Promontory Point Conservancy received a leak from a very reliable source in the City last spring that CDOT had conducted an assessment that determined Promontory Point’s revetment had “failed”. We were urged to concede defeat and “compromise" to CDOT’s plans.
In the meantime, the Conservancy had hired its own marine engineering firm -- McLaren Engineering Group -- to:
At our request and having completed its site visits, the Conservancy's marine engineers agreed to issue a letter refuting CDOT’s assessment of “failed". McLaren Engineering Group concludes:
"It is McLaren's professional assessment that the limestone revetment currently functions as the original design intended, is not in danger of collapse, and provides adequate shore protection. Further, it is our opinion that, with maintenance and repairs, the service life of the structure can be significantly extended, obviating the need for major demolition and replacement."
Read McLaren's preliminary condition letter here.
McLaren’s statement clearly demonstrates that the limestone revetment at the Point has not “failed" and can be repaired and preserved. It shows beyond a doubt that the legitimate community preservation approach remains viable.
Good afternoon. My name is Bronwyn Nichols Lodato, and I’m a member of the Board of Trustees of the Olmsted Network. We are thrilled to be co-hosting the screening of Landscapes of Exclusion and the subsequent panel featuring Dr. William O’Brien, Mr. Arthur J. Clement and Dr. Wairimü Njambi. Thank you to the National Building Museum, the American Society of Landscape Architects and the Library of American Landscape History for co-hosting today’s event. Dede Petri, President and CEO of the Olmsted Network, sends her regards from the UK where she is tracking Frederick Law Olmsted’s steps.
Frederick Law Olmsted’s work with the first state park, Yosemite and Mariposa Big Tree Grove, fundamentally transformed American ideas about parks.
In the 1865 Yosemite report, commissioned by the State of California, Olmsted talked about the right of all Americans to scenic reservations. This was really the seed of the national and state park idea and an extension of the urban park idea he first developed in New York City and extended to many urban areas across the country, including Chicago, where I serve as President of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Detroit, Milwaukee, Louisville, Seattle, and, yes, here in Washington D.C., to name a few.
In a nod to form serving function, Olmsted’s objectives with his state parks’ planning centered the need to repair the country’s national identity and civic culture that were in shambles after the civil war. He also understood that state parks would be in need of protection from interests that ran counter to a higher ideal of public, democratic spaces. In writing the Yosemite report, Olmsted understood the “eternal base of equity and benevolence” that needed to undergird government protection of public parks. He stated in the Yosemite report:
It is the main duty of government, if it is not the sole duty of government, to provide means of protection for all its citizens in the pursuit of happiness against the obstacles, otherwise insurmountable, which the selfishness of individuals or combinations of individuals is liable to interpose to that pursuit.
As O’Brien shares in his landmark book, the official and de facto adherence to the separate-but-equal doctrine borne of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision was sewn into the foundational soil of state parks in the Jim Crow South. O’Brien thoroughly documents how state parks were separate but never equal and were used as weapons of suppression against African Americans by denying equal access that they were fully entitled to as citizens. Accompanying this travesty was the intention to deny access to the sense of freedom, wonder and possibility that could be found in beautifully maintained state parks. Thankfully, this regime did not triumph, as African Americans fought to assert their rights to be seen and take up space in public parks.
We must not forget this history and remain vigilant. Indeed, we face new challenges to equitable access to our public parks through privatization, “development”, and environmental injustices. Olmsted was prescient when he stated:
For the same reason that the water of rivers should be guarded against private appropriation and the use of it for the purpose of navigation and otherwise protected against obstruction, portions of natural scenery may therefore properly be guarded and cared for by government. To simply reserve them from monopoly by individuals, however, it will be obvious, is not all that is necessary. It is necessary that they should be laid open to the use of the body of the people.
Olmsted understood the power of public parks as critical infrastructure in a democratic society, and this idea is more important now than ever. The Olmsted Network’s mission to advance Olmsted’s principles that parks and landscapes enrich people’s lives motivates our championing of inclusive park spaces that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of our country. The Olmsted Network is proud to be a part of our collective efforts to ensure inclusion and equity in our public parks for years to come.
The best of time, the worst of times: what we know about the newly funded design planning and construction project at the Point
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, . . . "* Promontory Point has never been in as safe a place and in as dangerous a place as it is right now. A difficult paradox to fathom but quite simply the truth.
The best of times: With the Point about to be made a Chicago landmark and already on the National Register of Historic Places, the historic limestone revetment and the Caldwell-Prairie Style landscape have never been more secure. If the City Council passes the ordinance making the Point a Chicago landmark on April 19, it will make it much more difficult to demolish the limestone revetment or destroy the Caldwell landscape at the Point. But, it will not make it impossible.
The worst of times: In the congressional acts that funded the federal budget at the end of last year, the City and Park District scored big on two fronts. First, they managed to tamper with and alter Congresswoman Robin Kelly's earmark preservation feasibility study and cost analysis for Promontory Point to make it meaningless and Pointless as it ended up in the October infrastructure bill. Second, they managed to find sponsorship for 65% federal funding of their "locally preferred plan" in the December Defense budget. Both these appropriations are devastating for preservation at the Point and for the community.
Here's what the Conservancy knows so far about the newly funded work at Promontory Point -- really, just the Chicago U.S. Army Corps's tentative schedule from the 2022 funding through 2029 construction completion.
The City (CDOT) and the Chicago Park District, however, have won the inside game by securing all the money. They have let the City-landmarking of the Point move forward because they believe that the money and the inside game will ultimately win.
The Conservancy's work now is to ensure that all the legal protections -- such as the National Register and Chicago Landmark protections -- are in place and are addressed thoroughly in whatever design the City promotes. We are working hard and continuously at our strong, preservation strategy and will continue to fight the good fight in the inside game as well as the outside game.
But it is in the political arena, the outside game, where the Point will be saved and only by the community as it continues to rally and advocate for fixing the historic limestone revetment and not destroying it.
Stay tuned as we finetune and present our preservation approach -- why it's cheaper, stronger, sustainable and better looking. (And fixing the limestone revetment means that only 1/3 of the Point is under construction at any one time while the other 2/3's are open all year for you to enjoy the Point.)
Please donate to support our ongoing work to ensure that genuine preservation construction happens at the Point in 2026. We need your support as we work to Save the Point Again!
* Opening line of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities. 1859.
Marc Monaghan of the Hyde Park Herald covers the unanimous Landmark Commission vote while raising alarms about the City's newly funded design and construction plans at Promontory Point in "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood for Promontory Point", March 10, 2023.
"Promontory Point repairs get $5 million boost from City as officials pledge to preserve its iconic limestone: the funding kicks off the planning and design process for the Point, which may soon be named a Chicago landmark. City and federal agencies will seek design proposals to preserve its 'historic nature' later this year" by Maxwell Evans, January 31, 2023. Block Club Chicago
"City to issue request for proposals for Promontory Point repair plan later this year". February 1, 2023. Hyde Park Herald
Press release, "USACE Chicago District, the City of Chicago, and the Chicago Park District announce the Chicago Shoreline Project kicks off new phases", issued by the Chicago District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, January 30, 2023.
Official site for the Shoreline Protection Project, including the newly funded project at Promontory Point. Promontory Point is included in Reach 4 and the last paragraph of the project page explains the City's "locally preferred plan" for demolition of the limestone revetment and new construction of a concrete revetment.
CDOT's preferred solution for Promontory Point, (Note the picture of the north side of the Point.), excerpted from the PBC presentation for the Morgan Shoal Project, May 18, 2022.
The Point in winter (and Jackson Park pre-construction) appears in the first 4 minutes of this lovely, musical video that moves up the Chicago lakefront south to north, Classical Music Aerial Adventure: Winter in Chicago, WFMT. March 2, 2023. (11:08 min)
"It's a beaufiful day in the neighborhood for Promontory Point", Hyde Park Herald, March 10. 2023. Marc Monaghan covers the Landmark Commission's unanimous vote and sounds early alarms about the City's and Corps's newly funded projects for design planning and construction beginning at the Point.
Chicago YIMBY features "Promontory Point in Hyde Park receives penultimate approval for landmark status" based on Preservation Chicago's recent coverage of Promontory Point. Preservation Chicago co-sponsored with the Conservancy the Point's City-landmarking nomination and was instrumental in seeing the nomination through the Commission.
Here is the Final Landmark Recommendation for PROMONTORY POINT in WARD 5, East of S. Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive, Between 54th and 56th Streets
Staff Recommendation--Staff recommends that the Commission approve the following:
Pursuant to Section 2-120-690 of the Municipal Code of the City of Chicago (the “Municipal
Code”), the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (the “Commission”) has determined that
Promontory Point, specifically that portion located east of S. Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable
Lake Shore Drive between 54th and 56th Streets, Chicago, Illinois (the “Site”), is worthy of
Chicago Landmark designation. On the basis of careful consideration of the history and
architecture of the Site, the Commission has found that it satisfies the following four (4)
criteria set forth in Section 2-120-620 of the Municipal Code:
1. Its value as an example of the architectural, cultural, economic, historic, social, or other
aspect of the heritage of the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, or the United States.
4. Its exemplification of an architectural type or style distinguished by innovation, rarity,
uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials, or craftsmanship.
5. Its identification as the work of an architect, designer, engineer, or builder whose
individual work is significant in the history or development of the City of Chicago, the State
of Illinois, or the United States.
7. Its unique location or distinctive physical appearance or presence representing an
established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community, or the City of
The formal landmark designation process for the Site began on January 12, 2023, when the
Commission approved a preliminary landmark recommendation (the "Preliminary
Recommendation") for the Site as a Chicago Landmark. The Commission found that the Site
meets four (4) of the seven (7) criteria for designation, as well as the integrity criterion,
identified in the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance (Municipal Code, Section 2-120-580 et seq.).
The Preliminary Recommendation, incorporated herein and attached hereto as Exhibit A,
initiated the process for further study and analysis of the proposed designation of the Site as a
As part of the Preliminary Recommendation, the Commission adopted a Designation Report,
dated November 2022, the most current iteration of which is dated March 9, 2023,
incorporated herein and attached hereto as Exhibit B (the “Designation Report”).
On January 31, 2023, the Commission officially requested consent to the proposed landmark
designation from the owner of the Site, the Chicago Park District. On February 22, 2023, the
Commission received a form dated February 22, 2023, and signed by Rosa Escareno, the
General Superintendent and CEO of the Chicago Park District, consenting to the proposed
At its regular meeting of February 9, 2023, the Commission received a report from Maurice
Cox, Commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development (DPD), supporting the
proposed landmark designation of the Site. This report is incorporated herein and attached
hereto as Exhibit C.
II. FINDINGS OF THE COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS
WHEREAS, pursuant to Section 2-120-690 of the Municipal Code, the Commission has
reviewed the entire record of proceedings on the proposed Chicago Landmark designation,
including the Designation Report, the DPD Report, and all of the information on the
proposed landmark designation of the Site; and
WHEREAS, the Site meets the four (4) criteria for landmark designation set forth in Section
2-120-620 (1), (4), (5), and (7) of the Municipal Code; and
WHEREAS, the Site was first envisioned as part of Daniel Burnham’s seminal 1909 Plan of
Chicago which proposed the use of artificial fill to construct a magnificent stretch of new
parkland between Grant and Jackson Parks; and
WHEREAS, in 1934, Chicago voters approved the Park Consolidation Act, thereby
establishing the Chicago Park District and, with it, the means to access money through the
Works Progress Administration (WPA), President Roosevelt’s New Deal program to provide
work to millions of jobseekers through the completion of public works programs. The
Chicago Park District secured WPA funds from 1935 through 1939 to complete the Site,
employing thousands of Chicagoans during the Great Depression while creating a new
peninsular park which provided South Siders with a beautiful haven just steps from Jean-
Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive with spectacular views and access to the lake; and
WHEREAS, in 1953, during the Cold War, the United States military installed a Nike missile
launcher area in Jackson Park and a radar area at the Site. Although some community
organizations resented the installation of radar towers and were supported by Hyde Park
Alderman Leon Despres and Congressman Barratt O’Hara, it was not until the anti-Vietnam
War movement grew that community members became more ardent in their demands for
removal of the structures. In 1970, U.S. Congressman Abner Mikva led 500 demonstrators
who protested the Vietnam War and demanded the removal of the Nike missile bases. The
federal government finally closed the Site’s Nike installation in 1971; and
WHEREAS, Alfred Caldwell, landscape designer of the Site, was mentored by Jens Jensen
and is considered to be one of the great landscape architects of the Prairie style. This
naturalistic approach to landscape design developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries and used native vegetation and other features of the Midwest to emphasize the
region’s open character and horizontal expanses; and
WHEREAS, the Site’s Pavilion Building is a fine French Eclectic-style building designed by
Emanuel Valentine Buchsbaum, a notable Chicago architect. Buchsbaum’s career began
under architect R. Harold Zook with projects including the Maine East High School and
Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge, Illinois. During the 1930s to 1970s while head architect and
later an engineer for the Chicago Park District, Buchsbaum built structures throughout
Chicago’s park system, some of the most noteworthy being the 1931 Grant Park Band Shell
(demolished 1978), the 1938 Art Moderne “lake steamer” North Avenue Beach House
(demolished 1999) and 1937 Montrose Avenue Beach House (west wing extant), and the
1956 Henry Horner Park Field House; and
WHEREAS, Frederick C. and Elisabeth Haseltine Hibbard, sculptors of the David Wallach
Fountain, installed and dedicated at the Site in 1939, were important Chicago artists whose
sculptural work was exhibited and installed throughout the United States; and
WHEREAS, the Site is a significant example of Alfred Caldwell’s Prairie style of landscape
WHEREAS, the Site retains the city’s last largely intact stretch of limestone step-stone
revetments, variations of which once defined most of Chicago’s shoreline during the
twentieth century; and
WHEREAS, with its distinctive curved landform that juts out into Lake Michigan and its
limestone, step-stone revetments that provide park visitors close access to the water,
Promontory Point is an iconic visual feature along Chicago’s lakefront; now, therefore,
THE COMMISSION ON CHICAGO LANDMARKS HEREBY:
1. Adopts the recitals, findings, and statements of fact set forth in the preamble and Sections
I and II hereof as the findings of the Commission; and
2. Adopts the Final Designation Report, as revised, and dated this 9th day of March 2023,
3. Finds, based on the Designation Report and the entire record before the Commission, that
the Site meets the four (4) criteria for landmark designation set forth in Sections 2-120-620
(1), (4), (5), and (7) of the Municipal Code; and
4. Finds that the Site satisfies the "integrity" requirement set forth in Section 2-120-630 of
the Municipal Code; and
5. Finds that the significant historical and architectural features of the Site are identified as
• All exterior elevations and roofline of the Pavilion Building; and
• The pathways, council rings, David Wallach Fountain, and limestone revetments; and
• Alfred Caldwell’s landscape design of a central meadow edged by irregular groupings of
plants and trees.
Routine landscape maintenance is excluded from review. Species selection of individual
plants and trees is also excluded from review in recognition of the potential need for change
to the plant palette to ensure that the park landscape is resilient in the face of climate change.
6. Recommends that the Site be designated a Chicago Landmark.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
Debra Hammond is currently an officer of Promontory Point Conservancy. She has always been tall for her age