Designed by architects Fromman & Jebsen and constructed in 1895–1896, the Humboldt Park Stables features handiwork and materials rarely seen today: red pressed brick, timber cornices and gables, glazed corner tiles, dramatic turrets and archways, and a long sloping red tile roof. In December of 1895, a Danish immigrant and master landscape architect Jens Jensen was named Superintendent of Humboldt Park and, later, Chicago’s West Park System. Jensen’s office was located on the first-floor turret overlooking the park.The stable building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. At that time, the Chicago Park District began efforts to restore the building.
Unfortunately, a fire destroyed over 40 percent of the roof and the second floor in 1992. Undeterred, the Park District and community leaders worked tirelessly to renovate the building and transform it into the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. Renovations of the exterior of the building were completed in 1998. The interior has undergone significant renewal with the construction of several galleries and classrooms in 2010. In 2014, the second floor was renovated, adding another gallery space and administrative offices. In 2022, a high-caliber security system was installed; in addition, two gallery spaces have been retrofitted with state-of-the-art climate and humidity control to meet museum accreditation standards for exhibitions.
As the Museum has experienced much growth over the past 20 years, more space was required to accommodate the archives and collections per the Alliance of American Museum’s standards. The Chicago Park District approved a cutting-edge 5,000 square-foot archives and collections facility that will mimic the architectural beauty of the Museum’s building with the addition of a tranquil sculpture garden which will open in the Summer of 2023.
The Humboldt Park Stables is truly an aesthetic masterpiece, providing a beautiful and stimulating setting for the Museum’s exhibitions, programs, and cultural activities. This extraordinary space’s restoration and thoughtful reuse are a tremendous gift to the community and the City of Chicago.
Jensen emigrated from Denmark for several reasons; the most compelling was love. Jensen’s wealthy parents considered his fiancé, Anna Marie Hansen, beneath their station and would not support the marriage. So, Jens and Annie left everything behind to create a new life together in America. Settling in Chicago in 1885, they moved into the Humboldt Park neighborhood, where they lived among a large population of Scandinavian immigrants. After briefly working in a soap factory, Jensen was delighted when he found a job as a laborer for the West Park Commission. He soon became a gardener and quickly began working his way up through the ranks of the park system.
Jensen was appointed Humboldt Park’s superintendent in 1895 when the new stables (called the Stables and Receptory) was under construction. He soon became the first employee to occupy the superintendent’s office in the building’s turret. He took care of day-to-day operations, supervised the staff, wrote articles for national gardening magazines, and designed a few small park landscapes including a lily pond just south of the turret. Despite excelling at his work, Jensen found himself in a difficult position. By the late 1890s, dishonest politicians permeated the entire park system. Jensen, who became known as the “graft-fighting Dane,” stood up against the corruption. However, since his superiors benefited from the patronage schemes, they forced him to resign in 1900.
Jensen’s office was located at the Historic National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. He lived across the street in a beautiful greystone in the 1890s.
Written by Julia Bachrach, Historian