History of Ping Tom Memorial Park
History of Ping Tom Memorial Park

Hardin Square – Large Athletic Field for Football, Softball and other Outdoor Sports, A Children’s Playground Area and wading pool and the usual benches and greenery that residents enjoy.  Also lost was a large library building, a large field house which included a combination auditorium and gymnasium, along with various meeting rooms and offices.  

1962 – Dan Ryan Expressway demolished Hardin Square Park

In the many years that passed, community efforts to find and build a replacement park were stymied by the lack of a suitable site and scarcity of funds.  The greatest difficulty was the geographical and physical barriers which surrounded the Chinatown Community.

1989 – Two major factors came together which would eventually culminate in the building of Ping Tom Park.  The Chinese American Development Corporation had acquired the 32 acre former Santa Fe rail yard property along Archer Avenue and the Chicago River and was in the process of developing it for commercial and residential expansion of Chinatown.  This left an approximate 6 acre site adjacent to the CADC property and the River that became available for a replacement park.

At the same time, Mayor Eugene Sawyer appointed Raymond Lee, a long time resident of the Chinese Community, to be a Commissioner of the Chicago Park District.  The Chinatown Community, taking notice of the availability of a potential site, formed the Chinatown Riverside Park Advisory Council to discuss the possibilities with the Chicago Park District.  With the strong support of Commissioner Lee, the Park Board approved the purchase of this property along with an additional 6 acres extending north from 18th Street to 16th Street, which would eventually become, at that time, the Chinatown Riverside Park.

Although the land purchase was completed in 1991, numerous problems had to be addressed before construction could begin in 1998.  Because there was a live railroad track that had to be crossed to gain access to the park, there was a safety factor to be addressed.  An acceptable and workable plan of entry that would satisfy both the railroad and park district officials had to be worked out.  Since the river edge was badly deteriorated, the Army Corps of Engineers had to be included since they are the Federal Authority responsible for all shorelines.  There was the issue of testing to insure that the grounds were not contaminated from prior railroad usage and finally, there was the cost of the project.  

With all these issues finally resolved, construction on Phase I of the park started in 1998 and was completed in the fall of 1999.  Mayor Daley officiated at the Dedication ceremonies on October 2.  Although Phase I has been completed, we are still awaiting action on Phase II which would include a Field House, Natatorium and Tennis courts. Prior to the completion of the park, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce hosted a dinner meeting in early March, 1998 that was attended by Alderman Solis, Park District Commissioners, Gene Lee and various leaders of Chinatown Community organizations.  It was at this meeting that I, as President of the Riverside Park Advisory Council, and with the support of the attendees, presented a request to rename the Park in Honor of Ping Tom.  The request and the subsequent renaming of the park were approved by the Park District Board on August 3, 1998.

Today, a large bronze bust of Ping Tom, Commissioned and paid for by the Chinese American Development Corporation and friends of the Tom Family sits next to the pavilion to welcome visitors to the park.