Milestones in the evolution of a community plan for Promontory Point, backwards from the approaching meeting of May 1, 2003 to the Galvin Study of October, 2002.

More: Point Reports. Latest News with 2003-2004 pages Navigator. Landmark status

For earlier milestones, check the links in this page or in the Point home page. Or visit

A meeting on access for persons with disabilities and swimmers was held January 21. Many ideas were shared. A full preliminary plan was released May 1. See Hyde Park Herald reports.

John McGovern chaired the United States Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board's (the "Access Board") 1993 Recreation Access Advisory Committee. That committee provided more than 200 pages of recommendations on beaches, playgrounds, campsites, trails and outdoor recreation areas. This served as the basis for all subsequent federal guidelines. Frank Heitzman and Wayne Tjaden are developing plans and drawings for access. Preliminary drawings are being circulated for comments; final drawings may not be ready for presentation until May.


Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Board of Directors, at its October and December meetings, endorsed the work and position of the Promontory Point Task Force and communicated that support to the city and agencies responsible for the revetment. (The Task Force is neither an affiliate of the Conference nor a recognized park advisory council but an independent citizen action group.) Contact: Jack Spicer.
Note: HPKCC must acknowledge that although the Galvin Report was placed on the table from the community and Alderman and has the force of powerful analytical reports on its side, it only answered the question, "can the Point be repaired/put back as is?" The Task Force in the next stage plan adopted a couple key city demands, most notably for steel sheetwall--but provided in that next plan to both render invisible (at least from the horizontal plane) all obtrusive elements while providing serious and wide-ranging access of all kinds.

To see the place from which the current Task Force leaders started, refer to the rejected plan worked out with the city and presented and rejected at a community meeting October 1, 2001. That earlier work and history is archived in the Save the Point Website along with much other valuable record.


HPKCC has a copy of Mr. Galvin's Final Report, including his response to government replies to his initial Report of October 1, including his TWENTY-TWO QUESTIONS. This is important reading as well as being itself a benchmark. So, salient parts are posted in the link Final Report (above). (Not reproduced is his report on the November 20 Conference Call with engineers. There also in the above link the letter from the Executive Committee of the Promontory Point Task Force concerning the Galvin Report release and access/preservation studies.

Preservation architects Frank Heitzman and Wayne Tjaden were able to have the Point (the Caldwell landscape, the step-stone revetment, and the stone field house) nominated as a Chicago Landmark to Landmarks Division of the Dept. Planning and Dev., which recommends to the The Chicago Landmarks Commission which recommends to City Council. The Division was very sympathetic to the nomination, according to Jack Spicer of the Task Force, but the road is very tough. The Landmarks Commission postponed/set aside action in part because of objection from the owner, Chicago Park District and in part because the federal Army Corps has proposed a major change to the Point that could affect its qualification and, in the Commission's view, preempts local action until the plan is settled. In The Commission's view, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency retains review rights. (This is usually at the end and too late, if not pro-forma approval, according to landmarking experts.)

In a letter to Alderman Hairston, Brian Goeken, Deputy Commissioner, said that Army Corps plans being developed supersedes city authority: the city cannot review federal plans, although they are subject to review by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. (Preservation experts comment that the latter will be too late and pro forma and that this seems to run counter to federalism.) The letter says in part:

" a recent meeting of the Program committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks held last month to hear suggestions from the public for possible landmark designations, several members of the public also identified Promontory Point, and th Committee forwarded these comments to our department for consideration.

"As you know, the planned repairs by the Chicago Park district and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Point's deteriorating revetments are presently being developed, and this work is subject to the review of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). Work undertaken by the Army Corp, as a Federal agency, however, would not be subject to local review of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

the department therefore does not support initiating a landmark designation of Promontory Point at this time..."

Events moved quite fast over the past few months. November 20: Galvin and Task Force leaders held a phone conference meeting with Army Corps and city engineers. Discussion is reported as frank and in-depth, with Mr. Galvin more than holding his own. See Point Reports.
December 10: 1) Mr. Galvin's Final Report was received (or the next day); 2) Mr. Heitzman and the Task Force executive committee held a site visit on the Point, and the Task Force executive committee is setting the date for the next meeting. Alderman Hairston's support is said to be superb. Hyde Park Historical Society has been very helpful and instrumental. The Herald has been covering the reports. A new letter to supporters and the Report were put by Roger Deschner in the Save the Point website.

By early March, the preliminary plan for engineering and access was available. Solicitation of input and endorsement by all kinds of organizations and groups was on, ahead of the May 1 presentation and start of public comment.

Visit parts of the Galvin Report in Final Report or Scroll down for key points of Coastal Engineer Cyril Galvin's report and the city response, Point Task Force November and October letters to the community, and what Alderman Hairston told the Conference. Following these is the Task Force's own statement of its rationale for acting to save the Point.

Response to the Galvin Report and reactions

November 7, three city departments submitted comments to Mr. Galvin re: his engineering report for reusing the limestone. (See key points below.) According to Promontory Point Task Force leader Jack Spicer, the 13 pages of comments consisted of previous positions (some exactly as in last year's report) and did not break new ground technically. Spicer says he regrets that the city remains unresponsive to the community's commitment to preserving the limestone at the Point. He also says that the respondents missed the point that Mr. Galvin's report was not intended to include a design for universal or swimming access, which will be addressed in architect's Frank Heitzman's report. Spicer also says that the city's demand for handicapped access across the entire surface of the revetment sets the bar unreasonably high so as to lead to only one conclusion-- that only their plan in concrete will work. In addition, the response did really address Galvin's approach of removing and replacing three quarters or more of the stones, leaving the east concrete platform, and replacing broken stones with new or with Galvin's evidence (reaffirmed since the response) that limestone blocks at reasonable price are competitively available from several sources. Part of the problem, according to Spicer, is that the city sees the erosion threat as serious and immanent requiring us to go to war with the Lake while Mr. Galvin holds that a more modest approach will suffice, at least at the Point. In view of the feasibility of a modest approach, Spicer says, the city should deal with the community's demand for limestone.

Herald letter from the Task Force, November 20, 2002 (sent to us ahead of submittal)

Saving Point limestone possible--with support

To the Editor: We are pleased that the three government agencies--the Chicago Park District, the Department of Environment and the Army Corps f Engineers--made a timely response to Mr. Galvin's engineering report. Although we are not surprised that they express some disagreement, we do regret their complete unwillingness to accept our community's commitment to preserving the unique limestone revetment at Promontory Point.

It has been clear from the beginning that the City and the Corps can restore and preserve the Point, if they choose. The Park District's own Shoreline Protection Proposal of June 26, 1989 promises that "Promontory Point would be restored to its original revetment structure." It is possible to engineer, design, build and afford a restored Point with extensive swimming access and accessibility for persons with disabilities. However, instead of a thoughtful rebuilding of the Point, the city and the Corps of Engineers have chosen a monstrously over-designed concrete and steel wall.

Mr. Galvin's report conforms to accepted professional standards in its approach and conclusions. It does not view the arbitrary policy decisions of the city and corps as if they were facts of nature or law. And that was exactly the point of hiring an independent engineer. The city and Corps' response contains many misrepresentations, some familiar and some new. Mr. Galvin's final report, which will include the agencies' comments and his response, will be mailed to the City and Task Force on November 26. A copy will be given to the Herald immediately.

While Mr. Galvin prepared his engineering report, our team of preservation architects, Frank Heitzman, AIA, and Wayne Tjaden, AIA, began developing designs for extensive swimming access and accessibility for persons with disabilities. Their designs are compatible with the preservation of the limestone revetment. Mr. Heitzman has been a fervent advocate for persons with disabilities for many years. In addition, our consultants are working with a nationally recognized expert in accessibility for outdoor recreational areas. They are planning a community meeting to discuss this issue for mid-December.

The Hyde Park community has insisted, clearly and frequently, that the historic integrity and beauty of Promontory Point's unique step stone revetments be preserved. In addition, we continue to demand extensive access to the water for everyone, including persons with disabilities. Quite recently, the community, with the strong leadership of Alderman Hairston, said a united, emphatic "No" to a new boardwalk in Jackson Park. the result--no boardwalk.

The Community Task Force will continue to say "No" to concrete and steel and "Yes" to limestone, swimming, and access for persons with disabilities. We are confident that the community and the City, working together, can preserve and revitalize the Point.

Fred Blum, Bruce Johnstone, Jack Spicer, Connie Spreen--Executive Committee, Community Task Force on Promontory Point

Excerpts in counterpoint of Galvin's report and the response of Dept. of Environment, Chicago Park District, Army Corps of Engineers to Mr. Galvin's report, per Hyde Park Herald, November 13, 2002

Issue: Accessibility. Galvin: [There is] no intrinsic bar to handicap access (p.19). Resp.: No detail given in report on how this priority will be achieved in the design (p. 3).

Issue: Durability. Galvin: Erosion rates predicted by the Corps have not occurred, as known in 1994. It is eroding slowly (p. 14). Resp.: City proposed revetment will last at least 75 years. "There is no established method of precisely predicting the remaining useful life of shore protection... the feasibility report provides an evaluation". (p. 9)

Issue: Cost. Galvin: "Relatively little new rock will be needed."(p. 25) "A good renovation can be done in 20 months for under $4.5 million." (p. 2) Resp.: $4.5 million is underestimated and "does not consider many significant issues required to complete the work." (p. 3)

Issue: Construction material availability. Galvin: "There are abundant supplies...available at prices reasonable in comparison with other materials. (p. 25) Resp.: Only one quarry would meet the specifications; competitive bids would be impossible. (p. 3)

General city/Corps conclusion: "The Report does not adequately consider minimum design requirements and standards, previously identified, documented and made available, which represent coastal, geotechnical, structural, and civil engineer perspectives. The Report does not reveal analyses that support the feasibility of the proposed concept, nor does it adequately address other technical and stakeholder issues that make the proposed concept unfeasible." (p. 4)

Alderman Hairston's assessment of the Point question, to Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, as in the Conference Reporter of November-December 2002

Promontory Point, Ongoing Attention

By Kim Webb, 5th Ward Aldermanic Staff

[Webb first discusses the Alderman's intervention with the police regarding ticketing of swimmers at the Point after Labor Day. Hairston noted that swimming is supposed to stop period at Labor Day, but said,]"Promontory Point has always been a summer gathering place, which we want it to remain. I will continue to look into this matter. Hopefully, by next summer a better policy will be in place that meets the community's needs."

[Regarding Mr. Galvin's report:] The report, released at the Hyde Park Union Church, found that limestone protecting the Lake Michigan shoreline could be reused without endangering Lake Shore Drive. Galvin's report also concludes that renovation using limestone could be done for less than $4.5 million, as opposed to the $22 million estimated cost by the Army Corps of Engineers of replacing the revetments with limestone.

"I think it's a good first step. The administration needs time to look through it, however," observed Ald. Hairston. "There are measures that can be taken that are not equal to gutting the whole Point. And I think the question becomes, is it feasible. In other words, do we look at this as a preservation or renovation project. The Point is unique to the Chicago shoreline."

Sixty-five percent of the funding for this project comes from the federal government. Therefore, Save The Point is urging city residents to contact their elected officials in an effort to have the City of Chicago, the Chicago Park District, and the Army Corps of Engineers reconsider their approach to replacing the lake wall at the Point.

Thumbnail summary of Galvin's report From the Task Force:

On Oct. 1, the Hyde Park Historical Society and the Community Task Force for Promontory Point
cosponsored a public meeting regarding

The Future of Promontory Point

Following is a summary of the presentation by Cyril Galvin, Coastal Engineer. See also TWENTY-TWO QUESTIONS... in the Final Report page (bottom).

Preservation of Limestone Revetment on Promontory Point

There are three principal shore protection structures on the perimeter of Promontory Point: a rock platform retained by round wooden piles with a steel wale, a step-stone revetment in four or five tiers rising from the platform to the parkland, and a concrete platform which replaced the original rock platform along the most exposed edges of the Point. The rock platform was constructed by 1926; the step-stone revetment by 1937-38, and the concrete platform around 1960(?).

All three structures continue to function as intended, but all three structures are deteriorating. Cavities have been eroded by wave-driven water motion under the concrete platform. This problem needs more immediate attention, and it could be remedied by grouting. The lake side of the concrete platform (5 foot thick, 21 feet across shore) is supported in part by round wooden piles installed no later than 1926.

The step-stone revetment has been undermined and tilted back by erosion in many places. This can be remedied by introducing a sheet pile partition at the land side of the concrete or rock platforms to prevent wave action from undermining the step stone, and by using bedding stone underlain by filter cloth.

It is feasible to replace the old wooden pile. The existing rock platform has settled to relative equilibrium, which means that these piles do not have to be tied to deadmen, if driven deep.

Handicap access is possible throughout, but railings are not advised along the lakeward edge of the platform. Swimming access should depend on a study of three types of bathers: waders, beach bathers, and deepwater swimmers. Swimming policy needs the concurrence of the City.

Published predictions of high erosion rates along this shore have no factual basis. They lack credibility.

At least three quarters of existing limestone block on the Point is reusable, and new limestone is a feasible purchase. A good renovation of the rock perimeter can be done in 20 months for under $4.5 million.

[The case for the Point campaign] Distributed at the October 1, 2002 by the Task Force:

Thanks for coming out this evening. What follows is a brief summary of our position. Cyril Galvin's engineering report is a milestone in our campaign, but much more needs to be done. We hope you will continue to support the effort.

The Community Task Force for Promontory Point was formed in early 2001 to stop the City of Chicago from replacing the Point's limestone stepped revetment with one made of concrete and steel sheet piling. We are an ad hoc group; everybody is invited to join or simply to attend our meetings. Over time the Task Force has built a campaign to preserve the limestone. We collected thousands of signatures on a petition to save the stone. In partnership with the Hyde Park Historical Society, we raised more than $40,000 from hundreds of community residents, dozens of local businesses, and the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. We hired Cyril Galvin, a prominent coastal engineer, to study the city's plan and to advise us on the possibility of restoring the Point's limestone revetment.

The Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has helped by listing the Point on their watch list of Chicago's most endangered historical sites. We have joined forces with the Southeast Lakeview Neighbors Association, a group on the north side that is working to preserve The Rocks, another beautiful limestone revetment, located at Belmont Avenue.

It is rare, indeed, for a community to get "ahead of the curve" in a campaign to save a landmark. We are fortunate, and we feel confident we will succeed. However, we will succeed only if you, friends of the Point, inform yourselves, pitch in, and speak out. Below are answers to some basic questions. We encourage you to visit our site, www.savethepoint .org, or write us at for more information.

Why save the Point?

For the South Side's lakefront communities, Promontory Point is a lot like a town square. It is beautiful and useful, historical and alive; it is a forum and a quiet refuge; it is a place to gather with family and friends, and a place to see the extraordinary diversity of our city. It is one of the few places in Chicago where deep-water swimmers can safely get in and out of the water. The Point is now in danger, not so much from the ravages of time and the forces of nature as from bureaucratic heedlessness, from a failure on the part of certain government officials to regard the lakefront as anything more than a barrier between water and property.

The limestone revetment at Promontory Point has fended off the powerful waves of Lake Michigan for seventy years. While it has stood up admirably, it now needs to be repaired. Restoring the Point as a barrier is the easy part. Preserving its special character is more difficult.

Landscape architect Alfred Caldwell designed the Point's park in classic Prairie School style, incorporating graceful transitions from the natural power of Lake Michigan to the built magnificence of the city. More than a mere barrier, the Point's limestone revetment connects land and lake. Historically, the limestone revetment is an artifact of a period when even big construction projects were done by hand with natural materials. Limestone is the natural material of Chicago and the Midwest. The University of Chicago's buildings are clad primarily in limestone, as are the historical buildings of the Loop. Limestone is the bedrock under us. The limestone revetment gives Promontory Point the feel of an indigenous part of the landscape, instead of something that is built. It is our seacoast.

Contrast the limestone of the Point with the concrete and steel revetment the city has built just to the north. The new revetment is sterile, stark, hideous, and more suited to barge docking than strolling. No wonder, then, that it is devoid of people even on a fine day. It is devoid of any sign of life. The concrete and steel revetment is unnecessary over-engineering. We on the community Task Force have always felt this to be the case. We believe Cyril Galvin's engineering study confirms this view.

What is wrong with the Point, anyway?

After seventy years, the limestone revetment has deteriorated somewhat, especially as a result of the decay of the wooden pilings on the water's edge. Still, the revetment has survived remarkably well for its age. It is still functionally sound. That is, it is still holding the land from the Point from falling into the water. Contrary to representations of some city and Army Corps officials, there is no immediate danger of the Point crumbling into Lake Michigan. Coastal Engineer Cyril Galvin suggests that it would be at least ten years before any danger of serious functional failure would arise. So, some repair and restoration of the revetment is necessary, but we have time to do the job right. There is no immediate crisis or danger to justify emergency measures or over-engineering of a new revetment.

What is wrong with the city's plan?

Chicago has one of the most beautiful urban waterfronts in the world. Everything should be done to make it accessible and inviting. The city's planned revetment is over-engineered, it is ugly, and it acts as a barrier to the lake. It is also dangerous: it would be nearly impossible to get out of the lake should you fall in. Worst of all, the city plan does not take a balanced approach to planning. It is dictated by an effort to protect Lake Shore Drive from flooding. Lake Shore Drive is important, but so are the park and the lakefront. Cars are important, but so are people. The chances of water overtopping the Point and flooding Lake Shore Drive at 55th Street are extremely low.

The city has touted its plan's sensitivity to the needs of the disabled. The concrete revetments are, indeed, accessible on every square inch of horizontal surface not only to wheelchairs, but also to bicycles, in-line skates, and skateboard, leaving no safe place for people to sit, relax, read, talk, and so forth. We believe everybody's needs must be balanced. Moreover, we believe that if the city were sincere in its commitment to the disabled, its revetment plan would provide water access. It does not. The Community Task Force takes a more enlightened view of access: the disabled and the elderly deserve access to the water, just like everybody else. And we all deserve a nice place to go on the lakefront. The revetment must allow access to a broad range of activities for a broad range of people.

Why did the Task Force commission an engineering study?

We felt that the premises upon which the city based its revetment plan needed further examination. At various points in our discussions, the city maintained that limestone was unavailable, or that it is not durable as a material, or that it was not affordable. Regarding larger issues of structure, the city maintained that a limestone revetment would not be affordable, would not be maintainable, and would not last. A little bit of homework led us to question these arguments. Moreover, we doubted the erosion rate data the city cited, as well as their estimation of the dangers of flooding. We wondered why the city's plan called for such a massive drainage system.

The Task Force felt that the city's explanations were not sufficient, and that only an independent, impartial expert could supply the information on which we, the community, and the city could build a consensus. We sought a grant from the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a distinguished advocate of public architecture in Chicago, and began raising funds in the community. We solicited proposals from a number of engineers and chose Mr. Galvin as the best candidate. He has conducted his investigation according to the strictest professional standards. The report he will present tonight will be delivered to city officials. The coming weeks will be a period of comment, during which we expect city and/or Army Corps officials to reply. After they have done so, Mr. Galvin will issue an addendum to the report which addressees the comments received.

What is the Task Force asking the city to do?

We're asking the city to abandon its concrete and steel plan, and instead to adopt a plan to preserve and enhance the aesthetic, historic, and recreational values of the Point. The city must preserve both the limestone revetment and Alfred Caldwell's landscape design, taking into consideration new needs for accessibility for all members of the community, including disabled persons, swimmers, children, and the elderly. We will continue to reaffirm this demand. As the same time, we pledge to help the city in any way we can to develop an acceptable design for the Point.

Is the Task Force trying to design the Point?

The Task Force is not trying to design the Point. Our mandate is to preserve the essential character of the limestone revetment. At the same time, we understand that the Point will not simply be reconstructed. We have the desire to make Promontory Point accessible in meaningful ways to the disabled and to the young and old. We have retained two highly regarded architects with broad experience in preservation, Frank Heitzman and Wayne Tjaden, to help explore the range of possible preservation approaches. We want the city to adopt a good preservation plan for the Point, an we will count on the advice and expertise of Mr. Heitzman and Tjaden as we articulate our desires to the city.

How can you help?

Our best hope for success is an informed public. Put yourself on our e-mail list. Visit our website. Attend Task Force meetings....Write your elected officials. [addresses given.]


From the Task Force Executive Committee, October 2002

Dear Friends of the Point,

We would like to thank the community for its continued support of the effort to save Promontory Point. And special thanks to the more than 200 people who attended the October 1 meeting and heard the coastal engineer's report.

For some time, people have worried about the condition of the Point. A few years back, the Park District diagnosed the limestone revetment as a case of terminal decay. Its prognosis: immanent collapse. Recommended treatment: total removal.

The Community Task Force sought a second opinion. Mr. Cyril Galvin, coastal engineer, examined the limestone in great detail and presented his findings. He found the revetment to be quite worn and in need of repair, but remarkably well preserved for its age. His prognosis: slow decline over the next 10 years. Recommended treatment: repair and preservation of the limestone, which should allow another 50 years of good health. Cost: about a third of the Park District's bill.

Limestone is clearly superior to concrete and steel for its aesthetic, historical and recreational qualities. Now it looks like limestone is the better buy as well. But the real message in the coastal engineer's report is this: Despite what we were told by the Park District, there is no good reason NOT to preserve the limestone.

[SINCE CHANGED] The next task force meeting is Wednesday, October 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave. All are invited.

Community Task Force for Promontory Point
Fred Blum
Devereux Bowly
Bruce Johnstone
Jack Spicer
Connie Spreen