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Views of the Paved Beach in its heyday. Columbian Exposition.

Web version of Treffman's article on the Granite Beach (in www.hydeparkhistory.org)

A Section of Granite-paver strolling beach restored north of 63rd Beach: Its story, context and how it was restored

This page is brought to you by the Jackson Park Advisory Council and its webhost, the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference's www.hydepark.org. Contact/Join JPAC. Contact/Join HPKCC.

By Gary Ossewaarde

From CDOT, March 14, 2005:

Granite Beach Restoration
In 2004 350 feet of existing granite beach north of the 63rd Street Beach was restored as part of the South Lake Shore Drive reconstruction Project. Beginning later spring 2005, the granite beach restoration will be extended about 180 feet south. The additional length of restoration is in keeping with the city's commitment to the community to extend the granite restoration project if there was a sufficient quantity of granite pavers. The work will be completed by late summer.

Laying of the pavers on their new concrete underbed will resume spring 2005 and be extended 50 meters further south than originally planned thanks to a surplus of blocks. This is really labor-intensive. Thanks to the workers, supervisors and funders.


A slip between the cracks that was corrected through community-government process in 2002

A several hundred foot long remnant stone paved beach section north of 63rd Street--an 1880s attempt address both shoreline protection and recreational/viewing needs-- applied from 56th to 67th Streets, will be reconstructed between winter and July, 2004 along side a new ADA bike path east of Lake Shore Drive and north of the new 63rd St. underpass. It reflects successful resolution of a controversy over historic features and preservation.

Plans for another concrete step-stone seawall is a project that did not gain anyone's attention during discussion (including by the Lake Shore Drive Study Group of stakeholders) of complex plans for Lake Shore Drive. Interest surfaced during an all-too-quiet call in early 2002 for public comment to the state on the CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) proposal. Reason for this plan was that for traffic reasons and to accommodate a 63rd underpass, Lake Shore Drive needed to be moved slightly to the west. Furthermore, a new ADA widened Lakefront Bike Trail was needed, creating a steep slope and eating into the granite beach remains which were unsightly, and the Drive and bike trail needed protection from the lake at that point.

Alderman Hairston first sounded the alarm on the grounds of failure to air plans with the community and gain aldermanic approval, and increased sensitivity to such plans raised by the fiasco over Promontory Point and public disgust over the (temporary) mess at the 57th Street Beach. It quickly became preservation and park integrity issue.

Hyde Park Historical Society and Jackson Park Advisory Council called attention to the fact that this is the last intact piece of paved beach that predates the Worlds Fair and stretched the whole length of the Park. (A bit of history: this section was the segregated beach for African Americans until less than half a century ago, when only Caucasians were allowed in the Beach House.) Jackson Park is an historic Olmsted-designed park and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The Chicago Park District's historical section quickly researched the matter and said the beach is a part of the historic template. The first set of pictures are from 2002.

63rd paver beach as in 2002 63rd paver beach as in 2002
63rd paver beach as in 2002 Remnant of granite-paved strolling beach dating from the 1880's. The remnant runs south from the 1960's (?) stepped revetment at c. 6100/6200 south past the north end of the 63rd Street Beach and peters out (partially buried) northwest of the Beach House and just before where the underpass, recovery walks and protective sheet wall are under construction at Lake Shore Drive. Note the narrow bike path, to be widened and made ADA compliant. The beach has sagged much. It was once the segregated beach for African Americans.
63rd paver beach as in 2002 63rd paver beach as in 2002

Fast forward to May, 2004. The base is at least half laid. Work is expected to be done by the end of July, 2004. Note the new Bike Trail to right. Over half the blocks are stacked with wooden holders. In section to the south, which had not yet received its paved base, the blocks were yet to be stacked. Last views show laying pavers--backbreaking work that had to be suspended late in 2004.

63rd granite paver beach under reconstruction, 2004

63rd paver beach as in 2002
63rd granite paver beach under reconstruction, 2004

Alderman Hairston, JPAC, Hyde Park Historical Society and others wrote strong letters, including to the CDOT Commissioner, asking for a public meeting. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources denied the permit until CDOT could come up with a plan acceptable to the community. Although noting that no objection to a concrete revetment stretch north of the beach was expressed at the earlier South Lakeshore Drive Study Group meetings and neither the park district or city said there was anything special about this beach, CDOT was willing to meet a stakeholders summit to find a solution. A site visit was held in July with representatives of major organizations including JPAC, HPKCC, Hyde Park Historical Society, the South East Chicago Commission, and the University of Chicago. (The alderman took the commissioner aside at one point...) Two altered options were presented. Option B eventually seemed preferable. It called for re-lay and stabilize about 2/3 the width of the granite stones in a new slope lake-ward of a wider, safer lakefront bike trail in turn separated more from Lake Shore Drive. The result would approximate the beach as laid down in the 1880's although less wide. Other sensitive revisions were included.

At a return meeting in September, 2002 to see more detailed plans and decide, the above described option B was ratified, especially when old photos showed that was much closer to what the beach looked like originally! Especially gratifying was learning that discussion is underway in the park district for descriptive historical markers. There was enthusiasm for extending this idea to other parts of the park having historic or ecological significance.


The granite beach in the 1930s

From the January, 2003 JPAC Newsletter:

By Paul G. Bruce. Bruce gives South Side Black History tours and shares the following on tours:

I have followed with interest comments about the granite promenade along the lakefront from about 57th Street south. One part of the history of this promenade seems to have been forgotten. Growing up here in Chicago in the 1930’s I remember that the far south end of the promenade was part of the “Colored Beach” at 63rd Street. There was a fence at the north end of the 63rd Street beach. Although the gates in this fence always stood open it was just “understood” (segregation Chicago style) that you did go on the south side of the fence if you were not White. There was not a lot of sand on the Colored side of the fence. A large portion of it was the granite paving. If the beach was crowded it was frequently necessary to spread your towel or blanket on the granite paving. I still have memories of some uncomfortable afternoons spent sitting on a towel which provided little relief from the hardness of the stones.

It was also “understood” that the beach house was not open to you if you were Black so it was not possible to change your clothing. People resorted to having friends hold up towels to make a kind of cabana to provide some privacy. Of course your friends might use this opportunity to play tricks. I recall one afternoon when a boy’s friends suddenly ran away with the towels they had been holding as well as his clothing and swim suit, leaving him stark naked on the beach. His only recourse was to dash into the water and stay there until they tired of the joke.

Failing the makeshift cabana, the other alternative was to get out of the water early and try to allow time for your swim suit to dry before putting your clothes on over it. This never worked very well. By the time we got off the street car on the way home there was always a large wet spot on the seat of your pants. When my father took us to the beach in the car he always went to the 31st St. beach where the beach house was open to all.

When the renovated beach house reopened a few years ago and I went to look at it, it was the first time in all my seventy-eight years that I had ever set foot inside of it.


The story of the granite beach


Factual material is adapted from a magisterial article by Stephen A. Treffman, Archivist of the Hyde Park Historical Society, "Holding the Lake at Bay in Jackson Park," Hyde Park History (members newsletter of the Hyde Park Historical Society, Vol. 25, No's. 3 and 4, 2003, and The Jackson Park Framework Plan, Chicago Park District and Johnson, Johnson & Roy 2001. Mr. Treffman's article, which is also about the Iowa buildings, can be viewed in the www.hydeparkhistory.org website at the following address: http://hydeparkhistory.org/pavedbeach.html.

With all the fuss over Promontory Point and the whole many-hundreds-of-millions Chicago Shoreline Protection Project, it is generally overlooked that Chicago has sought varied solutions to loss of its lakefront to turbulent, storm-prone Lake Michigan since the town was founded. An early action that forever affected the future of what would become Jackson Park and the town of Hyde Park was requiring the Illinois Central to route its trains along and secure the lakefront. This is the story of the solution applied in Jackson Park, with mixed results.

Hyde Park founder Paul Cornell, who lobbied for creation of the South Park Commission (SPC) in 1869 that was mandated to create the south parks and boulevards and who served on its board, had already had an encounter with the will of the lake when his park at 53rd Street was washed away. In the late 19th century the polluted waters of the lake were hardly considered suitable for bathing, so the first water recreation facilities were what became the northern nucleus of the lagoon system. So, the first efforts at to contain the lake were tied to water access and transportation rather than accommodation of beachgoers.

The first efforts of the SPC was a kind of groining--brush and wood piers-- and a 1875 pier at 59th extending 200 feet into the lake (predecessor of 59th Inlet protective structures). The pier was soon extended further and served a steamer to downtown. This was followed in 1877 by a huge submerged breakwater--another idea that would appear again and again in following centuries. This breakwater, which ran from 56th to 59th outlet, was built of 250 oak piles, 17,500 feet of oak lumber, 3618 oak stakes, 446 cords of cedar bark and 110 cores of limestone, covered with 10,160 cubic yards of sand. It did not stay intact long.

The SPC turned next to a "hardening" approach. Starting in 1884, a granite beach was installed starting from 56th to 59th and by 1888 to 67th. At its northern edge was a finely curved seawall, where a shelter beachhouse was projected. Later paved beach was tried further south before the revetment approach gained favor as funding became available for the Burnham Plan in the 1920s. In fact, the section of granite beach to be restored has a 20th century line of anchoring limestone blocks in front of it. Still, the paved beach was originally anchored in a manner that prefigured revetment construction.

The paved beach was two-tier. A seven-foot wide strip was filled cedar bark an limestone bricks bordered by two rows of oak piles and stakes in a line under water that hugged the curved shore. Behind the wave-breaker, the second section of thousands of 5 to 12-inch oblong granite blocks were laid (up to foot thick) were laid on a base to form an average 40-foot-wide beach. This sloped gradually upward. Sand dredged from the lagoons and transported on tracks formed the base and in some cases poured over the lain stones. Benches were set at regular intervals at the upper edge of the beach. Promenading became very popular and led to a partial reorientation of facilities, comfort and recreational, from the interior to the beach. There was as yet no drive along the beach.

By the turn of the century, it was apparent that mimicking a sand beach atop the pavers was futile. Also, the pavers heaved and separated, especially at the lake's edge. then, as the drive was built and beaches were placed further out (esp. 63rd with its new Beachhouse), most of the paved beach was left inland, high and dry, got covered and weeded up, and dropped out of view and use. In fact, the northern start of the granite beach had been next to the old WCE Iowa building, the shore was so far inland. Eventually, the main visible sections of beach were at 58th, north of 63rd, and by La Rabida; only that at 63rd was extensive enough to be a major feature.

The 63rd stretch was passed by during revetment construction in the 30s and 50s because wave action is minimal. However, between where the 50s revetment south of the 59th Inlet Bridge and where 63rd St. beach tapers off (and indeed south of there to the 63rd beach house), a line of anchored limestone blocks was installed lakeward of the granite. Some creation of cavities at parts of the granite beach and undermining of the bike path east of the Drive was visible, although it was debated whether this endangered the Drive.

The existence of this bit of built history was overlooked during design of the Lake Shore Drive rehabilitation in the late 1990's and into 2002. The story of the rediscovery and accommodation of the relatively intact section is presented at the start of this page. All look forward to reconstruction of a remnant north of 63rd in 2004. While it will be narrower, its look and profile will recall the past.

Meanwhile, at the start of 2004 the pavers lay in 34 inch by 44 inch open boxes of molded ballet and wood sheets bound by steel strips, in 46 rows of 4 to 6 boxes. Each box contains about 30 stones. Others are piled in dirt mounds and lost more extras are still buried. Many others are scattered at other lakeshore places including south of 57th Beach.