Promontory Point (Chicago)

Promontory Point (Chicago)

Promontory Point (known locally as "The Point") is a man-made peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan, part of Chicago's Burnham Park. The Point was constructed from landfill and by the late 1930s was protected by a seawall or revetment. The revetment was designed and constructed by Chicago Park District engineers and consists of limestone blocks arranged in a series of four steps leading to a promenade.

Located on Chicago Park District land at 55th Street in Chicago's south side Hyde Park neighborhood, it was opened to the public in 1937. Alfred Caldwell, a disciple of Jens Jensen,Hueber, Jeff, "Chicago Parks Rediscovered", p. 85, Jannes Art Press, Inc., ISBN 0-912223-02-2.] designed the landscaping, following the Prairie School which uses native plants and stone. Caldwell's design featured a raised "meadow" section in the center of the 12 acre peninsula and included hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs. In 1938, Caldwell created stone sitting council rings around the lakefront edge, which today are used as fire pits. Few of Caldwell's original plantings remain today.

The park is accessed by the Lake Shore Bike Path, and a tunnel which passes under Lake Shore Drive at the east end of 55th Street. At the head of the park, seen immediately upon emerging from the 55th Street tunnel, is the David Wallach Memorial Fountain. This fountain was designed in 1939 by Elizabeth and Frederick Hibbard in the shape of a fawn, with drinking areas at human and animal levels. During the Cold War the park also housed a convert|150|ft|m|sing=on radar tower for the Nike Hercules missile defense system; it was dismantled in 1971.

The park contains a fieldhouse, built in 1937, the exterior of which is made of Lannon Stone from Wisconsin. Partly because of its view of the lake and cityline, it is a popular wedding and corporate event location. It competes with the much larger Jackson Park 63rd Street Beach House and the even larger South Shore Cultural Center as south side beachfront special use facilities. The frequent summer fireworks displays at Navy Pier are often viewed from The Point, especially on Independence Day, when large numbers of Hyde Parkers and other south side residents gather there. It neighbors the Museum of Science and Industry and the 57th Street Beach.

Water access is an important aspect of the Point's history of use. Swimmers, sunbathers, kayakers, and windsurfers use the Point's revetment to access the waters of Lake Michigan. In the summer months, the North side of the Point functions as a "rock beach." On the South side of the Point, distance swimmers swim South across the bay in front of the 57th Street beach. This has been the source of conflict with the Chicago Park District as swimming off the Point is not officially allowed. From time to time, swimmers have been ticketed for violating this rule. In 2003, the Chicago Park District offered to create an officially sanctioned deep water swimming area off the South side of the Point. This proposal was tabled as a result of the on-going controversy over the replacement of the revement (see below).

A Short History of the Point Revetment

Much of Chicago's lakefront is landfill. To protect this lakefront park land, a seawall or revetment was built by the Chicago Park District in the 1930s. This revetment consists of limestone blocks (with an average weight 2 to 4 tons) arranged in a series of “steps” leading down to the lake. These blocks are supported by a crib structure made from wooden timbers that encloses crushed rock. At the outer edge of the revetment, a series of wooden pilings, held together by a steel rail, keep the limestone blocks from tumbling into the lake.

At the Point, the revetment features four steps leading down to a convert|16|ft|m|sing=on wide promenade. The revetment at the Point is exposed to severe wave action and had partially failed by the early 1960s. A convert|1000|ft|m|sing=on section of the revetment (out of approximately a convert|6000|ft|m|sing=on total length) at the Northeast tip of the Point was repaired by removing the limestone blocks that form the promenade and pouring a pad of convert|3|ft|m of concrete over the badly eroded crib structure. This repair stands today.

By the 1990s, it was obvious to the City and the CPD that the revetment required major repairs and/or replacement. Federal funds were sought from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Army Corps agreed to fund about 50 per cent of the reconstruction but only if Army Corps engineering standards were adhered to. The Army Corps originally proposed a “rumble mound” replacement for the revetment. This amounts to little more than dumping a huge mound of crushed rock along the shoreline. While stable and inexpensive, this would have been an aesthetic disaster. Recognizing this, the City and CPD reached a “Memorandum of Agreement” with the Army Corps in June 1993. This document states that “the Corps shall consult with the SHPO (state historic preservation officer), the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District to ensure that the design and construction of the revetment will match the existing in accordance with the recommendations of the Secretary of the Interior's ‘Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation’.”

As funding was appropriated for the lakefront revetment, the City, CPD and Army Corps developed a plan for replacement of the revetment that mocked the appearance of the original limestone revetment but was made entirely of concrete with sheet steel piling securing the edge. Construction was to be in stages, one for each section of the more than convert|12|mi|km of lakefront revetment. Following the “MOA”, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) was contacted and approval was secured for each section of construction. Before construction was to begin on each section, a community meeting was also held to obtain community input.

In January 2001, the City and CPD held a community meeting to obtain input on their plans for the Point revetment. This started a controversy that has not yet been resolved.

The Controversy

The January 2001 meeting was attended by about 150 users of the Point and members of the Hyde Park community. Residents reacted very negatively to the City/CPD proposal to replace the revetment with a concrete and steel structure. Some felt that the revetment was not really in need of repair and should be left intact. Others felt that the City/CPD plan denied water access so vital to Point Users. Many felt that limestone was a more aesthetically pleasing material and should be used. At the end of this meeting, a call was raised for a volunteer group to meet with the City in an attempt to change the plan. Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) agreed to coordinate meetings of this group with City officials.

In the months that followed, this volunteer group (who dubbed themselves the “community task force for Promontory Point”) met many times with City, CPD and Army Corps representatives. The result of these efforts were nine concessions that modified the original plan. Included in these nine points were water access sites, limitations on the height and width of the revetment, and a staged construction plan that would keep some part of the Point open for use during the two-year construction. However, the nine-point plan was still constructed from concrete. All members of the community task force supported these concessions in the form of a memorandum between the alderman and head of the City of Chicago Department of the Environment and the head of the Chicago Park District.

Some members of the community task force changed their support for the “nine point” compromise plan and began organizing with others to defeat the plan. Their view was that this plan conceded too much to the City and that, having gotten this far, further compromises could be achieved. This caused a split in the task force and four members resigned.

Over the next several years, a new group assumed control of the community task force. This group sought to create a “preservation” plan for the Point revetment. The group successfully lobbied IHPA preservation officer Ann Hacker to write a letter to the City stating that City's plans for the Point revetment do not meet IHPA standards. In addition, the community task force mounted a large petition drive to obtain signatures supporting the use of limestone in any revetment design. The group also raised funds from residents and foundations to sponsor an alternative design for the Point revetment.

One of the most notable activities of the task force was the distribution of bumper stickers protesting the City plan. Bumper stickers can be seen on many vehicles (including automobiles, bikes and skateboards) in the city reading "Save the Point."

In 2002, the community task force presented its “architectural proposal” for the Point. This was labeled an “architectural proposal” as the group did not have sufficient funding to complete engineering studies to prove the feasibility of their proposal. The proposal calls for demolition of the North side of the Point revetment and replacement with a limestone structure that has a concrete path embedded in it. At the tip of the Point, this group proposed to leave the convert|1000|ft|m|sing=on section of concrete repairs from the 1960s. On the South side of the point, only minimal repairs would be made “in situ.”

In mid 2003, the City and Chicago Park District unveiled a new plan for the Point revetment (this was offered as a compromise to the task force and hence has been dubbed the “Compromise Plan”). This plan had a number of important features:

# 100 per cent of all limestone block would be retained and used in the revetment
# The top two steps of the revetment would be made from limestone block
# A deep water swimming area would be created on the South side of the Point
# An convert|800|ft|m|sing=on section of the south side revetment would be retained in original condition
# The concrete steps would be textured to resemble stone.
# Two convert|150|ft|m|sing=on water access sites would be created on each side of the peninsula.

In addition, the City and Park District proposed a $1.5 million restoration of the original Caldwell landscape design.

This plan was rejected by the community task force and discussions broke off between the City and the task force.

In early 2004, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency certified that the City's new Compromise Plan met historic preservation standards. In a public meeting, IHPA officials also revealed that the architectural proposal by the community task force would "probably not meet" historic preservation standards.

From this point on, the community task force focused efforts on US Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. and US Senator Barack Obama. Representative Jackson has introduced legislation calling for a third-party review of the City's plans. This legislation has passed congress but has not received funding via an appropriations bill. Senator Obama called a meeting of various “stakeholders” in the spring of 2006 and promised to work for a resolution of the conflict within six months.

According to an August 2006 statement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in response to issues raised most recently in a March 2006 meeting of the Corps, the City of Chicago, the Community Task Force, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, Preservation Chicago, the Hyde Park Historical Society, the Office of U. S. Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. and the Office of U. S. Senator Barack Obama, preservation work will adhere to the following concerns of those in attendance and those of the Chicago Park District Lakefront Construction Director [] :
*Preservation enhancements that provide the level of shoreline protection storm damage reduction for a 50-year project life.
*Provide an appropriate level accessibility to the water's edge for persons with disabilities in compliance with Department of Justice standards and approved by the Chicago Parks District.
*Represent reasonable cost to local agencies for construction and maintenance.
*Continue to meet with the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in consultation with the Illinois State Historic Preservation Officer.

To date, there has been no plan agreed on for the Point revetment.

Promonotory Point has been named by the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois to the 2004 List of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places In Illinois [] after being named to their 2002-3 Chicagoland Watch List. As of November 2006, they list it as "still threatened".

In movies

*There were a few scenes in the movie Proof starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Hopkins that show the Chicago Skyline in the background from parkbenches at Promontory Point.
*There is a very brief scene in the movie "High Fidelity" starring John Cusack that features the Point revetment, waves on Lake Michigan and a glimpse of the Chicago Skyline.


External links

* [,+chicago,+il&sll=41.79552,-87.58745&sspn=0.01099,0.018711&ie=UTF8&ll=41.795328,-87.584982&spn=0.01099,0.018711&t=h&z=16 Google Maps view of the Point and 57th Street Beach]
* [ Official Chicago Park District Page]
* []
* [ Aerial image of the Point under construction in the 1920s]
* [ Timeline of the Point Controversy]
* [ Summary of the City's Proposed Renovation of the Point]

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