How The Dearborn Garden Walk Transformed a Neighborhood.

Walking around the Gold Cost neighborhood today it is hard to imagine that this Near North neighborhood was once declared a “slum” through the Land Clearance Act of 1948. Today, the neighborhood is home to some of Chicago’s wealthiest residents, designer boutiques like Giorgio Armani, Chanel, Harry Winston, and many more. I’m not old enough to remember this neighborhood when it was littern-strewn and filled with overcrowded rooming houses. To me it has always been the “Gold Coast” of the 19th centurty from books and vintage pictures. It is as if the neighborhood never underwent a period of decline and ultimately a resurgence- a rebirth that can be attributed to a garden walk. Yes, a garden walk.
Photos by
In 1955, residents Louise & Harper Richards started a garden walk and convinced neighbors to open their homes and gardens to the public. The Garden walk was a means to inspire others to transform rubble-filled yards into gardens and bring the neighborhood back. Today the Dearborn Garden Walk, in its 52nd year, is one of America’s oldest garden walks and attracts visitors from all around the City and the world and even has its own hard cover book, The Gardens of Chicago’s Gold Coast
The one-day garden walk is self-guided and features 20 private rear gardens, up from the five it originally began with in 1955. This year there’s a “Hollywood-Inspired” theme of garden vignettes, live music in select gardens and a sidewalk tour of historic Dearborn Parkway that covers both pre and post-Chicago fire structures. 
If you’re interested in experiencing the garden walk that transformed a Chicago neighborhood, and possibly incorporating something similar in your neighborhood, you can take the tour on July 18, 2010. As for me, I’m really interested in seeing how the other half gardens; for years I’ve wondered what the spaces behind those mansions looked like and now I’ll get a chance to see them. I was given a copy of The Gardens of Chicago’s Gold Coast and some of the gardnes gave me some ideas I hope to incorporate in my own garden. 
Tickets are $30 in advance $35 the day of the tour. Below, details and information so you can plan to attend the Dearborn.
Out-of-town visitors can take part in the special “Garden Walk Package” presented by Hotel Indigo – just steps from the Garden Walk entrance. Enjoy an overnight stay and complimentary breakfast for two for $169. For more information, please visit:
Children 16 years of age and younger accompanied by an adult, as well as North Dearborn Association Partner in Preservation members, are free. Admission includes a Dearborn Garden Walk program with a map for a self-guided tour of the gardens, live jazz and classical music in select gardens, and guided architectural tours of historic Dearborn Parkway. To become a North Dearborn Association Partner in Preservation member and receive one free admission or to order advance non-refundable tickets, telephone 312-632-1241; order on-line; send check or money order payable to NDA c/o Carol Truesdell, 1241 N. Dearborn Street, #1, Chicago, IL 60610; or fax with credit card and mailing info to: 312-944-9342. 
In addition to the self-guided walking tour and garden vignettes, visitors can participate in an hour-long, wonderfully entertaining and educational sidewalk guided tour of historic Dearborn Parkway that highlights the outstanding architectural facades in the neighborhood. The architectural tour, which starts at 1:30pm, 3:30pm, and 5:00pm, includes both pre and post-Chicago fire structures, sites that have been used in movies, homes formerly occupied by famous celebrities, and even a US President!


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  • Great photos! Did you take them?
    Also great information...had no idea that area was ever a slum.

  • In reply to PrairieGarden:

    Hi Liane, no these photos are from last year. They were taken by This year's walk is on July 18th. Right? I'm surprised to learn this about the Gold Coast neighborhood. I wonder how many other Chicago neighborhoods we can transform from "slums" to vibrant communities if we help people start transforming their front yards.

  • In reply to PrairieGarden:

    We drove through the Gold Coast in a now famous Certain Bus Tour, and it sure was swanky. I had no idea the area was once a slum (something they didn't mention). The tour, garden and architecture, sounds fun. Wish I could be there.

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    LOL at the bus tour! Next time you're in town you could probably do a walking tour of it. And if you take the bus you could be at the tour too!

  • In reply to gardenfaerie:

    How beautiful and inspirational...I'd so like to have an area like one of these. Right now we're installing a white picket fence out in front of our house with English lavender in front and limelight hydrangeas in back. Hope it lives up to my expectations and adds something to the neighborhood. :)

  • In reply to jtithof:

    Thanks for the great photos--I'm sharing them with my friends on Facebook. I go on the walk almost every year, unfortunately I have to miss it this year.

  • In reply to clk2000:

    Hi Carole,

    Too bad you have to miss it this year. Hope you're doing something equally fun as the walk instead this year.

  • In reply to clk2000:

    It's amazing the difference gardens can make in a neighborhood. We live in a fairly 'upscale' area. There are blocks in our subdivision where almost everyone gardens, and others where almost no one does. Basically the homes are all of the same size and vintage. The blocks without gardens look barren, neglected, poverty-stricken, and undesirable, while the blocks with gardens look friendly, lush, loved, and cared-for.

    The first house my ex and I bought when our kids were small was in a working-class post-WW2 baby boomer neighborhood of tiny (900 or so sq.feet,) ranches and cape cods. It's still a very friendly, close-knit neighborhood. Nearly everyone there had/has gardens. You would not believe the prices homes in that neighborhood sell for, and you wouldn't know there was a housing recession based on how quickly the few homes that go on the market there sell. I truly believe the landscapes/gardens there make all the difference.

  • In reply to ssgardengirl:


    "I truly believe the landscapes/gardens there make all the difference. "

    Ditto. Even a little bit of plant life can make a home look dramatically different.

  • In reply to clk2000:

    The photos are GREAT! They make the environment so inviting! Are they available for sale?
    Will the same photographer be taking photos this year?

  • In reply to drpbmac:

    Hi, The photos are by you can check there and see if they're for sale. Also, there's a hardcover book that profiles some of the gardens on the tour at

  • In reply to jtithof:

    That sounds beautiful Jackie. I'm sure it will add a lot to your neighborhood.

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