It's Not Written in (Lime)Stone, Yet, But Promontory Point Is One Step Closer To Becoming a Chicago Landmark

Promontory Point, on the south lakefront, is beloved for its natural aesthetic, designed by noted landscape architect Alfred Caldwell in 1937. (Preservation Chicago / Eric Allix Rogers)Promontory Point, on the south lakefront, is beloved for its natural aesthetic, designed by noted landscape architect Alfred Caldwell in 1937. (Preservation Chicago / Eric Allix Rogers)

Promontory Point received preliminary landmark status Thursday from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, a long-awaited result that drew applause from the commission's chairman Ernie Wong.

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"The motion carries unanimously. Folks, there you go — 20 years," Wong said, referencing the lengthy battle by community members to preserve the Point.

Though final landmark status is still pending additional commission review and then the approval of the full Chicago City Council, supporters of Promontory Point can breathe a sigh of relief that the peninsula's much loved stair-step limestone revetment wall is poised, finally, to become protected from attempts to replace it with concrete.

During the hearing — which grew contentious at times despite the lack of opposition to the landmark designation — representatives from both the Chicago Park District and Chicago Department of Transportation stated their respective agency's intention to maintain the limestone.

"We're committed to using the existing limestone," Daniel Burke, deputy commissioner at CDOT, said in response to assertions to the contrary from Jack Spicer, president of the Promontory Point Conservancy.

"Can we stop discussing 2005? Let's put it to rest," Burke said of prior plans to scrap the limestone. "We are in complete agreement with you with how you want to proceed on this ... . There is no argument here."

"Great. That's perfect," Spicer replied. "It's on the record. I appreciate it very much."

Maurice Cox, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, counted himself among those who hadn't been witness to the decades of rancor between city agencies and fans of the Point.

"I never had any doubt" about the landmark status, he said, "so I couldn't understand what all the upheaval was about."

What it was about, said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th Ward), was the Park District's proposal in 2001 to get rid of the limestone, part of a broader lakefront protection project by the Army Corps of Engineers.

"And that is when the community joined together to let our voices be heard loud and clear," Hairston said. "It has not been this holding hands and skipping down the road together with the Chicago Park District." 

The significance of Promontory Point, a peninsula that juts out into Lake Michigan between 54th and 56th streets, was laid out in a presentation to the commission by Kandalyn Hahn, Department of Planning and Development.

The Point, like so much of Chicago's lakefront, was conceived of by Daniel Burnham, who envisioned the expansion of the city's shoreline into a string of parks. But it was highly respected landscape architect Alfred Caldwell who created the Point's distinctive design — a central meadow ringed by clusters of plantings to frame various views, Hahn said.

The limestone rocks link the Point to its construction in the 1930s, funded as part of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and built by the Works Progress Administration. 

But what makes the Point so special goes beyond its history or the pedigree of its architects.

Hundreds of people sent letters and emails to the commission in support of the landmark designation, Cox said.

"It all pointed to the kind of unique relationship people have with this place," he said. "People brought stories, the images that people had, the photographs — it was really quite moving ... . We're taking the first step in honoring all those memories."

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

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