Japanese Ho-o-den

Garden of the Phoenix S Cornell Dr

Written By HistoryCop

HistoryCop was founded by Ray Johnson, a life-long Chicago area resident and history buff who is a former criminal investigator.

The Japanese Ho-o-den Palace

The Japanese exhibit at the World's Fair was located here on Wooded Island even though Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect of the fair, did not initially want any buildings on Wooded Island. He wanted Wooded Island to be a building-free, quiet, oasis for visitors to simply enjoy nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of the fair itself. The exhibit was in the spirit of a Japanese temple with the theme of a Pheonix to harken back to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Chicago, like the legendary Phoenix, had risen from the ashes to host the Columbian Exposition only 20 years after it had literally burnt to the ground. Famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, visited the Japanese exhibit and the design inspired much of Wright's later work and study. The footprint of the Japanese exhibit would have been where the Japanese Gardens are today. People come from all over the world to visit the Japanese gardens and once inside you forget that you are still in the city. The nation of Japan gifted the exhibit to the city of Chicago and, along with the tea house from the 1933/1934 Century of Progress Fair, it became a place where Chicagoans could relax, have a cup of tea, and imagine that they were somewhere else.

World War II

Famed Ballerina, Sono Osato, was born on August 29, 1919, in Omaha, Nebraska to Japanese father, Shoji Osato and Irish - French Canadian mother, Frances Fitzpatrick. In 1925 the family moved to Chicago where Shoji opened a photo studio. In addition to other things, Frances and her daughter Sono ran the concessions at the Japanese buildings. Sono's father was interred at the start of World War II and Sono took her mother's maiden name to sound more "American". Sono had a very long career in ballet and a short career as an actress on Broadway. In 2016, the Thodos Dance Company created a performance called "Sonos Journey" that Sono herself was able to attend. Sono Osato died in Manhattan on December 26, 2018, at the age of 99. Following World War II, there were two fires that eventually destroyed the buildings in 1946. The cause was teenagers playing with matches and to this day it is unknown if the blazes were set intentionally. The Japanese Gardens you see here now have been really 75 years in the making through designs and re-designs much with the generous donations of Chicago's sister city, Osaka, Japan.

Surviving Art and Structures

The only structure on the site that still remains from the 1893 exhibit is one of the large stone lanterns that sits just outside the Gardens and is now very close to Yoko-Ono's Skylanding sculpture. In 2015, a large piece of cement footing was removed from the site during construction of Skylanding. It was part of the original footings of the Japanese exhibit and now sits just south of the Skylanding exhibit as type of a makeshift bench and conversation piece.

The Phoenix Panels and Screens

It seems that everyday new relics from the 1893 fair are being discovered. Just a few years ago a pair of the Japanese panels from the Central Hall of the Ho-o-den Palace were re-discovered and donated to Chicago's Art Institute. They were painstakingly restored and are now on display in the Asian art wing of the museum.

Not long after the wooden panels were discovered did Julia Bachrach, the Chicago Park District Archivist and Historian, discovered three mislabeled artifacts in one of the many Chicago Park District warehouses. The label simply read 1933 but when Julia opened the large bubble wrapped packages she was immediately aware of what she had discovered. I was conducting research at the Park District Archives when she let me in on her little secret and allowed me to view them and take a photo. I was sworn to secrecy until the Park District worked out a restoration plan with the Art Institute and so now they are scheduled to be restored and displayed in close proximity to the wooden panels from the same Ho-o-den Palace.

Nearby Exhibits

Horticultural Building

If you are walking north or south through Wooded Island and are about halfway through on the west side of the island you can look across the lagoon and see where the Horticultural Building would have been. The Horticultural Building displayed horticulture from all over the world in one location. A fun fact is that if you wanted to sample beer you would go to the Agricultural Building but if you wanted to sample wine you went to the Horticultural Building. The Horticultural Building was designed by the Chicago firm of Jenney and Mundie and was 998 ft. x 250 ft. It consisted of eight greenhouses and was completed at a cost of $300,000. Many of the plants on Wooded Island were nursed in the Horticultural Building. Just a couple of years ago, during a volunteer weed pulling, volunteers found a large group of hops that had been growing wild since the Columbian Exposition. The hops were collected and Chicago's Goose Island was notified and retrieved them. They had mentioned that they might create a small batch of beer from the hops and would let us know how it worked out.

Theodore Roosevelt's Hunter's Cabin

Theodore Roosevelt wasn't a U.S. President yet but was still a famous politician, soldier and outdoorsman. He thought it would be appropriate to pay homage to the many pioneers that helped settle the wild west and created a building that reminded many important people of the type of home they were born in. During early construction periods it was said that Daniel Burnham also used this as a temporary office.

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The 1893 World's Columbian Exposition

Japanese Ho-o-den

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