This afternoon the Commission on Chicago Landmarks cast its final vote to make Promontory Point a Chicago Landmark. It was unanimous!
Many spoke in favor including the Conservancy's Jack Spicer, Alderman Leslie Hairston, Ward Miller and Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago, and Kendra Parzen of Landmarks Illinois. Journalist Alison Cuddy summed it up well: "Congratulations!!! The warmth and enthusiasm of the Commission, Leslie Hairston's smile and [DPD Commissioner] Maurice Cox's comments about feeling proud to be 'witnessing history' -- what a wonderful, joyful moment."
The ordinance declaring the Point a Chicago landmark will be introduced to the City Council at its March 15 meeting. From there, the ordinance will be reviewed by the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards before it comes back to the full City Council for a vote. If all proceeds smoothly, the ordinance to declare Promontory Point a Chicago landmark may be voted on at a live City Council meeting on April 19, 10:00am. Join us and attend -- in person or live stream -- this historic vote for the Point. Witness history!
Most importantly, the stage is now set for the City (CDOT), the Chicago Park District and the U.S. Army Corps to work openly with the community to fix the historic limestone revetment at the Point instead of destroying it. There is now a shared, common preservation language, precisely the Secretary of the Interior Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties, for a common, shared plan for fixing the historic limestone revetment:
Truly a beautiful day in the neighborhood!
Whoo-hoo! The Chicago Park District's Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to move the Point forward for landmark protections!
After receiving 350 letters from Point lovers (YOU!), The Chicago Park District's Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to approve Chicago landmark protections for Promontory Point! As the property owner, the Park District was not required but was requested to give its permission for Promontory Point to move forward in the landmarking process. The vote today means that the Point is ever closer to becoming a Chicago City-landmark!
In a statement to the press, Promontory Point Conservancy President Jack Spicer said, "This is a tremendous moment for the community and for Alderman Hairston who have been fighting side by side for 23 years to protect and preserve the unique and historic limestone revetment at Promontory Point. We are now one step closer. From here on out, we need to be sure that the Chicago Park District, Chicago Department of Transportation and the Army Corps of Engineers follow the federal Secretary of the Interior Standards for preservation and that the Chicago Landmarks Commission follows its legal guidelines for historic preservation. This will ensure genuine preservation -- preservation, repair and restoration -- of the limestone revetment at Promontory Point. Park District Superintendent Rosa Escareno and the Board did the right thing at today’s meeting and are to be congratulated for listenting and responding to the strong voice of the community."
Other speakers on behalf of the Point included Ward Miller and Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago, Kendra Parzen of Landmarks Illinois, Gil Kilgore of Friends of the Parks, preservation historian Julia Bachrach and members of the community who attended the meeting.
First, it's very important to know that the "locally preferred plan" is NOT the plan locally preferred by the community.
As it currently stands, the “locally preferred plan” is demolition of the limestone revetment and new construction of textured concrete with decorative and ornamental limestone blocks in the parkland. This is what the City (CDOT) and the Chicago Park District (CPD) call the "locally preferred plan" and what they currently plan for the Point.
We know that's what CDOT and CPD are planning from public information. First, on CDOT’s Shoreline Protection Project webpage, CDOT clearly states what the “locally preferred plan” is and what they mean by preservation:
“The preferred design of the revetment is vertical steel sheet piles to replace the damaged wood piles, and concrete steps and promenade to replace the existing stones. This design maintains safe access to the shoreline while preserving its historical and aesthetic value.” (Promontory Point and Morgan Shoal are listed as "Reach 4-step stone revetment reconstruction from 23rd Street to 57th Street alongside Lake Shore Drive” on the same webpage.)
Also, through FOIA, the Conservancy obtained CDOT's BRIC FEMA Pre-application, dated September 30, 2020. On page four of the exhibits, CDOT clearly specifies exactly what it means by "a preservation based approach" at Promontory Point: a new revetment of textured concrete with decorative limestone blocks in the parkland. CDOT engineers confirmed the "locally preferred plan" as recently as October 18, 2022 when the Conservancy walked the Point with CPD and CDOT commissioners and senior staff.
In the exhibit pages below excerpted from the BRIC FEMA Pre-application, CDOT and SmithGroup (CPD's favored engineering/planning firm) layout the emergency storm erosion crisis project area and illustrate what the "locally preferred plan" looks like for Promontory Point. As you can see, Promontory Point -- where there is no storm damage erosion crisis and no threat to private property, DuSable Lakeshore Drive or human life -- is falsely bundled with Morgan Shoal as one emergency reach. And the color illustration spells out a purported "preservation based approach" of demolition of the historic limestone revetment and replacement with a concrete revetment. Here, like at 57th Street Beach's concrete revetment, limestone blocks are placed in the nearby parkland for decorative and ornamental purposes and do not function as the revetment.
Illustration above: CDOT and SmithGroup's caption reads: "Promontory Point is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The City is committed to protecting and preserving this cultural asset and taking a preservation-based approach to shoreline protection. The image below is from shoreline protection installed at Diversey Harbor which takes a similar preservation-based approach. The specific design details for rehabilitation of Promontory Point shoreline will be developed as part of [the Morgan Shoal Project]. The City of Chicago, through its partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers, has successfully built new revetments throughout Chicago including segments from 51st to 54th Street, 43rd to 45th Street, and 33rd to 37th Street." Obviously, the Conservancy, other preservationists and qualified marine engineering firms with preservation experience disagree with this assessment entirely.
Map above: Bundling Promontory Point in a single reach with Morgan Shoal and calling it one project allow CDOT and SmithGroup (CPD) to inflate and exaggerate erosion, storm damage conditions at Promontory Point. CDOT and CPD lump Promontory Point into the second phase of work of the Morgan Shoal Project. Construction has already been awarded to SmithGroup and its partners to begin construction at Morgan Shoal. It's not clear whether that contract includes Promontory Point too in the scope of work.
Right now, the City and CPD are fully funded for construction of the current "locally preferred plan" of demolition and a new concrete revetment at Promontory Point and Morgan Shoal. On December 15, 2022, the City won 65% federal funding for its "locally preferred plan". With the passage of the Defense appropriations by Congress, the City and CPD received federal funding appropriation to construct the "locally preferred plan": 65% funding for demolition and a new concrete revetment funnels through the Chicago Army Corps, and the City will pay 35% through its November 2020 General Bond Obligation offering which specifically names Morgan Shoal and Promontory Point as capital projects. The Army Corps, the Mayor's Office and CPD snuck this huge federal appropriation in without informing U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly in whose district the Point sits and who has persistently requested federal funds for preservation at the Point and without informing Alderman Leslie Hairston.
Based on circumstancial evidence and the agencies' ongoing obfuscations, the Conservancy believes that the Corps, the City and CPD are using the current General Reevaluation Study (GRR) of the Chicago lakefront, including Promontory Point, to back into CPD's SmithGroup study for demolition and a new concrete revetment at the Point. As confirmed by CPD last June, SmithGroup has completed Phase I (condition/assessment study) and Phase II (design/strategic action plan) for Promontory Point. CPD has refused to release these findings to the press, to elected representatives and to the Conservancy. Neither SmithGroup nor the Chicago Corps has any relevant preservation expertise to make a legitimate plan for a preservation approach at Promontory Point.
The terminology "locally preferred plan" comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which must distinquish between its plan (cheap rubble mound) and the plan preferred by its local clients, CPD and CDOT. Hence, the "locally preferred plan". If the CPD and CDOT were sincere about preservation and listening to the wishes of the community, a genuine preservation approach -- such as the Conservancy's preservation marine engineering studies -- could be adopted by the agencies as the "locally preferred plan". To date, neither the Mayor's Office, CPD, CDOT nor the Corps has supported genuine preservation -- repair and restoration -- at the Point.
Thanks to your 600 letters, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks granted preliminary landmark recommendation for Promontory Point during its meeting on January 12th.
Multiple commissioners, Alderman Hairston, Alderman Garza, Chicago parks historian Julia Bacharach, and other speakers mentioned the enthusiasm and passion for preservation that was evident through the hundreds of letters they received from Point lovers. You're the point.
But we're not done yet! Next, the City Council Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards will vote to recommend the designation to the full city council.
Read the letters of support from Point lovers here. Watch the video of the meeting.
Art on the revetment: Bill Swislow comments to the Corps about this historic asset on the lakefront
Dear Ms. Belcik, Chicago Command, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Please accept this comment for the NEPA review of the Chicago Coastal Storm Risk Management study.
The historical limestone revetments and related structures at Morgan Shoal, Promontory Point and La Rabida have done more than protect the Chicago shoreline from erosion and flooding. They also have served as a canvas for thousands of mostly anonymous Chicagoans who have carved portraits and other images, names, messages and more into the rocks for almost a century.
I have spent the last few decades documenting the carvings on the revetments all along the Chicago shoreline, researching their history, tracking down and interviewing carvers, conducting walking tours (including at Promontory Point), doing numerous public presentations on the carvings, and, in 2021, publishing a book on the subject (Lakefront Anonymous: Chicago’s Unknown Art Gallery).
Effectively, the carvings on these rocks represent a spontaneous social history of Chicago’s life along the lake as well as combining to form a collective work of art that has gone largely unrecognized but is striking once you start noticing the thousands of carvings lining the shore.
These urban petroglyphs start near the Indiana state line and continue north to Osterman Beach at Hollywood Avenue. I have photographed the more than 6,000 that survive; thousands more were destroyed during the Corps’ shoreline protection work in the first two decades of the 2000s, from north of Promontory Point to Montrose Harbor. Although several hundred rocks from the old revetments were saved, and thus a smattering of the carvings in those locations, most of the thousands of blocks and the artwork on them were lost.
That cavalier treatment, which I believe was partly based on general ignorance of the carvings’ existence and importance, must not be repeated. This aggregation of modern rock carvings concentrated along a major urban shoreline is, based on my research, not duplicated anywhere else in the world. And Morgan Shoal, Promontory Point and La Rabida are major contributors to this unique resource. They each host significant surviving concentrations of carvings – more than 1,000 along Morgan Shoal, close to 600 at La Rabida and more than 500 lining Promontory Point.
The Morgan Shoal carvings include the oldest ones documented, the first of them dated June 1930, as well as several figurative and typographical carvings of significant artistic merit. Behind La Rabida Hospital there is an exceptionally dense concentration of carvings, some of them rich with historical references. There is also a line of rocks bearing carvings on an old revetment/breakwater that now sits about 10 feet offshore south of La Rabida. And at Promontory Point are some of the most whimsical historical carvings as well as some of the newest, with more than 20 executed this year added to the hundreds already there dating to back to the 1930s.
All these carvings are at risk from any shoreline protection plan that does not include preservation of the historical limestone. And all are at continuing risk from storm and erosion damage. At all three locations important carvings have either already fallen into the lake along with their host rocks or are in the process of falling.
So while it is important for the future of this art that shoreline rehabilitation proceed, it’s only hope of survival is that any rehabilitation retains as many of the limestone blocks as feasible, preferably in place, as opposed to sending them to the crusher or other dismal fates.
Retention of the limestone means different things at each location. Much of the revetment at Morgan Shoal is so decayed as to make preservation in place unworkable, so the best hope is that rocks bearing impactful carvings are identified and repurposed for seating or ornamental use. This was done to a limited extent along the Belmont Rocks north of Diversey Avenue, and to better effect at Fullerton Avenue, where the carvings were treated as an important feature worth saving and keeping visible in new configurations. Similarly, a number of blocks were saved in the Oakwood Beach vicinity and reused as seating and ornamental elements. At Morgan Shoal, in addition to the revetment features, there are rocks essentially installed as large paving stones adjacent to the 49th Street Beach House, flush with the ground and heavily carved. These also should be preserved in some form, either in place or nearby.
The rocks behind La Rabida hospital have suffered greatly in the last five years. Those nearest the lake are tumbling into the water (including one that hosts one of the finest of the lakefront carvings, a fully executed compass) and the rest show the ill effects of weather-driven shifts in the rocks. These rocks could be stabilized in place or repurposed nearby, as long as efforts necessary to preserve the carvings are undertaken. Similarly, the line of offshore rocks south of La Rabida should be surveyed for carvings and either preserved in place or relocated nearby. These rocks include one bearing one of the most unusual, masterful and historically interesting group of carvings to be found along the lake, made apparently by one hand between 1948 and 1953.
Of the three sites, Promontory Point is the one where the carvings, and the rocks that host them, can nearly all be preserved in place, per the plans formulated by the Promontory Point Conservancy. This allows the art to be seen as it was experienced and left by the artists and their friends over the decades since the Point was constructed in the 1930s. The carvings generally add to the historical character of the limestone revetments while also lining the Point with social history and artwork of substantial merit.
In all locations, for the carvings to be preserved, whether in place or nearby, their presence needs to be recognized and taken into account in the construction planning. This means inventorying the carvings, identifying the ones with sufficient merit to be preserved, and then taking great care when moving, resetting, or otherwise modifying their position. Even when efforts are made to save rocks with carvings, the process of moving them off their current location can result in their unintentional destruction, per the landscape architect on the Fullerton Avenue project. In addition, consideration of artistic merit needs to look beyond individual carvings to account for their impact in totality. While not every last carving may be worth preserving, some carvings grouped together become more than the sum of the parts.
Images and more information on the carvings are available at lakefrontanonymous.com and in my Lakefront Anonymous book – the first full-length study of the carvings, including their history as well as more than 200 images.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment on this important project.
As a three-sided peninsula, the Point calls for three different types of preservation on its south, north and east sides. The Secretary of the Interior (SOI) Standards for Historic Preservation classify repair, restoration and rehabilitation as legitimate methods of preservation construction. It is important to know that the limestone, step-stone revetment still functions after 85 years and little maintenace. This tells us that the original design of the Point's revetment can remain the design for fixing and maintaining it and this design makes genuine preservation completely feasible.
Repair-in-place For example, the south side of the Point where the revetment is spared the hard pounding northeast wave action can be repaired-in-place. Without dismantling the revetment, new steel pilings can be added to reinforce the decaying wooden ones and the limestone blocks can be repositioned and regrouted in place without dismantling the revetment.
Early photographs of the construction of the Point show how this repair-in-place can happen. In the left photo, a series of small cranes on the parkland -- or on barges in the water, move the limestone blocks into position. On the right, once in place, the blocks were grouted with concrete.
The south side revetment can be repaired-in-place.
Restoration On the north side of the Point, the limestone and the cove see a lot more winter wave action causing more erosion and shifting of the rocks. Here many of the stone blocks will need to be repaired and repositioned, again using small cranes on the parkland or on barges, and some will need to be restored and replaced with new blocks of the same material. Again the wooden crib can be reinforced with new steel pilings.
Replacement blocks are available in Bedford County, Indiana, where all the limestone at the Point originally came from. Using these limestone blocks for a revetment/sea wall was a repurposing project in 1936-37. These blocks were cut from Indiana quarries but because of blemishes or fissures they could not be used for the exterior stone of many of the older buildings in downtown Chicago, on the University of Chicago campus and at the Pentagon. Mountains of these rejected stone blocks line the roadways in Bedford County near the quarries. They are available by the hundreds for replacement blocks at the Point.
The north stretch of the Point can be repaired-in-place or can be fixed with restoration methods replacing damaged limestone blocks with identical existing materials .
Rehabilitation: a more expensive option than repair
The SOI Standards allow for changes that are in the spirit of the original design but are required for modern use. For example, the Lincoln boyhood home is preserved but with electrical lights so guests may see their way around the building safely. At the east end of the Point, the historic limestone revetment is already compromised by the 1964 concrete promonade and coffins put in by the Chicago Park District because of erosion damage. (The stones from the original promonade may be seen in the water immediately off the coffins platform.)
At the eastern-northeastern revetment, wave action has eroded the fill beneath the concrete-coffin promonade, in a few places all the way into the parkland. Over its 85 year history, the erosion of the fill has caused the limestone step-stones at the north east section to tip back into the parkland because of their weight.
The cheapest alternative would be to repair-in-place this section most damaged by wave action. Foam concrete can be pumped in under the coffins-platform to replace the fill eroded by storm waves. The step-stone blocks, which right now are tipped back into the parkland, could be left as is without harm or could be repaired-in-place. Another row of limestone blocks at the parkland level and some protective fabrics would secure the adjoining parkland at minimal cost and provide improved storm protection.
Since this section is already historically compromised by the 1964 coffins and has the most erosion damage, it allows for all sorts of creative rehabilitation (per SOI Standards) possibilities that maximize the limestone while incorporating concrete for pathways down to the promenade and the water. This might be the best location for innovative ADA compliance with ramps and ropes, and toe stones that permit wheel-chair bound swimmers access into the water. It also gives them proximity from the promonade to the nearby restrooms in the field house.
Since the Chicago Park District, the City and the Chicago US Army Corps want a "world-class solution" appropriate a world-class city, SOI rehabilitation and its additional expense might be justified and open up innovative and creative ways to maximize the historic limestone, minimize concrete using sustainable methods, and enhance access to the water for all.
Here you can see the 1964 concrete promendade with the coffins and the step-stone revetment tipped back into the parkland. The east end of the Point suffers the brunt of severe storms and can be repaired-in-place. Or it might be rehabilitated to maximize the historic limestone and minimize the concrete per Secretary of the Interior Standards at additonal expense.
A wonderful example of rehabilitation is Lincoln Park's Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool which was repaired, restored and rehabilitated per SOI Standards to accomodate visitors in wheelchairs. The Lily Pool, another Caldwell design, is a National Historic Landmark and a Chicago landmark and, like the Point, draws visitors from across the City and the world.
Cost Points: cost comparisons of the "locally preferred plan" and preservation construction
We recently discovered -- again -- that repair, restoration and rehabilitation of Promontory Point continues to be cost-effective and cheaper than the City's "locally preferred plan".
As you may recall, the City's "locally preferred plan" entails demolition of the historic limestone revetment and new construction of concrete and steel. In 2013, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' cost estimate for the "locally preferred plan" was $57m. Adjusted for inflation, the cost of the "locally preferred plan" today is:
In sharp contrast, preservation of the Point -- repair, restoration and rehabilitation per the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation -- continues to be cheaper than demolition and new construction. The 2002 Cyril Galvin preservation marine engineering report estimated the cost of repair, restoration and rehabilitation at $4.5m. Adjusted for inflation, that's currently $7.53m, 1/10th the cost of the "locally preferred plan". Given the storm damage erosion at the Point since 2002 and after conversation with four marine engineering firms with preservation experience, we estimate the cost of preservation construction and maintenance at 1/5 - 1/2 the cost of the "locally preferred plan" at:
Right now, the City is pushing a deception Point: demolition of the limestone revetment, new construction of a concrete revetment with limestone blocks on top as decorative and ornamental. Astronomical to build and to maintain, it is an over-engineered solution for $100m when repair, restoration and rehabilitation of the existing limestone revetment is feasible and multiple times cheaper. This is not a preservation-based approach and violates the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation. We don't need a new concrete revetment. We need the existing limestone revetment -- which still functions at 85 years -- fixed.
But even if preservation costs as much as the "locally preferred plan" which it doesn't, Promontory Point would be worth it and park equity on the South Side would be served.
Public art installed at Point
Artists, poet and Point-swimmer Jennefer Hoffman fired and installed the collective ceramic art work that many of you participated in on Sunday, October 9, at the Point. Here is the public art at dawn at the Point.
Spectacular fall at the Point
The Chicago Tribune featured spectacular aerial photos of fall colors at the Point among other City parks last week in its photo gallery.
Per historian Trish Morse:
High Point. At our press conference on May 26, 2022, we shared good news of a historic preservation engineering study and progress toward repair and rehabilitation of the limestone revetment after a 22-year community effort to Save the Point! U.S. Congresswoman Robin Kelly has secured congressional funding authorization for a preservation study of the Point in the 2022-23 federal budget. Let's hope the federal budget passes with ease! Many multitudes of thanks to Kelly and her senior advisor Rick Bryant for decades of devoted, persistent work. We are also very grateful to our local politicians -- State Senator Robert Peters, State Rep. Curtis Tarver II, Cook County Commissioner Bill Lowry and Alderman Leslie Hairston -- for standing with Kelly and for their powerful words demanding preservation, repair and rehabilitation of the Point's historic limestone revetment.
In response to our press conference, at a lakefront press statement in early June 2022, Mayor Lori Lightfoot told the Hyde Park Herald that the Point is "washing away" and cannot be fixed. When the Conservancy pursued this statement with the Chicago U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the City (CDOT) and the Chicago Park District (CPD) in its June 14th quarterly partners-stakeholder meeting, the Corps was adamant that it is continuing with its currently funded GRR study of the Point even though it would duplicate and prejudice Kelly's preservation study. At this time, the Corps and its partners are unwilling to pause their study to await the funding of Kelly's preservation study. In fact, they seem to be rapidly moving ahead even though the Point is not an emergency erosion crisis. We hate to see the Corps and its partners proceeding with this wasteful use of public funds. We've been waiting 16 years for Kelly's funding of the 2007 appropriation of a preservation study for Promontory Point and now it's finally in reach.
Mayors off Point
"If anyone should appreciate the resolve of Chicago’s open-land activists, it’s George Lucas.
After all, he got married at Promontory Point—a site he probably chose because it’s one of the most gorgeous stretches of lakefront land in Chicago.
And it’s so gorgeous precisely because an energetic band of kick-ass activists had the fortitude to fight Mayor Daley to keep him from mucking it up with a horrendous revetment project.
After he lost that fight, Mayor Daley threw one of his classic hissy fits, saying he didn’t care if Promontory Point fell into the lake. [A sentiment echoed by the Chicago U.S. Army Corps in summer 2022 by the way.]
Of course, that didn’t stop him from showing up to George Lucas’s wedding, where he probably danced the Funky Chicken.
On top of everything else, our powerful mayors apparently have no shame."
Press kit, May 26, 2022
Life rings at the Point
BEWARE: Diversionary Point
At least one local politician in favor of preservation at Promontory Point was approached by the City (CDOT)/Chicago Park District (CPD) and asked if the community would support new limestone at the Point. Say what?!?
The limestone at the Point is 400 million years old* and probably will last another 400 million years.
We don’t need new limestone.
We need the limestone reset and re-grouted. We need the wooden cribs replaced with steel ones.
Art At The Point
Chicago Landmark Designation
Cost Of Preservation
Locally Preferred Plan
Debra Hammond is currently an officer of Promontory Point Conservancy. She has always been tall for her age