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In the 1850’s, a group of forward thinking Chicagoans set out to create country’s first municipal park and boulevard system. They began by developing large outdoor “pleasure-grounds” intended to be enjoyed by locals as a restorative escape from the chaos of city life.

However, recognizing that Chicago’s winters could be long, harsh, and isolating, and that people were longing for year-round activities, the neighborhood fieldhouse was created. There was no template used — the buildings were designed to be everything to everyone, a physical and social home away from home.

With amenities such as assembly halls, gymnasiums, libraries, locker rooms, and swimming pools, the city could offer an endless stream of classes and activities. As a result, the fieldhouse quickly became the the heart of every Chicago neighborhood.

Fast forward more than a century, and the social structure of urban living has changed dramatically. But the fieldhouses still stand as reminders of a time when communities were more tangible and less digital.