Feature Article - September 2002
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Art Works

Adding interest, character and beauty to blank walls and barren spaces

By Stacy St. Clair

A bronze statue by Gary Price of children at play, titled “Circle of Peace,” marks the entrance to the Glenview Park Center in Glenview, Ill.

When the Glenview Park District decided to build a recreation center on a decommissioned naval airfield in suburban Chicago, officials knew patrons would be treading on hallowed ground.

The property had been the longtime home of the Glenview Naval Air Station, which trained generations of military pilots and ground crews from 1942 until its closure in 1995. The airfield served a critical function in World War II, having been used as a Primary Training Command site.

Its alumni list read likes a who's-who of military men. Astronaut Neil Armstrong and Presidents George Bush and Gerald Ford all trained at the station during the war. The field was also home to Chicago's most famous naval hero, Edward O'Hare, a fighter pilot who saved the U.S.S. Lexington from sure annihilation in 1942 and was posthumously honored with an international airport bearing his name.

When budget cuts forced the U.S. Navy to close the airfield in 1995, developing the area was no easy task for Glenview, an affluent community in Chicago's north suburbs. The village spent months contemplating how the 1,102-acre property could best be used.

In the end, they opted to convert the military base into a civilian hamlet that included upscale homes, shopping, sports fields, entertainment areas, a golf course and recreation facilities.

Glenview entered into a no-cost lease/purchase agreement with the Navy to use 140 acres for the benefit of the public good. The project was named the Admiral Gallery Park, and designers intended its crown jewel to be the Glenview Park Center.

Still, excitement about the development was tempered with nostalgia for the airfield. The naval station had been a source a pride for the area for decades, and it was difficult for many to see it replaced by $1 million homes and stores.

Community history is showcased at Glenview’s Splash Landings.

Rather than try to bury the community's nostalgic affection for the training center and the role it played in American history, the Glenview Park District embraced the parcel's past. The district incorporated the land's history into the interior design of its new recreation center.

By honoring the past, park officials both delighted the town and followed the hottest trend in recreation design. These days, it's simply not enough for recreation facilities and parks to slap a pleasingly colored paint on the walls and call it décor. Today's facilities reflect their past and future of their communities.

"Recreation centers are living legacies to the community," says Lori Miller, director of operations for Williams Architects in Carol Stream, Ill. "We're very sensitive to that. Today's centers are reflecting more of a theme."

Williams Architects designed the Glenview Park Center, a $23 million facility that opened in December 2000. Situated at the end of a former runway, the architects designed the building's interior as an homage to the property's past. Local foundations ensured the tribute by donating more than $100,000 for artwork.

Community history is showcased at Glenview’s Splash Landings.

Visitors are aware of the effort from the moment they step in to the 165,000-square-foot building. A large lobby skylight pours sunlight through tempered stained glass, drawing patrons' eyes to a gorgeous fireplace. A hand-carved terra-cotta brick mural sits above the mantel, depicting scenes from the community's history.

The state-of-the art natatorium celebrates the area's past with an incredible aviation motif. World War II biplane replicas—purchased through a local foundation's generous donation—hang from the ceiling. The water play area has several aeronautical features, including a small slide designed to make the users appear as if they're bailing out of the cockpit.

The piece de resistance of the natatorium, however, is the cleverly named Splash Landings waterslide. Williams Architects designed the stairs leading up to the slide as a replica of the Glenview Naval Air Station control tower.

"It ties into the overall theme," Miller says. "It really is impressive."

Impressive, but not overdone. The facility doesn't look like a campy aviation playground or American Airlines' answer to Disneyland. Rather, designers combined tasteful art such as the terra-cotta mural with whimsical elements such as Splash Landings to create a recreation center that reflected Glenview.

"It truly is a living legacy," Miller says.