As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and July 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at info@smilepolitely.com.

NAME

Washington Park 

LOCATION

245 E. Chalmers St., Champaign, IL 61822

the lawn of the park is pictured with a basketball court in the backgroundPhoto by Maddie Rice. 

HISTORY AND FEATURES

I cannot begin to tell you about George W. Davidson, who donated this land to the city in 1905 to make space for some grass and open air for students and the families who inhabited the area back then. I didn't look it up. It's definitely lazy of me, but frankly, at this point and at this particular moment, I don't want to read about another rich dude who donated land and then talk about it. I hope that is OK. 

Washington Park is just called Frat Park. Everyone knows that. There used to be things that happened there, but now there isn't, save for college kids using it as both a sportsball field and a place to neck or quietly sip a Claw. Hopefully, that's the extent of it. 

Back in the 90s, I watched in amazement as Sasha Cohen put on a festival of pretty significant magnitude in the park, with The Mighty Blue Kings headlining, and I think maybe Mighty Pranksters also playing, or maybe it was Blue Meanies. It was a combination of names that has the same word in it. Again, though, going based on memory here. It was a marvel. A couple thousand turned out for it. Beer was consumed. Fun was had. Truly remarkable. 

a tent for COVID testing sits on the lawn of the park Photo by Maddie Rice. 

Right now, the park is set up as a COVID testing site, and I am not sure there could be anything more apropos of the moment than that. 

Bottom line: this is our reality, right now. There's a pandemic, and an outdoor testing facility is the best use of the space at this moment. This is a positive thing. What isn't positive is that the testing accessibility being offered to our esteemed guests isn't being offered to the rest of us. 

That's on the University. As an alum, and as a townie who still lives here, I will just say it: that's some bulllllllllllshit.

Bull. Shit. 

ASSESSMENT

I always wish Washington Park could have more integral programming inside of it year in and year out. Honestly, it would be a great way to get the community and the student population to better get to know one another. The days of Acacia throwing a monster beer bust at 4 p.m. with a cover band on a Saturday have fallen away. Now, it feels like there could be a few more opportunities afforded to those who live nearby, and those who live around town, as well. 

a university student catches a football pass with one arm while falling to the ground at the park Photo by Maddie Rice. 

There is a volleyball court and a basketball courty at this park; that's a good thing. Those are fun team sports to play. Beyond that, look at this dude above ripping a one-handed grab of the pigskin like he is Odell Beckham or something. That's a showcase of what is possible inside of this park. A lot of youthful exuberance; a willingness to lay out for a hot pass. We have to find a way to bind the campus and the community; we have to bring it to the people. 

I love Washington Park. In 1997, I lived across the street from it, and it was a delight. I played catch there with my roommate, and we felt like we were adults, like we mattered. I think if there'd be some kids running around, sometimes, we'd have been happy about that. Kids make things feel better in a park. Just a thought. 

Top image by Maddie Rice.