The Garfield Park Conservatory took another step Saturday toward recovering from the beating it took at the hands of a powerful summer hail storm.
The West Side conservatory’s historic Fern Room opened for the first time since the June 30 storm broke much of the glass-paneled roof in the early 20th Century greenhouse and threatened its treasured plants — some of them more than 200 years old.
With the repairs came warm memories for visitors there to check in on the still-ongoing work being done to erase the storm’s damages.
Sam Uliano thought of her life in Hawaii before moving to Chicago as she strolled among the dripping ferns towering above her and stared up at the late autum light streaming thorugh temporary plastic panes installed in the roof to protect the plants from impending winter weather.
“It’s really exciting the fern room’s back,” said Uliano, who comes to the conservatory regularly to get her fix of the humidity and smell of the lush plantlife of her former home. “Not that long ago, there was nothing in here, and it was cold. They got this back together quickly.”
The rehab in the 103-year-old fern room has been painstaking, said Chicago Park District spokeswoman Zvezdana Kubat. Workers had to remove shards of glass from the roof panes by hand, and replace much of the soil in the conservatory’s centerpiece room, Kubat said.
While performing those repairs, the workers also uncovered some of the contoured walls that structure the layout of the room, many of which hadn’t been seen since vegetation covered them decades ago.
And the process continues. The Show House and the Desert House remain closed thanks to the storm.
In those locations and inside the Fern Room, the permanent windows put in to replace the ones broken will have to be double pane, which could prove to be complicated and more costly, Kubat said.
Estimates have placed the cost of the clean-up alone at $2 million. The tab for the whole rehabilitation won’t be known until early next year.
Other areas of the conservatory, which sits in the East Garfield Park neighborhood and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sustained light damage from the storm.
While some portions of the conservatory were re-opened shortly after the summer storm swept through, getting the Fern Room back is key to the site’s success, Kubat said.
“That’s the biggest draw, the room that brings more people to the conservatory than any other,” she said.
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