Chicago’s legendary Polk family made a $20 million legacy gift to Navy Pier, which has contributed to the dramatic transformation of the Pier and specifically to Polk Bros Park.
Navy Pier provides a tremendous public asset to the people and families of Chicago. Conceived as the “people’s pier” in Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, approximately 65 percent of its nine million annual visitors come from throughout the Chicagoland area. The Pier is undergoing a dramatic redevelopment to update its amenities. The multi-year effort, which began in fall 2013, continues to transform Navy Pier’s 50 acres of premier urban waterfront into a spectacular, global destination and treasure for Chicagoans and visitors.
The Polk legacy gift has transformed Navy Pier’s gateway and serves as a lasting testament to the Polk family’s contributions to Chicago as successful entrepreneurs and philanthropists. The 13-acre Polk Bros Park serves as Navy Pier’s green front door and include three beautiful, highly interactive and programmable outdoor spaces, showcasing arts and cultural programming and providing spectacular public spaces for Chicago families and visitors to enjoy for years to come.
Polk Bros Fountain and Plaza at the entry point of the Pier will feature a dramatic, 12,500-square-foot signature fountain in warm weather with more than 250 programmable jets will mimic the natural movements of waves, schools of fish or flocks of birds. In the winter months, the fountain will convert to an ice rink, encouraging year-round activity in the large outdoor space.
Polk Bros Performance Lawns will include two magnificent new performance spaces to host live arts and culture events against the backdrops of the lake and spectacular Chicago skyline. Through a new and comprehensive arts and culture plan, Navy Pier continues to engage with various Chicago’s arts organizations in creating programming designed to appeal to the city’s economically, racially and culturally diverse residents, including Chicago public school students and their families, making it a highly sought-after destination for enjoying arts and culture in the city.
The Polk family’s generous gift is a substantial step toward the reimagination of Navy Pier, and marks the first of several partnership relationships that continui the Pier’s redevelopment a reality.
The Polk family transformed Chicago when they blazed an innovative and enduring path in American retail selling furniture and large home appliances at affordable prices.
Sol Polk, son of Romanian immigrants, opened the first store in 1935 in the Portage Park neighborhood, and was soon joined by his brothers Sam, Harry, David and Morris, and sister Goldie, renaming the business Polk Bros in 1946. At its peak, there were 17 neighborhood-based stores, and Polk Bros became known for its discount prices and innovative merchandising.
The family’s commitment was not only demonstrated on the showroom floor, but also cultivated through a rich tradition of giving back to the people and communities their stores served. Polk Bros was the most successful Chicago retailer that never opened a store downtown, being committed to serving all Chicagoans throughout the city.
The Polk Bros. Foundation was founded in the mid-1950s as a vehicle to give back to Chicago communities. In 1988 the foundation was separated from the business and reestablished with a new board of directors consisting of family and non-family members. When the retail stores closed in 1992, the company transferred all of its assets into the Foundation.
The Foundation provides funding to programs and initiatives having a tangible impact on the lives of people throughout Chicago and focuses on helping Chicagoans reach their full potential. It partners with nonprofits that work to build strong communities and strong families and provide quality education, preventive and primary health care, and access to the arts. Over the past 25 years, the Foundation has grown to become the third largest funder of Chicago nonprofits, supporting nearly 3,000 organizations with close to $300 million in grants. In 2013, the Foundation provided $20 million to more than 350 Chicago nonprofits.
Although the Foundation is a private, independent organization, Polk family members remain actively involved, including Sandra Polk Guthman, who served as the Foundation’s president and CEO for nearly 20 years and continues as the Board chair; and Bruce Bachmann and Howard Polk who have also served on the Foundation Board since its beginning in 1988.
Nearly 80 years after the first store opened, the Polk family feels the time is right to provide a major family legacy gift – outside of and in addition to the annual Foundation grants – that would benefit Chicagoans from all walks of life and be a proud, lasting testament to the Polk family and its history of success and giving.