Op-Ed: Giving Promontory Point landmark status would be a victory for preservation and access

“As children, my friends and I often raced across the rocks churned by the waves of Lake Michigan into mountains, crevices and caves. We didn’t feel little. We felt wild, sure-footed and daring. When the rocks ran out, we leapt from the boulders into Lake Michigan.

“I have many memories of Promontory Point growing up. It’s the place that raised me. But my relationship with this human-made peninsula in the Hyde Park neighborhood has been haunted by the possibility of its destruction — with each summer marked by new ‘Save the Point’ signs as local activists fought city government’s attempts to tear down the point’s historical limestone revetment and replace it with the concrete that encircles much of Chicago’s lakefront. Now, at long last, Promontory Point is on the cusp of receiving true protection as a city landmark.

“If all goes smoothly, the full City Council will vote April 19 to make Promontory Point a Chicago landmark. As a new cohort of aldermen fills the chamber, including many freshman council members, it’s relevant to review why achieving landmark status would be an important victory for community activism, historical preservation, public art and waterfront access.

“The limestone revetment, built in the 1930s, is the only remaining remnant of a huge public works project to protect Chicago’s shoreline. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Promontory Point beautifully displays uniquely Chicago urban design. This alone makes it worthy of preservation, yet the limestone also contains an intimate record of the people who built a community on these rocks.

“Promontory Point is unique among Chicago’s erosion barriers in that it functions as a beach. The stone steps offer a sense of seclusion, water access and a smooth texture to sunbathe not afforded by the city’s concrete. The result is a stark difference in public use. Even the most heavily trafficked concrete installations exist as walkways only, and outside of downtown, the concrete revetment is hardly used at all. The vast slabs of concrete lie empty and sterile. Contrast this with the point, designated by the city’s most serious swimmers the best place for open water swimming, and where beach games, BBQs and sunbathing reign all summer.

“Preserving the peninsula’s limestone design, by voting for Promontory Point’s landmark status, is an opportunity for the new City Council to stand for grassroots movements, for historical and artistic preservation, for access to the waters that have defined our great city and for wild sure-footed daring. (Gross, Chicago Tribune, 3/27/23)

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