James B. Waller purchased 53 acres of land in the late 1850s for his family estate. He also hoped to profit from residential development from a part of his estate that is now known as Buena Park. In 1860 he built a brick, Italianate mansion which was replace in 1917 by St. Mary of the Lake church. Waller named the mansion and its estate “Buena.” He provided a right-of-way and a station stop in 1884 for the Chicago & Evanston Railroad. The stop was also called Buena. The large development portion of Waller’s estate was subdivided into 50-foot lots and given the name “Buena Park.”
Although it was annexed by the city of Chicago in 1889 Buena Park grew as a suburb within the city by taking on the look and feel of the suburbs of the era. Between 1900 and 1930 it took on a more densely populated character and went from a neighborhood of “fine homes” to one of “fine homes and fine apartments.”
The historic flow of Buena Park architecture went from country estate to suburban residences to small apartment buildings to large apartment-hotels.
Waller’s efforts were not alone, because other developers in the 1860s and 1870s developed land in the area. Samuel H. Kerfoot, Daniel Goodwin and H. G. Spofford built estates adjacent to Waller and also promoted the area’s suburban feel.
Graceland Cemetery was dedicated in 1860 and quickly became a destination for visitors. Landscaped cemeteries of the day were also used for weekend trips, picnics, strolling and riding in carriages. Its 119 acres form the western boundary of Buena Park and blocks east and west traffic which calms traffic flow and insulates the neighborhood. Ours is the only lakefront community in Chicago whose east and west borders are so clear, prominent and easy to recognize. Graceland Cemetery adds to the identity of Buena Park and reinforces its suburb-within-a-city nature that is not found within most Chicago neighborhoods.