“The federal government is clutching its pearls at how the city has taken care of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse since it transferred ownership of the aging icon more than a decade ago — and now they want it back.
“In particular, they scoffed at the idea of turning the lighthouse into a luxury hotel with a helicopter pad; two Chicago developers floated that concept, but it stalled then died in the spitballing phase after both concluded it’d be too tough to turn a profit.
“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 under an agreement the city would figure out a way to restore the deteriorating building for public use and education.
“The city initially hinted at the possibility of turning the lighthouse into a museum with a cafe. The idea of a bed and breakfast was kicked around. A ready supply of curiosity seekers could be ferried over from nearby Navy Pier, the thinking went.
“‘No decisions have been finalized on the fate of the building’s ownership, according to Langel and city spokesman Peter Strazzabosco. In explaining the city’s lack of progress, Strazzabosco cited ‘challenges involving the site’s location, seasonal usage limitations, lack of docking facilities, unknown market demand and other issues.’
“If the federal government retakes possession, the lighthouse could be offered for free to non-profit organizations. If no one bites, then it could be auctioned with preservation requirements outlined in the deed, Langel said.
“The lighthouse was built in 1893 and reconstructed at its current location — about a mile offshore of downtown — in 1917. 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.
Whatever happens, one thing is certain: Every year, the weather chips away at the lighthouse.
“‘With the freeze-thaw process, there will eventually be no other alternative than to take the thing down, and that would be a huge loss,’ he said.
“It has no dock, heat, plumbing or running water, and electricity is limited. But the bones seemed to be in decent shape, according to a city-commissioned assessment completed in 2015.
“‘I’ve been all around the country, and I can’t think of any lighthouse that has such a magnificent urban vista,’ Terras said.” (Dudek, 1/11/20)
Preservation Chicago included Chicago’s Lake Michigan water cribs as a 2017 Most Endangered. We recognize that the location of these iconic structures pose a unique challenge for reuse. However, the Lighthouse and cribs are the definition of a “landmark” – they can’t be missed by anyone on Lake Michigan or the shoreline.
Additionally, they are of architectural note and historical importance to Chicago’s water supply and engineering history. They should be designated Chicago Landmarks and creative adaptive reuse options be sought.
If repurposed, they would make extraordinarily unique and interesting destinations. Perhaps the Lighthouse and cribs could be repurposed as a restaurant, museum, excursion site, educational facility related to environmental issues, bird sanctuary, or other similar use that can be accessed via boat. If not reused, they should simply be preserved in situ with minimal structural maintenance so that they remain offshore landmarks to be enjoyed by boaters, sailors, and kayakers for years to come.
Feds to city: Give us back Chicago Harbor Lighthouse; The city of Chicago has been unable to do anything with the deteriorating lighthouse in a decade of ownership, Mitch Dudek, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/1/20