The renovation of the Market Square landscaping is an exemplary project, which highlights Lake Forest's attention to community beautification, unique on the North Shore. Spearheaded by the Market Square 2000 Foundation, with a plan donated by the Lake Forest Garden Club, the project involved input from garden clubs, City staff, individuals, and other local organizations. Co-chairs of the project were two members of the Lake Forest Garden Club, which played a major role in developing the original landscape plan of 1915-1917 and later refinements in the 1940s and 1970s.
Guided by landscape architect Rodney Robinson of Delaware, the renovation is the first major rethinking of the space since 1917. Robinson's plan addresses the Square in terms of its historic context and current uses and carefully reflects the spirit of both the past and the present. It restores the fountain, tweaks the functionality of the space, re-envisions the plant material after the loss of the historic elms, and restores the variety of surface textures seen in early photos. Throughout, the formal garden quality of the space is enhanced.
Market Square is cited widely as the first town center planned around motor vehicles. Inspired by English developments of the day, its innovations included parking adjacent to stores, expanded frontage, truck access in the rear, and high style designed to attract sophisticated shoppers. Originally designed by architect Howard Van Doren Shaw and developed in 1917 by the Lake Forest Improvement Trust, the Square began a major transition in the 1980s. New investors oversaw restoration and renovation of the Square, primarily under the guidance of Chicago architect John Vinci. Important incentives for historic preservation had recently been included in the federal tax code, and Market Square was one of hundreds of projects nationwide that benefitted from these changes. There was a new demand for downtown office space, and business people who formerly took the train to Chicago moved into offices remodeled from apartments over the retail shops. The economy began to boom, and new high-end national stores replaced lower-volume local stores. The development went upscale, quite in synch with the original concept of the Square's builders. (Newly discovered archives at Griffith, Grant & Lackie reveal that the builders never envisioned ownership as permanent.)
By the mid-1990s, the Square's landscape, eviscerated by the loss of most of the original elms, lagged behind the restored buildings. The truck courts had been made obsolete by larger trucks. The cement and asphalt paving that over the years had replaced the gravel paths and brick roadbed made the Square resemble more the vast shopping malls of the '90s than the innovative turn-of-the-century place it had been.
Robinson's plan adjusts the allocation between roadway, walks, and agrden, creating a visual dominance of landscaping while accommodating vehicular needs. It incorporates brick and granite that reflect the materials of the buildings and add new texture and color that play down the asphalt roadways. New trees, different lighting, varied garden beds and plantings, and handsome street furniture invite the public to enjoy using this important space. The renovated Market Square landscape responds to changes in use, exemplifies outstanding leadership by the Lake Forest Garden Club, and upholds the local tradition of public-private partnership. This broadly-supported project is worthy of both local and national recognition.