Austin Gardens is sometimes referred to as “The Secret Garden” as it is tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood just North of all the hustle and bustle of Lake Street. Woodland plant life and mature trees shelter Austin Gardens from the urban life that surrounds it, offering a valued respite for those that live and work nearby. According to the Park District tree identification program, there are currently 285 trees in Austin Gardens located within its minimal 3.64 acre boundary.
In September 2015, the Park District of Oak Park began construction of a 2,100 square foot multi-use “Environmental Education Center” which hosts children’s nature day camps, environmental education programs for adults and children and other community events. The Center opened to the public on June 11, 2016 and is accessible during Park District programs and events.
The Austin Gardens Environmental Education Center is a LEED Platinum certified facility. It is also on the list of Illinois’ 200 Great Places by the Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Energy-Efficient and High Performance and sustainable design elements include:
- Geo-thermal system for heating, air conditioning and comfort control.
- Photovoltaic array on the roof to supply the projected energy needs of the building – net zero (uses sun energy)
- Greenroof – (absorbs rainfall, reduces heat loads, reduces carbon dioxide and produces oxygen.)
- Storm water harvesting through a cistern and diversion for toilet flushing.
Raingarden/bioswales to absorb the cistern overflow and the excess rain run-off as a feature in the garden.
- Very energy efficient mechanical systems in the building.
- More sustainable design details
Austin Gardens currently houses several outdoor art installations such “Well” and “Pillow”. It also features a serpentine perimeter pathway and a sprawling green space used by sunbathers, weekend athletes, and, during the summer months, by the Oak Park Festival Theatre. Founded in 1975, Festival Theatre is the only equity theatre in the nearby western suburbs and the oldest theatre in Illinois devoted to the classics, especially the works of William Shakespeare. Additionally, an outdoor ice rink is offered in the wintertime. (weather permitting).
See park map – now includes walking path for Austin Gardens!
Henry W. Austin, Jr. donated the land for Austin Gardens to the Park District in 1947 on the condition that it remains a public park bearing the Austin family name. The District officially received ownership of the property upon the death of Mrs. Austin in 1954. The park includes a wildflower woodland habitat first planted in 1970 by members of the League of Women Voters, as well as pathways and hundreds of trees. A Trust for Austin Gardens is held by the Oak
Park-River Forest Community Foundation and has a value of close to $500,000. Proceeds of the trust can be used for extraordinary maintenance and recreation activities.