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!
Debra Hammond is currently an officer of Promontory Point Conservancy. She has always been tall for her age