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Editorial: Shattered by hail, Garfield Park Conservatory needs help

Updated: July 10, 2011 2:20AM

Remember that freakish hailstorm on June 30 that rained down ice cubes on a hot summer night?

One cherished Chicago gem is still recovering and desperately needs our help.

The hailstorm nearly destroyed the 103-year-old Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest public glass houses in the United States and a beloved Chicago institution.

After a rebirth beginning 15 years ago, the conservatory draws a minimum of 150,000 visitors, and as many as 1 million, a year to Chicago’s West Side.

Hail shattered about 60 percent of the glass panes protecting thousands of plants in this landscaped paradise. The three main rooms suffered the greatest damage, including the historic Fern Room and the Desert House.

The Chicago Park District, which owns the conservatory, has insurance but more is needed to complete the repairs and make up for lost revenue while parts of the conservatory remain closed.

The conservatory was designed by famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, the first example of “landscapes under glass.” Jensen designed complete landscapes, immersing a visitor in a different environment, rather than sticking a bunch of potted plants in a greenhouse.

The result is a whimsical, magical conservatory enhanced with classes, special events and programming for kids and adults.

Chicago simply would not be the same were the conservatory not able to recover from the hail damage.

To donate, offer support or become a member of the Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance — the conservatory’s educational and programming partner — go to

And remember, parts of the conservatory are still open to visitors.

Several rooms are accessible to the public, as are 12 beautiful acres of gardens outside.

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