A look ahead to next phase of Project New Leaf at Cantigny Park

Cantigny Park leaders and consultants will begin design work later this month for the second stage of a $25 million redesign of the Wheaton campus.

Park officials broke ground in April on Project New Leaf, the largest comprehensive redesign of Cantigny's gardens and two museums since the grounds opened in July 1958.

The first phase will add new amenities and revitalize pond and display gardens on the north end of the park, the former estate of Col. Robert McCormick. The First Division Museum also reopened in August after a nearly yearlong, $8 million renovation.

“Overall, Project New Leaf is going on schedule and as planned, and we're very happy with the results,” Executive Director Matt LaFond said.

The second phase will focus on the south lawn of McCormick's mansion and areas east of the Visitors Center, including the fountain, rock and rose gardens.

Later in the project, park officials could turn their attention to the interior of the former residence of the Chicago Tribune publisher. Cantigny also is phasing in a new name for the 35-room building: the McCormick House.

“We envision the mansion becoming much more than a museum,” LaFond wrote in a recent letter on the project's website. “Ideas under review include spaces for meetings and receptions and creating opportunities for civic learning and social engagement.”

Groups could host events in the house “at a much smaller scale” than those that rent space in Cantigny's restaurants, LaFond said. The mansion was built in 1896 by McCormick's grandfather, Joseph Medill.

“There will be more increased public programming,” he said. “We'll represent the history of Medill and the McCormick family in a different way.”

Sasaki Associates, a firm based in Boston and Shanghai, is leading the design on the project privately funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

For the remainder of the first phase, crews will add parking spaces next summer and install an arrival pavilion with restrooms and wayfinding signs. Crews also are installing outdoor, energy-efficient lighting.

“By spring I fully expect to have all the lights functional and to start programing some events in the evening,” LaFond said. “It just opens us up to a whole new audience. People who aren't able to make it out during the day can now come out in the evening and enjoy the gardens, enjoy the museums.”

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