A modest but proud two acres of grass in a changing North Side neighborhood.
In Park Binge, Tone Madison will highlight some of Madison’s finest patches of public space. Got a favorite park we should include? Let us know.
Nestled in the center of Packers Avenue, East Washington Avenue, and Aberg Avenue is a neighborhood. Nestled in the center of that neighborhood is a park of the same name. Eken Park has long existed in the looming shadow of Oscar Mayer. While the neighborhood, and the surrounding North Side community, were deeply affected by the corporation’s decision to close its Madison-based plant, there is more to the neighborhood than its past.
Eken Park (the neighborhood), which can be pronounced E-CAN or EK-IN,is something out of a 1980’s cult classic teen comedy or horror flick, and I mean that in the best way possible: Single-family homes, tree-lined sidewalks, and left-leaning yard signs alongside union-proud homes. Currently the actual park is In the midst of the yearly exodus of leaves. Fall is in full swing, with its shades of green, yellow, and orange, but the chilly air leaves the park empty most days. The neatly trimmed two acres of Eken Park are home to an open field for softball, morning yoga, kickball, and the occasional horde of Pokemon Go trainers.
The playground inside the park is truly nostalgic. An actual working merry-go-round sits next to a swing set. Alongside this awesome amenities is an odd pair: A plastic purple dinosaur that seems to be side-eying passerby sits mere feet away from a metal, twisting, caterpillar-shaped jungle gym with eyes that stare into your soul. There’s also a sandbox.
The 2018 Eken Park Neighborhood Planning Project recently realized the goal of creating a new common area at the park, which includes two benches and a small, landscaped area featuring a plaque touting the history and significance of the neighborhood:
“This area was once farmland owned by the Eken, Stang, and McCormick families. In 1919, near the present day corner of Packers and Commercial Avenues, the Oscar Mayer company purchased a vacant meat-packing factory, which became its corporate headquarters. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, this neighborhood was the site of the Madison Airport, North Street Trolley Line, and frequent performances by the Ringling Brothers Circus. Built in the 1940’s, the prefabricated homes on Myrtle and Coolidge Streets remain an important example American Vernacular Architecture.
Eken Park Neighborhood Association, 2017. “
As the neighborhood continues to change, residents are taking notice. A local photographer and Eken Park resident who calls himself Ben Z saw the neighborhood change start to change rapidly in the last few years. “I moved to Eken Park in 2007, since then I have seen much change,” he says. “Oscar Mayer, Ella’s Deli and East Side Press have all closed. The Tip Top Tavern changed ownership and was renovated—and new businesses like Ogden’s North Street Diner, the North Street Cabaret and others moved in, redefining Eken Park with their new energy. Homes also have been aggressively renovated and sold as property values jump higher each year. This change has been especially rapid lately. In 2017 it hit me that likely no one was documenting it all or preserving little details that may be lost to time.” With this change in mind, Ben Z began to document the streets of Eken on Instagram under the moniker Of Eken.
The photos are a collection of people, places, and the small wonders that make up this neighborhood. The project aims to make sure the words “Eken Park” invoke more than a manicured park with a watchful dinosaur and a sandbox. The goal is to also offer people a sense of agency in their own neighborhoods, to take pride in the sidewalks they walk every day. “There truly is a mountain of beauty hiding among the seemingly mundane streets of Eken Park,” Ben Z says. “This project helped me meet many wonderful people, make new friends and encourage others to explore and cherish their own parts of the city. “