The Driehaus Foundation is pleased to announce a $1 million grant to Friends of Sears Sunken Garden to fund restoration of the large pergola structure in the Sears Sunken Garden located in North Lawndale. The pergola is a significant aspect of the plan to restore the historic 1.7-acre green space that once served as an urban oasis for both Sears employees and North Lawndale residents.
Originally built in 1907 as part of the sprawling Sears, Roebuck & Company campus, the Sears Sunken Garden is a designated Chicago landmark. Sears left North Lawndale in 1973 and the community lost thousands of jobs. In recent years, the Garden was no longer maintained and fell into disrepair. It was difficult for residents to see the decline of a once glorious garden that was a popular destination spot for generations of families as well as a peaceful city retreat where they could enjoy nature.
The North Lawndale community is determined to bring the Garden back to life and make it the urban oasis it once was. The Foundation is the first major donor to support its restoration and hopes this grant encourages others to donate as well. The restoration project reflects Richard H. Driehaus’ belief that every Chicago neighborhood needs and deserves historic preservation, beautiful public spaces, and community gathering spots to thrive. A neighborhood is like a garden. Nurture it and it will grow.
More than 7,700 residents live within a ten-minute walk of the Sears Sunken Garden and they have been the driving force for the restoration project. The North Lawndale Community Coordinating Council began exploring possibilities for renovating the Garden four years ago. Friends of Sears Sunken Garden was launched in 2021 as a 501(c)(3) organization with the mission to promote and assist the redesign, construction, and proper maintenance of the historic space for the use and enjoyment of the general public, and to promote gardening and horticultural education. Trust for the Public Land awarded a $125,000 grant to establish the project.
World renowned landscape designer Piet Oudolf, who has designed high profile projects including the Lurie Garden at Millennium Park in Chicago and the High Line in New York City and Roy Diblik, a North Lawndale resident and master garden designer, are collaborating with North Lawndale residents to design the Garden. Oudolf was inspired by the community’s vision and mission and wanted to be involved. Community engagement is an important aspect of the project. Through virtual and on-site collaborative design workshops including Oudolf, more than 150 community members have shared their ideas for the reimagined space, including types of plants, color schemes, and accessible pathway designs.
Once restoration efforts are complete, the historic Garden will be a space for North Lawndale residents to connect to the outdoors and each other as well as spur local economic development. Piet Oudolf’s public garden designs are artistic masterpieces that draw visitors from around the world. The restored Garden will be a visible sign of the vibrancy, resilience, and history of the North Lawndale community that provides an emotional, environmental, and economic boost for the neighborhood and city of Chicago.
This is the sixth grant of $1 million dollars or more awarded by the Driehaus Foundation this year in addition to the Foundation’s more traditional giving. These grants honor Richard's extraordinary philanthropic legacy and support initiatives he valued including historic preservation and revitalizing Chicago neighborhoods with beautiful public spaces.
Restoration of the Garden is expected to take two to three years.