The Oak Park Conservatory began as a community effort to house exotic plants residents collected during their travels abroad. The Edwardian-style glass structure was built in 1929 but fell into neglect until 1970 when a group of concerned residents preserved it.
Free to the public, the Conservatory is one of the top three historical sites in Oak Park welcoming over 50,000 visitors annually. In 2005, the Conservatory was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
The Conservatory offers a rich atmosphere throughout three indoor showrooms featuring more than 3,000 plants, some of which date back to 1914.
The Conservatory provides 8,000 square feet of growing areas, making it the third-largest conservatory in the Chicago area.
There are three primary showrooms: the Mediterranean, Tropical, and Desert rooms. Each showroom is intended to support the different climatic requirements of the individual plants. In 2011, the Herbert M. Rubinstein Memorial Garden was opened. This new garden space is framed by a pergola, enhanced by a water feature, and serves as a quiet space for reflection as well as special events.
In 2015 the Elsie Jacobsen Discovery Garden opened as a result of The Friend’s vision of having an outdoor demonstration/education garden. The Discovery Garden serves as an outside expansion of the showrooms, highlighting Illinois native ecosystems and water conservation.
In recent years the Conservatory installed solar panels to lower electricity costs, cisterns to collect rainwater and beehives for pollination. In addition to its collections, the Conservatory grows about 20,000 bedding plants annually for planting in public parks and sites throughout Oak Park.