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The property is known now as North Park Village, home to senior housing and a Chicago Park District gymnastics center and nature center that lets people explore 46 wild ish acres in the middle of the city’s Far North Side.

But when Frances Archer was growing up in the area in the 1960s and ’70s, the 160 acre property, bounded by Peterson, North Central, Bryn Mawr and Pulaski, was something very different and more than a little mysterious.

She and her neighbors knew that behind the thick perimeter of trees was the massive Chicago Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, but they didn’t know much more about it than that.

Over the weekend, Archer was on those grounds for a special event she had helped put together. It commemorated not only the 100th anniversary of the opening of a forward thinking health facility but also how much she has managed to learn about the property in recent years.

“This is an amazing place,” she said. She’d write posts about the sanitarium as she learned new things “and people started responding with their stories.

“The 650 bed, 32 building facility was founded to provide treatment and long term care at no cost to patients suffering from this highly infectious and sometimes fatal disease.

“It was a remarkable accomplishment for the city to build a world class public sanitarium the first to have a maternity ward. It is equally remarkable that the beautiful buildings and grounds of the former Municipal Tuberculosis Sanitarium, renamed North Park Village and Peterson Park, continue to serve the public.”

So Saturday, after a series of talks Archer and Park District historian Julia Bachrach organized topics included what a public health scourge TB was and how the Chicago sanitarium was perhaps the best public hospital dealing with it Archer was leading a tour group on the previously verboten sanitarium grounds.

She talked about the tunnel system that connected the main buildings on the grounds, used for bad weather travel and transport of laundry and food carts. She pointed out the international symbol for lungs a cross with a second horizontal bar; tuberculosis affects the lungs built into the “new building,” which went up in 1928.

The current Peterson Park Fieldhouse used to be the sanitarium’s research facility, she said, and the whole hospital operated on the theory that light, fresh air and activities were key parts of treatment. “Everything they built here had windows for air and light,” she said.

This was not, in other words, some warehouse for the dying out of a Dickens novel.

And then there are the bricks, thousands upon thousand of bricks in those buildings, looking like they were put in place last year rather than 100 years ago.

Standing by the grounds’ old power plant building, an older man on Archer’s tour touched the wall. “After all these decades, look at this tuck pointing work,” he said. “They really knew what they were doing.”

The man, Leo Damask,
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who said he is “851/2,” uses the grounds all the time. “I was here three times this past week,” the retired graphic artist said. “There are beautiful trails that go all the way to Bryn Mawr.”

He used to rent land in one of the community gardens, he said, and he volunteers at the North Park Village Nature Center, which has trails of its own, a bevy of programs and is housed in a sanitarium medicine dispersal building.

“I love this place,” said Damask.

Diane Sutliff, a Chicago Public Schools art teacher, was making her first visit in a dozen years. She used the place all the time when her kids were younger, she said.

Standing in front of the fieldhouse, she said, “My kid used to take karate in this building.” And the nature center trails were modest enough that “they could do it by themselves,” said Sutliff. “It was a cool thing to have in the city.”

Chicago residents almost didn’t have it, though. The sanitarium closed in 1974, after medical advances had made TB less of a menace and home treatment preferable.

City officials wanted to work with developers and turn this mega parcel into shopping and apartments. But the neighborhood organized, Archer said. Instead, the grounds were saved, the park and nature center put in.

“There was this real feeling in this neighborhood that we fought City Hall and won,” she said.

For the past four years or so, Archer has given tours of the grounds a couple of times a year, drawing about 40 people each time. Saturday’s event drew about 100.

The centennial celebration will continue with fireside chats by experts, including Archer, in the nature center, she said.

And she’ll also likely do another tour or two. The place that scared her as a child, that had, she wrote, “the kind of fence you see surrounding haunted houses and graveyards in old horror movies,” has become familiar.
the north face size a former tuberculosis sanitarium