for a Chinatown park and field house. The dedication was his last public event as he lost a long battle with cancer a month after the dedication. The field house was renamed "Leonard M. Louie Field House" on October 10, 2015 (photo below: Mrs. Elaine Louie accepting a park sign from Mayor Emanuel.)