From the Hyde Park Historical Society newsletter -- Fall and Winter 2003





Holding the Lake at Bay in Jackson Park:
The Stories of the Paved Beach and the Iowa Building
Stephen A. Treffman

The Chicago Park District's plan to replace the large limestone blocks around Promontory Point and elsewhere along the lakefront with a concrete and steel revetment is part of a long history of attempts to protect the city's shoreline from the ravages of the natural action of our great Lake Michigan. That history, however, is not well known but the recent reconstruction of much of the beachfront along South Lake Shore Drive has revealed artifacts of one of the earliest large-scale projects designed to keep the lake at bay along Jackson Park.

There is a strip of beach at about 58th Street between the sidewalk and Lake Michigan that, until recently, was paved with a layer of five to twelve inch rectangular granite blocks that were quite visible to anyone who noticed them. Those blocks were cut and installed in 1887 and 1888 under the direction of the South Park Commission (SPC). Created in 1869 by the Illinois legislature, the SPC had come into existence largely through the lobbying efforts of Hyde Park founder Paul Cornell, later a commissioner for the district, and other prominent local associates. Its mission was to create and maintain a public park on 1057 acres of land that eventually would become Jackson Park, Washington Park, the Midway Plaisance and Gage Park. It was also empowered to establish and maintain 13.87 miles of boulevards, including Grand Boulevard (now Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Drive), Drexel Boulevard, and Garfield Boulevard. The latter is linked at its eastern end to Washington Park and to Gage Park (named for George W. Gage, an early South Park Commissioner) at its westernmost entrance. The SPC had, by any measure, a daunting responsibility. In its early years, the SPC was largely concerned with working out the legal issues and claims involved in assembling the land for the parks and laying the plans for the design of what was then named South Park


Families enjoy the paved beach. In the background, benches line the paving. c. 1910



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