A Friday afternoon on the Point

A group of second-year University of Chicago students sits on the capstones of a section of wave-damaged Promontory Point on Friday afternoon, May 20th.

On May 19, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) announced that she had requested an earmark of $550,000 in President Biden's 2023 budget to fund an "independent third-party study to determine a preferred preservation approach for the design of Promontory Point Shoreline Project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

Promontory Point Conservancy member Don Lamb, said of Rep. Kelly's request, "though the earmark has yet to be passed by Congress and signed by the President, this is an important achievement by Representative Robin Kelly and her staff and I am more encouraged now than I have been in 16 years that Promontory Point will be saved." The Promontory Point Conservancy is a local organization whose mission is to “protect and preserve Promontory Point Park… most especially its historic limestone, step-stone revetment … design.”

Promontory Point is one of two sections of the Chicago shoreline that weren’t reconstructed under authorization of the 1996 Water Resources Development Act (the other being the Morgan Shoal section at 47th Street). The act, which created the Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, replaced eight miles of stone revetments with vertical steel sheet piles and concrete to combat erosion.

In the early 2000s, community residents launched a campaign dubbed “Save the Point” to advocate a preservation approach instead of a reconstruction of the Point. As reported by the Reader, this group of community members rejected a series of designs proposed by the City of Chicago that would have replaced much of the limestone revetment with concrete. Others supported the so-called Compromise Plan created for the Chicago Park District by the engineering firm STS through the blog Hyde Park Progress.

Per the Compromise Plan, textured concrete would be used to reproduce the look of the limestone blocks for sections of the revetment.

Subsequently, a number of design proposals were published. These include the 2002 Galvin proposal prepared for the Hyde Park Historical Society under the direction of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point, the 2003 Shabica-Tjaden-Heiztman Preservation Plan and Cost Estimate and the 2004 Brunzell-Kalven review of both of those proposals, which was commissioned by the South East Chicago Commission at the request of Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

In October of 2005, as reported by the Tribune, then Senator Barack Obama, "stepped in ... to mediate a dispute over plans to replace limestone slabs at Promontory Point," suggesting that the city refer to  the "study done by the Community Task Force for Promontory Point."

Lamb, who organized the mediation meeting and represented the Promontory Point Task Force during it, stated that Obama said during a meeting that he wanted the limestone block revetment to be restored to its original conditions, especially the limestone revetment, so that his children and their children could enjoy Promontory Point as he and his wife had.

In 2007 the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) authorized a third-party review of Promontory Point for “storm damage reduction and shoreline erosion protection." That review was to be conducted by the Buffalo and Seattle Districts of the Corps of Engineers, which were centers of historic preservation expertise within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Despite this authorization, a review was never completed.

Conversations between the City, Park District, USACE and community stakeholders, including representatives of what is now called the Promontory Point Conservancy, continued for years, but little progress was made toward a design solution for the Point.

The Promontory Point Conservancy did continue its advocacy for a preservation approach to the redesign and restoration of the Point, which resulted in Promontory Point being listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. The park was also placed on Preservation Chicago's annual Most Endangered list in 2006 and 2022.

In 2021 progress toward a design solution began again. 

This past July, Michael Padilla, project manager for the USACE Chicago region, reported to the Herald that half a million dollars had been allocated in President Biden’s 2022 budget for a Chicago shoreline study that would include a new design plan for Promontory Point.

Before funds for President Biden's 2022 budget had been appropriated, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that $3 million in funding had been allocated via President Biden’s Infrastructure Act to produce a shoreline study along the Chicago lakefront that would include Promontory Point.

Rep. Kelly's earmark request is focused specifically on an independent third-party study to determine a preferred preservation approach for the design of Promontory Point.

Padilla told the Herald that as stipulated in the WRDA, the Chicago USACE offices will choose an internal third party to conduct the study from one of the several regional offices with expertise in historical preservation.

A proposed amendment to the 2022 WRDA would authorize the Assistant Secretary of the Army to provide 65% of the cost of the so-called "locally preferred plan" for the Morgan Shoal and Promontory Point sections of the Chicago shoreline. If enacted, this authorization would reduce the costs to the city and the Park District considerably.

Ald. Hairston, who has been a long-time advocate for the preservation approach for Promontory Point restoration, said in response to Rep. Kelly's request for funds, "I thank Congresswoman Kelly for her efforts and look forward to our continued partnership along with other elected officials and our communities to get closer to our goal of restoration of Promontory Point and preservation of its limestone revetment."

In the meantime, local groups continue to drum up community support for the Point's preservation. On Saturday, the Promontory Point Conservancy and Hyde Park Historical Society will host the first annual International Point Day celebration, featuring music, cultural performances and educational walking tours of the park to celebrate “the past and present of Promontory Point.”

(2) comments


I hope to see you at the 10:30 Sunday carvings tour, or the 1p.m. Saturday tour, In any case, the 150-plus stone carvings at the Point, made starting in the 1930s, have historically not been part of the preservation discussion. Fortunately, that's changing, especially since arguably they constitute a major cultural/historical resource that any rehabilitation plans for the Point should address. And the same goes for Morgan Shoal, by the way.

Terence herlihy

I first saw the Promentary Point in 1955 when I moved to Chicago and the task of leveling and relocating the large limestone blocks seemed overwhelming. The project at first glance seems to require a huge crane on the shelf above the revetment and expensive consultants. 15 years ago I installed a retaining wall at the 155th Street Harvey Metra station that is made out of 600 concrete blocks that weigh over a ton apiece. Instead of needing a big crane, a forklift was able to unload and set the blocks in a reasonable amount of time and the company that made the blocks included the engineering and drawings in their price. The same operator and laborers who did that job, or their children, could easily lift, relocate and set the larger blocks with a hydraulic loader and a truck mounted drill could install support pilings, although 3 inch crushed limestone would probably provide a strong enough leveling base. Too many open meetings addressing problems that the speakers know nothing about create chaos, not solutions. Hopefully, unlike the South Lakefront Framework Plan, sounder minds will prevail and the point can be returned to its original condition. My father-in-law project managed the coffin area which did have expensive cranes and engineers but seems to have worked. I keep hearing new facts about that place like the carvings that are the subject of a Sunday event at 10:30 AM.

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