“A nonprofit organization wants to restore the aging Chicago Harbor Lighthouse and use the landmark as a teaching tool for younger generations, as well as attract more visitors to the city.
“Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse shared its vision for the icon of the city’s maritime history at a meeting this week. They envision a three-stage plan: The first is to allow boat tours to get visitors close to the site. Second is to restore the lighthouse so it’s safe enough for boats to dock and for people to go inside. And the last phase is to preserve and ‘celebrate’ the lighthouse with exhibits showcasing its history, in addition to restoring some rooms to their original condition.
“Kurt Lentsch, president of Friends of the Chicago Lighthouse, said schools and other organizations could become partners with the nonprofit to teach children about the city’s maritime history by visiting the site.
“‘We want to … reach out to those communities that are underserved and bring kids down to the lakefront, board a boat, take a ride down the lake, possibly for the first time in their life, and also go into the lighthouse and learn about the impact that lighthouse has made in the development of Chicago,’ Lentsch said.
“Preservation architect Edward Torrez said there is also enough room at the location to create event space that could accommodate up to 150 people.
“‘What we would like to do is preserve it, make it a public space for everyone, to learn about technology, engineering and navigation and the history of Chicago,’ Torrez said. ‘It really should be shared.’
“It’s been all but abandoned for decades. It still functions. But it’s been fully automated, no longer needing a lighthouse keeper, since the 1970s.
“The city has owned the lighthouse since the Coast Guard, National Park Service and General Services Administration signed off on handing over the deed in 2009 with an agreement the city would figure out a way to restore the deteriorating building for public use.
“But little to no work has been done on the lighthouse since. Several ideas to breathe life back into the building have surfaced in the last few years, including turning it into a luxury hotel, a museum with a cafe and a bed and breakfast.
“‘It’s an important icon to the city of Chicago; we feel it should stay under public ownership,’ Lentsch said, adding that city officials have expressed support for the group’s plan.
“But Lentsch said his group would most likely need to raise $3 million to $5 million to restore the lighthouse. Those numbers still need to be finalized by the preservation team, which is being assembled. The next step would be to ramp up fundraising.” (Camarillo, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/24/23)
- New life for historic Chicago Harbor Lighthouse? Group pitches major renovation, public tours; Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse hopes to partner with schools and other organizations to bring children from underserved communities to the aging icon in the lake, Emmanuel Camarillo, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/24/23
- Preservationists hope to turn obsolete lighthouse into a tourism magnet, Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 5/23/23
- Group of boaters help the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse shine, CBS Chicago, 5/24/23
- Photographer Barry Butler’s mission to save the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, Brian Althimer, WGN Radio, 8/9/22