THREATENED: Jackson Park Remains Threatened by Obama Center Development, But Some Positive Movement as Illinois State Historic Preservation Office Letter Calls for “Additional Design Review”


To many observers it appears that the city, state and federal agencies required to review the proposed Obama Center plans in Jackson Park have accepted the development as a fait accompli, and have chosen to minimize the scope of their respective reviews to avoid challenging the plan.

So it took many by surprise when the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office issued a letter which directly addressed many of the central concerns raised by organizations and individuals that other agency reviews had so carefully avoided.

Some issues raised in the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office letter include:

  1. Mitigating the disturbance to the archaeologically significant and sensitive site
  2. Restoring other historic features in Jackson Park including the Cheney-Goode Memorial Sculpture, the Statue of the Republic Sculpture and the English Comfort Station.
  3. Restoring or reconstruction of the Woman’s Garden
  4. Potentially shifting the Obama Center campus southward to avoid demolishing the Woman’s Garden.
  5. Requiring that changes to the Midway Plaisance meet historic standards.
  6. Requiring that the pedestrian path that is planned to replace Cornell Drive will be a reconstruction of the original Olmsted design that was lost when Cornell Drive was widened in the 1960s.

Read the full Illinois State Historic Preservation Office letter

“Reconfiguring the site or outright moving the center out of Jackson Park have been the two most common themes among opponents of the center’s design and location, according to FHWA.

“That the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office echoed some of those same thoughts was a welcome surprise to groups that have been attempting to put the brakes on the center’s fast track to approval and, ultimately, construction.

“‘It was significant they came out as they did. They had been basically silent, they had not shown their cards. It wasn’t known how they would fall,’ said Brenda Nelms, a Hyde Park resident and co-president of Jackson Park Watch, an organization opposed to the center’s site in Jackson Park.

“ISHPO seems to be focused on preserving the spirit of Frederick Law Olmsted’s design for Jackson Park, Nelms said, and perhaps that will lead to some kind of compromise.” (Wetli, 6/25/20)

State Preservation Agency Finally Weighs In on Obama Center, Calls for Design Review, Patty Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 6/25/20 

A Surprise Delay for the OPC, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, 7/1/20


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