If you’ve ever been on Chicago Food Planet’s Chinatown food tasting and cultural walking tour, you know the feeling: Already half stuffed from the delicious Chinese food you’ve been tasting, from dim sum at Triple Crown to ma po tofu at Lao Szechuan, your tour guide leads you through a series of turns, down a quiet residential street and through a deserted alley…and suddenly, you’re facing a beautiful park you probably had no idea existed.
Set off with a beautiful orange and red pagoda-style shelter, with the Chicago River flowing peacefully behind it, is Ping Tom Memorial Park, the loveliest hidden gem in the area — that you can’t eat, anyway.
Facing the river from Ping Tom Memorial Park
It’s 12 glorious acres of tranquility, located just beyond the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. It was once a railroad yard and now features a children’s playground, community gathering areas and Asian-inspired landscape design elements. (A planned expansion, announced in 2011, calls for a field house and soccer and softball fields.)
Chicago Magazine named it the city’s “Best Undiscovered Park,” and season six of CBS’ The Amazing Race ended in the park. (Fun fact: The park is such an undiscovered gem that some of the contestants’ cab drivers didn’t even know how to get to it for the show’s finale.)
The park’s named for Ping Tom, a civic leader who lived in Chinatown his entire life — from his birth in 1935 until he died in 1995, three years before construction began on the park he’d fought so hard to get built. In 1998, the Riverside Park Advisory Council voted to rename the park after him.
Tom worked for family businesses throughout his life and was a founding member of the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce; he also advised U.S. senators and Chicago mayors including Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley. But one of his greatest achievements was pioneering the construction of Chinatown Square, the largest Chinese mall in the country outside of San Francisco and New York City.
It’s safe to say Chicago’s Chinatown would look nothing like it does today if it weren’t for him!
You’ll definitely want to spend more time in Ping Tom Memorial Park than you have during our Chinatown tour…why not bring along a book and watch the world float by after you finish up? Or make a trip down on your own — it’s just a 10-minute walk from the Cermak-Chinatown Red Line station.
Ping Tom Memorial Park 300 W. 19th St. | 312-746-5962