Revisiting Gillson Park: Your Perfect Summer Destination

We don’t just dwell in the realm of innovative, world-class architecture. We also take delight in the allure of the great outdoors, especially those spaces that bring joy to communities. In that spirit, we’re thrilled to introduce you to the picturesque Gillson Park, located on the lakefront, northeast of the iconic Baha’i Temple and only 2 miles from Optima Verdana®, it’s a lively and vibrant oasis located in the charming village of Wilmette.

Gillson is more than your average park. It’s a haven packed with fun, relaxation, and natural splendor. Located on the stunning shores of Lake Michigan, the park is spread over an impressive 60 acres and offers a slew of engaging activities for everyone.

For the beach lovers, Gillson Park features a pristine sandy beach. Sunbathing, swimming, or simply dipping your toes in the cool waters – it’s your personal paradise by the lake. And for those who crave an adrenaline rush, the park’s Sailing Beach provides sailboat rentals to chase the horizon.

Gillson Sailing Beach, Photo: rickdean911, Flickr Creative Commons

Not to mention the fact that the park’s serene landscape adorned with mature trees offers the perfect backdrop for a delightful alfresco meal. And if you’re looking to fire up the grill, the park provides designated picnic and barbeque areas to make your summer cookout a breeze.

For sport enthusiasts, Gillson Park is nothing short of a playground. From volleyball to tennis courts, it’s a haven for friendly competition and fun games. And let’s not forget about the younger visitors – the park houses a fantastic playground and a “Tot Lot” play area, ensuring hours of endless fun for the little ones.

Construction of the Wallace Bowl in Gillson Park, 1937, Courtesy of the
Wilmette Historical Museum

Perhaps one of Gillson Park’s crown jewels is the Wallace Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater that serves as the stage for their Sounds of Summer concert performances, movie nights, and theater performances. 

The natural beauty of the park is another captivating aspect. Walk along the trails, explore the bird habitat, or lose yourself in the breathtaking beauty of the Wild Flower garden. Gillson Park’s allure lies in its ability to marry leisure and nature effortlessly.

Wallace Bowl in Gillson Park, 2023, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As we wind down our exploration of Gillson Park, we remind ourselves that spaces like this encapsulate the essence of community living. They bring us closer to nature, offer a sense of belonging, and provide an array of activities for all ages. Gillson Park is not just a testament to Wilmette’s charming character, but it’s also an invitation for everyone to step out and embrace the summer sun in all of its glory!

Wilmette Architecture Spotlight: Bahai’ Temple

Chicago has earned its place on the architectural map thanks to the countless architects who helped fill the city with unique designs. Not to be outdone, the Chicago suburb and home to Optima Verdana, Wilmette, also boasts a myriad of architectural wonders itself, from houses designed by Frank Lloyd Wright to a Prairie-style ‘L’ station still in use. Today, we’re taking a closer look at the architectural history behind Wilmette’s iconic Baha’i House of Worship. 

Plans to construct a Baháʼí temple in the United States began in 1903. At the time, only one other temple existed throughout the rest of the world in Turkmenistan. Baháʼí’s presence in and around Chicago made it the perfect city to build in, but leaders in the religion wanted to build in a quaint community outside of the city and eventually, they decided on Wilmette to harbor the temple. 

Constructing the dome of the Baha’i House of Worship, Wilmette

In 1907, individual Baháʼí contributors purchased two lots alongside Lake Michigan. Groundbreaking on the nearly 7-acre site began in 1912, but construction on the building didn’t start until eight years later, in 1920. The community chose Canadian architect Louis Bourgeois – a collaborator of Louis Sullivan – to design the temple. 

Bourgeois’ design drew inspiration from Baháʼís’ belief of unity and was chosen due to its diverse inclusion of architectural styles. The most prominent architectural styles include Neoclassic, Gothic, Renaissance, Romanesque and Islamic arabesque. The temple’s superstructure was completed in 1931, and construction on the building’s entire exteriors finished in 1943. However, the interior had yet to be designed. 

Designers had a difficult time choosing what material to use throughout the design, debating between granite, limestone, terra cotta and aluminum before deciding on concrete made of cement, quartz and other natural stone. Many intricate details are carved into the concrete drape across the exterior facade. Along with its lush gardens and fountains the temple’s most brilliant feature is its 72-foot-wide dome. The temple features nine dome sections and nine interior alcoves, symbolizing completion. 

An interior view from the top of the dome featuring the intricate Islamic arabesque design

More than 3,500 people attended the dedication of the temple in 1953 following the completion of its construction. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and is continuously voted one of the most must-see places in the country. 

Today, Wilmette’s Baháʼí’ House of Worship is the oldest standing temple of Baháʼí and the only in North America. To learn more about the architectural wonder and visit it yourself, head to the website here

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