The WEAR Garden was started in 1994 when it was just a blank hillside along the Metra tracks with a chain-link fence along the street curb and strewn with trash and junk.
The seeds for the idea of the WEAR Garden were planted two years earlier in 1992 when a 100’ cellphone tower was constructed on a small parcel of land at the northwest corner of Ravenswood and Rosehill that was purchased by a third party from the UP Railroad. Many in the neighborhood were upset as there was no community discussion about the tower going up, not only was it huge and ugly, but it obscured the architecturally significant entrance to the Rosehill Cemetery. The response from the Alderman’s office at the time was that this was a “clerical error” that had allowed this to be built, almost overnight without any community discussion, which helped galvanize the neighborhood to take action.
A short while later WEAR was formed to drive action to remove the tower. Cellular One agreed to reduce the height of the tower, landscape the area and put up decorative fencing around the split block building at the base of the tower. Cellular One promised they would completely remove the tower within 3 years which they did. However, you can still see to this day in the ground some of the remnants of where the tower once stood.
With this renewed energy from the WEAR community, the first WEAR President Joe Drantz, persuaded the Union Pacific Railway to lease the right-of-way to WEAR and to also remove the and reinstall the chain-link fence to the top of the embankment so that WEAR could gain access to the embankment and begin cleaning it up, removing years of growth an garbage and the improve the soil such that it would support the kind of vegetation that was going to be placed. WEAR had hoped to include the parcel where the tower stood in the garden, but the third party was unwilling. The relatively steep embankment made for a challenging site to work, but a beautiful site was to come. The lease with the Union Pacific RR actually runs from Bryn Mawr to Peterson and continues to this day, paid yearly by WEAR.
At this point WEAR partnered with Mayor Richard M. Daley’s newly established Greencorps Chicago program, which required WEAR to send representatives to classes to learn about urban gardens and how to plan and execute what would become the WEAR Garden. WEAR was told at the time its garden was the largest in the City and was a very ambitious project for a small group like WEAR. The garden was lead at this time by the first WEAR President Joe Drantz and Horst Wagener. They also received excellent support from Kevin Carroll from Greencorps Chicago, who provided resources and expertise, as well at countless volunteer hours from neighbors and WEAR members in those early years enabling it to get started and thrive. Alderman O’Conner at the time also brought water to the garden which allowed the garden to fluish. Gethsemane Garden Center has also provide generous support for many years to the WEAR garden. In addition to all of those volunteer hours from neighbors, Horst and Anne Wagener worked tirelessly to find ways to keep costs down in their effort to make the dream a reality and the garden site you see today – after nearly 30 years of commitment, Horst and Anne Wagener truly are the parents of this beautify neighborhood asset.
During Mayor Daley’s administration, this much loved garden entered into his citywide garden contests, where it was awarded almost every year ranging from First Place to honorable mention for the best community garden. To this day the WEAR Garden remains a source of pride for the neighborhood. (See other tab for list of awards)
On a final note, its worth saying that if you take anything away from this account, you should take this, the story of the WEAR Garden is a story of hope and reminding us Chicagoans that by working together we can help our City grow into a beautify place in which to live.
2021 Update: On June 25th, 2021 the Chicago City Council passed Resolution honoring the years of dedication that Horst and Anne Wagener have given the WEAR Garden and the WEAR community. The WEAR Board of Directors similarly renamed the Garden as the Horst and Anne WEAR Garden. A dedication ceremony unveiling the new signage was held in August 22nd 2021 with Alderperson Vasquez presenting Horst and Anne the official City Council Resolution signed by the Alderman and Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The event was presented that evening on WLS Channel 7 news: https://youtu.be/PMQ4Zlw7ZbA
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