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

 Main | our building | who we are | historic buildings | churches | Hyde Park History | monuments | parks | newsletters-The Big Wheel | HP Presbyterian Church | Tarzan | Ferriswheel | Paul Nitze | Ray

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, 1894)

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 Park District.

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:

Sources 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.

More Photographs on Page 5
To Top of Page

  Main | our building | who we are | historic buildings | churches | Hyde Park History | monuments | parks | newsletters-The Big Wheel | HP Presbyterian Church | Tarzan | Ferriswheel | Paul Nitze