Paved Beach Page 4
A view of the World's Colombian Exposition
looking south along Lake Michigan from the northeast corner of
the grounds. At the forefront is a rear view of the Iowa Building
with its two sections clearly shown. The sea wall, built in 1884,
is to its left as is the first strip of the paved beach constructed
in the 1880s. An elevated electric railway traversed the boundaries
of the grounds and can be seen here passing the Iowa Building
constructed in the 1880s. An elevated electric railway traversed
the boundaries of the grounds and can be seen here passing the
Iowa Building which was one of its stops. The Columbia Gallery,
A Portfolio of Photographs from the World's Fair (Chicago,
|The 1937 shelter, the new Iowa Building, has a
north/south orientation, not the roughly east/west siting of
the original. With approximately 7104 square feet of ground space
(approximately 74 feet by 96 feet), its footprint is 25 per cent
smaller than the original shelter's 9600 square feet and only
43.5 per cent that of the actual Iowa Building at the time of
the Exposition. It lacks the height, too, of its predecessor.
Constructed largely of what is believed to be lannon limestone
with exposed wooden beams above its interior walkways and a red
shingle roof, its rustic appearance contrasts markedly with the
more elegant French chateau-influenced style of Burnham's earlier
design. The original shelter's replacement is far more open to
the elements and has an unenclosed court lined with large gray
flagstones. At its center, a small pool once allowed swimmers
to wash sand off their feet. At one time refreshments were available
at a concession stand there. The building stands somewhat west
of the original site and, unlike the first shelter, is no longer
on the lip of the lake. Comparing old and new maps at the CPD,
most of the original site would appear to be under what is now
the intersection of the Drive at 56th Street.
Aside from the name, the other characteristic that both buildings
came to share is obsolescence. The new bathing facility built
several years ago on the beach at 56th provides a range of services
to swimmers and passersby that render the Iowa Building of limited
use to the public-except perhaps as a shelter in rainy weather.
The concessionaires are long gone. The restrooms are locked.
No water spurts from within its little pool. At night, orange
sodium vapor lights shine out from within to outline the exterior.
If the structure were dramatically scaled down, it might fit
into one of those miniature building tableaus that people put
together at Christmas time or place alongside model train layouts.
During recent summers, families have brought grills and picnicked
in its shadow. At one period in the 1990s, teenagers constructed
a skateboard ramp next to it. A statue from the WCE uncovered
recently during the current roadwork may eventually be placed
in its courtyard. The proximity of the Iowa Building to a new
underpass now under construction at 57th Street under the Outer
Drive has led to discussions about transforming the building
into something more functional than it is at present. Solidly
intact and still handsome in its present isolation, the shelter
remains a reference to architectural elements on Promontory Point
and to the Alfred Caldwell era of landscape architecture.
Those big rocks along the lakefront, it should be noted, are
the ones now being replaced during the latest chapter in CPD
attempts to preserve the lakefront and enhance accessibility
to it. A ribbon of concrete along the lake on the North and South
sides of Chicago is well on its way to being laid. The use and
arrangement of those old blocks at Promontory Point are now at
the center of the controversy that has brought into being the
Promontory Point Community Task Force, for which the Hyde Park
Historical Society acts as fiduciary partner. This volunteer
group has drawn over $62,000 in donations, over half from the
Richard M. Dreihaus Foundation and the rest from private citizens.
What began as a relatively informal, though emphatic protest
has virtually institutionalized itself, at least for the moment,
and the group is at this writing in mediation meetings with the
Whatever the outcome of those negotiations, the so called "Save
the Point" campaign has established an unusual chapter in
community action in Hyde Park. It harks back to the days of urban
renewal in the 1950s, the save-the-trees effort of 1965, and
the Nike missile protests of the 1950s and again in the late
1960s. More recently, such efforts have coalesced with the founding
of the Friends of the Park (1975), the Jackson Park Advisory
Council (1983) and the Save International House campaign (2000).
One of the signal strengths of Hyde Park lies in the reservoir
of educated and sophisticated leadership it harbors, the financing
its residents can muster and the history of community activism
that marks its character.
Without reference to the specifics of aesthetic and recreational
issues, the Promontory Point campaign seems to have thrived in
part because of its focus on a symbol that sets Hyde Park apart
from other parts of the city and promotes its singularity. International
House meant something more than just a residence hall to supporters
of its preservation. Today, Promontory Point seems to have been
invested with a meaning beyond stone blocks, bike paths and rule-breaking
swimming outings. Such symbolism resonates almost viscerally
with a significant segment of the Hyde Park community.
The mediated dialogue between the CPD and the Promontory Point
Task Force leadership can be seen as an episode in the long public
history of defining what our parks should be and how they should
relate to and serve the public. Political action was present
at the very birth of the park system. There were small parks
in Chicago early in its history, some built by developers; East
End Park was not unique. Creating parks on a much larger scale,
however, involved developing a base of public support for the
concept. To give life to the idea, a network of political supporters
had to be cobbled together capable of persuading the State legislature
to establish the three part (South, West, and North) park system
for the Chicago area. Accumulating the land for the parks was
also not a smooth process. From the beginning, conflict over
the allocation of park funds, that is, the mediation between
philosophy and practice, was a constant and remains so to this
day. Historically speaking, then, some kind of political or negotiated
process, has always been involved from inside and outside of
the park's administrative system.
In recent years, while advocacy groups with relatively comprehensive
agendas related to the Park system have been established, constituencies
have also organized around specific parks or projects throughout
the city. Historical preservation, moreover, has emerged as a
major and sometimes confounding concern among the public, outside
governmental agencies and within the CPD itself. This has meant
that the Park District, rich in technical talent and its planning
expertise, has been confronted with having to develop new sensitivities
and to display public relations skills of a rather high order.
The larger historical question, however, is how complex entities
like the Chicago Park District and its predecessors have set
their mission, planned their work, obtained funds and made decisions
about how to allocate them, and adjusted generally to political,
economic and social changes in the city of which they are so
integral a part.
Sources and further reading, see below:
and further reading, see below:
Selected sources and further reading: A.T. Andreas, A History
of Cook County Illinois (Chicago: 1884) Annual Reports to the
South Park Commissioners, (Chicago: 1877-1911); Julia S. Bachrach,
"Jackson Park Design Evolution," C.P.D. working paper,
Chicago: 1995); Barry Bluestone, Constructing Chicago (New Haven,
Conn.: 1991), Report of the Iowa Columbian Commission (Cedar
Rapids, Iowa: 1893); H.H. Bancroft, The Book of the Fair, Vol.
II (Chicago: 1895); Rossiter Johnson, ed. A History of the World's
Columbian Exposition, Vol. II, New York: 1897); Olmstead, Vaux
and Company, Report Accompanying Plan for Laying Out South Park
(Chicago: South Park Commission, 1871); Promontory Point Advisory
Group Income Statement, October 21 and December 16, 2003. There
are published biographies of Olmstead and Burnham. See also Galen
Cranz, "Models for Park Usage: Ideology and the Development
of Chicago's Public Parks" University of Chicago doctoral
dissertation, 1971). Thanks for assistance are due to Julia S.
Bachrach of the CPD's Department of Planning and Development
and Robert Middaugh, CPD's archivist. HPHS board members Bert
Benade, Devereux Bowly, and Jack Spicer also provided information
in the preparation of this article, as did the JPAG's Nancy Hays
and Gary Osswaarde. Contemporary measurements, box counts and
interpretations are the responsibility of the author.
Postcard views are from private collection.
Stephen A. Treffman is Archivist for the Society and contributing
editor to Hyde Park History.
Photographs on Page 5
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