“Oz Park, near DePaul University, anchors the fruits of [Baum’s] imagination in our local ground, the emerald on the Midwestern prairie.” *
Oz Park is one of the most popular parks in Lincoln Central and a favorite recreation destination for area residents. Created in 1967 by the Chicago Park District, this 13-acre park was named in honor of L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of Oz, who lived in the Humbolt Park neighborhood. The park has recreational facilities including basketball and tennis courts, a jogging path and the Melamerson Athletic Field, with three baseball diamonds. Other amenities include numerous picnic tables, a large children’s playground area and the Emerald City Gardens.
Over the years, the park has benefited by the active involvement of area residents and in particular, the Oz Park Advisory Council. In 1988, the Oz Park Playground was constructed along Webster, having been funded by donations from area residents and businesses. A large plaque outside the play area lists the donors. The Oz Park Advisory Council spearheaded the creation of the beautiful Emerald City Gardens, near the corner of Webster and Larrabee. The gardens, which are maintained by the Council, provide a quiet area within Oz Park for relaxation and contemplation. And if you’ve ever wondered about who keeps the gardens so beautiful year after year, wonder no more.
The largest single contributor to Oz Park was Dorothy Melamerson whose 1994 bequest made possible the reconstruction of the large athletic field just north of Lincoln Park High School. Dorothy, a long time area resident, was a gym teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and was interested in the physical well being of children. Through consistent savings, a modest lifestyle and wise investing, Dorothy left $900,000 to upgrade park facilities and begin youth sports programs in 43rd Ward parks. $600,000 went into the 1996 and 1997 renovation of the Oz Park athletic field, which was named the Melamerson Athletic Field in her honor.
The park has also benefited by placement of statues of characters from the Wizard of Oz, made possible through the generosity of area residents, community organizations and businesses. In 1995, the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce placed the Tin Man statue, created by noted Old Town artist John Kearney, at the corner of Webster and Larrabee. The Oz Park Advisory Council organized fund raising drives for the creation of additional Wizard of Oz statues. In 2001, the Cowardly Lion statue was dedicated at the corner of Larrabee and Dickens and in 2005, the Scarecrow statue was placed in the Emerald Gardens. In 2007, the statue of Dorothy and Toto, located at the entrance to the park at Webster and Orchard, completed this project.
The Oz Park Advisory Council continues to spearhead further improvements to the park. In 2006, funding was obtained for a rubberized soft surface in the children’s playground area. The Council also funds ongoing maintenance of the Emerald City Garden as well as community events such as concerts and movies in the park. In 2016, the Advisory Council raised $157,000 to resurface Dorothy’s Playlot. Over the years, the Council has obtained contributions, grants and bequests of more than $1.1 million, with all the money going directly into the park. Read more about the Oz Park Advisory Council in the October 2015 issue of From the Heart, LCA’s award-winning newsletter.
The Oz Park Advisory Council welcomes the involvement of neighbors in its effort to keep Oz Park a quiet open space for all to enjoy. Individuals interested in getting involved in efforts to benefit Oz Park can contact Judy Johanson, Chairman of the Oz Park Advisory Council, at 773-929-2034 (E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org) or Lincoln Central Association (Voice Mail: 312-409-2783). Please support LCA’s efforts to keep your parks beautiful.
Read more about Oz Park.
* Jill Austin
Chicago History Museum