Landmark Status for Promontory Point?, Endangered 10 listing, and IHPA backing for limestone revetments

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The following outlines the quest for landmark status or a 106 state review in order to redirect shoreline reconstruction at Promontory Point to preservation of the limestone material, not just step stone design (while accepting strengthening and improved access and aesthetics) as well as Alfred Caldwell's 1937 landscape design. Involved in requesting city landmark status and/or 106 review by the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency were Alderman Hairston (critical), the Hyde Park Historical Society, and Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, and the law firm of Heitzman and Tjadden. Other law firms have also been highly helpful. Below is a series of reports. Perhaps most significant is the visit of the IHPA and its statement of support in favor of keeping the materials, not just design as, they say, agreed in 1993, and letters of Representative Jackson (who also assures funding), and National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It is important to note that the IHPA rejected the city's 2001 plan submission in the summer of 2003. Also, the Point was (possibley inthe 1980s) declared Eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. However, in 2017-18 a successful process was begun to nominate and designate the Point on the National Registry. The designation was supported by the Park District, the Illinois state historic agency, the National Trust and Department of Interior/Park Service. A plaque was being made in 2019 and limestone block designated for the plaque, to be placed just north of the Wallach Fountain. Final funds are being raised and placement and celebration are being planned for c. summer 2019. Among those deserving congratulations are the Hyde Park Historical Society (project leader Jack Spicer), Preservation Chicago, and the Chicago Park District.

In late May, 2003, the deputy preservation officer of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency visited the Point and announced that the agency would attempt to delay plans for further revetment reconstruction that do not restore the material (limestone) and not just the design of the revetments per IHPA interpretation of the 1993 agreement. The agency head assures that this is indeed their intent and the governor assures he will not interfere. The agency will convene the planning agencies and inform them they are out of conformity and ask them what they intend to do to rectify the situation. Full descriptions and commentaries by the principals are in the June 3 Tribune and the June 4 Hyde Park Herald (in Reports March-December 2003).

The Task Force contends that the operable phrase in the Memorandum Of Agreement is not "step stone revetment" but "shall match the existing in accord with the Department of Interior's Standards for Preservation." The City and Army Corps have bent the interpretation of the Memorandum in recent months, but they do not want to abandon or have the Memorandum vacated- that would start the hearing and public input process (strengthened in 1999) all over again--and probably doom the process. Yet, the city will apparently will not accept a thorough peer review of engineer or want to accept a "preservation plan" as the Task Force calls for. Thus options are truly narrowed unless the kind of give-and-take demonstrated during the talks is allowed to proceed to conclusion- as Alderman Hairston demanded and at least nominally got- or else either the Task Force plan turns out to be clearly unfeasible or the process at the is either unable to adjust or is based on who can make more money how.


State Agency says 'no' to concrete at Point.

Hyde Park Herald, June 4, 2003. By Maurice Lee

A small statewide preservation agency may soon be known as the "little agency that might" after a representative from the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) vowed to slam the door on any attempt to build a concrete revetment at Promontory Point.

For more than two years, a group of Hyde Parkers called the Community Task Force for Promo tory Point has been working to preserve the naturalistic limestone and wood revetments at the Point in the face of the Army Corps' and the city's plan to replace it with a concrete and steel revetment.

Last week, Anne Haaker, IHPA Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, said her agency, which provides state approval to the federal project, would not sign of on the construction of concrete revetments along the city's lakefront.

In 1993, Haaker says the Chicago Park District, City of Chicago and the Army Corps of Engineers signed an agreement that she says requires any rehabilitation project along the city's shoreline, including Promontory Point, to replace any materials removed "in kind," meaning the limestone would have to be replaced with limestone.

"Deviating from a limestone revetment plan at this area will cause the project to be stopped." said Haaker, as she visited the Point last week [with David Bahlman of Ill. Pres. Co. of Illinois and members of the Task Force]. "We have an agreement on the table and they either live up to that agreement or they open up the review process again."

But park district spokesman Angelynne Amores disagreed, saying that the agencies involved agreed that the design, not the materials, represented the most important consideration.

"Th important aspect of the [agreement] is not the material, it's the design, and the design that's in the [agreement] is the is the stair-step design," said Amores. "We have to use the material that's available today, as they did when the Point was originally designed."

According to Amores, the rules of the project have not changed.

"I don't know what [Haaker's] epiphany is," said Amores, "but everybody has been in agreement about the design."

But Haaker said the IHPA "screwed up" in allowing the concrete revetments to b built on the North Side. Given the agency's size--six staffers to review more than 15,000 state and federally funded projects a yea--Haaker said the project fell through the cracks in the past, but is now back on the IHPA's radar screen.

"We've admitted our mistake and we've said from now on [the concrete revetment] does not get built anywhere else," said Haaker. "We sat down with the Department of Environment and the corps and other agencies and said 'We did that there, but it's not going to happen again.'"

While Haaker admits the tiny agency faces a big challenge in attempting to derail further use of concrete along the lakefront, she says the IHPA is willing to go to the mat.

"Its is a question of enforcement," said Haaker. "We're going to try."

Though it remains to be seen what impact, if any, the tiny agency will have in the fight to save the limestone revetments at Promontory Point, Haaker speaks with a certainty that is raising many Hyde Parkers' hopes.

"The community has been saying the limestone revetment at Promontory Point is historically significant and should be preserved," said Task Force leader Jack spicer. "And that's tremendous that the state and the federal government would confirm what the community has been thinking all along."

Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois President David Bahlman, admitting that IHPA has not historically been a strong agency also draw[s] hope from Haaker's announcement.

"You have to have real political strength to measure up to the City of Chicago. So I think what it's going to take is a coalition [of] community groups and residents buttressing and supporting IHPA's insistence that the state preservation law be respected."

It remains to be seen what impact the agency's entrance into the fray will have in terms of developing support for the community's initiative, but South East Chicago Commission President Valerie Jarrett says her group is willing to listen.

"I would be very interested in hearing what [Haaker] has to say directly," said Jarrett. "Obviously, the goal here is to balance a variety of different public objectives and goals and interests."



Report by Alderman Hairston, Spring 2003 5th Ward Report--Landmark Status of Promontory Point is on Hold.

The Landmarks Division of the Department of Planning and Development has put a decision on hold that would give Promontory Point landmark status. Apparently, the [DOPD] would like to reach an agreement with the Park District on how to proceed with revetment of the Point before a decision is made.

Currently, the Task Force for Promontory Point is trying to convince the Park District to save the Point's natural limestone revetment instead of replacing it with industrial concrete and steel. It is one of three lakefront sites designed by renowned landscape architect Alfred Caldwell. The other two are the Lily Pool at the north end of Lincoln Park Zoo and the garden of Lake Point Tower.

Upon receiving notice from the Landmarks Division, 5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston urged the department to continue its research so that landmark status could be expedited once an agreement is reached with the Park District.

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 in th past the latter review is often too late and pro forma and could lead to conflicts overt 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..."


December 10: State agency says limestone a must for Point

Hyde Park Herald, December 10, 2003. By Maurice Lee

While the city and the Community Task Force for Promontory Point engage in negotiations over competing designs for the rehabilitation of Promontory Point, a small statewide agency is holding to its position that whatever plan they agree on will have to be made of limestone.

According to Bill Wheeler, associate director and chief legal counsel of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, an agreement signed in 1994 calling for the revetment to be rebuilt from "in kind" materials remains in force. Wheeler said until one of the parties proves a need for change, he expects the other agencies to abide by their agreement.

"It's not just a matter of wanting limestone to be used—we have a written agreement whereby the parties have indicated that that's what they will do," said Wheeler. "It will be done in limestone or we will be shown why it can't be done in limestone. That's the way the agreement reads."

According to Wheeler, if the city and the Army Corps present information detailing that the use of limestone at Promontory Point would be somehow prohibitive, IHPA "would be amenable" to making an amendment to the project. But Wheeler said while the city and the Army Corps asserted last June that they studied limestone and determined its use to be not feasible, the project planners had not contacted IHPA to present evidence since then.

Wheeler said if the other parties to the 1994 agreement press forward with plans to rebuild the revetment in concrete without amending the current agreement, the IHPA would walk away from the process. "If they indicate to us that they don't want to demonstrate why they cannot do this from an engineering standpoint and they also don't want to follow the agreement, then we probably would terminate the agreement and not be involved in the project anymore," Wheeler said. "If one or more parties is not carrying out [their] duties we'd just as soon not have [the project] on our books."

If the IHPA walks away, then the city, park district and Army Corps would have to form a new memorandum of agreement with the President's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in accordance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966—subsequently reopening the process to public hearings.

Meanwhile, the Task Force to Save Promontory Point has gained another prominent ally as Hyde Park's newest congressman U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-2) lent his support to the community's position on the rehabilitation. Jackson sent one letter urging Mayor Richard M. Daley to give the community's preservation plan for Promontory Point a "full endorsement," and another letter praising IHPA Deputy Historic Preservation Officer Anne Haaker for her efforts to enforce the 1994 agreement between the IHPA, the Chicago Park District, the city and the Army Corps of Engineers at the point.

"The communities of the South Side have acted strongly and passionately in advocating this preservation," Jackson stated in the letter to Daley, "and it is a position which I fully endorse."


Letters on behalf of the Task Force to Mayor Daley and Il St. Pres. Agency by Rep. Jackson and from the National Trust to Mayor Daley

What follows is a copy of a letter sent by Jesse Jackson, Jr. to Mayor Richard M. Daley concerning the Point: (supplied by the Task Force and Hyde Park Historical Society)

October 15, 2003

Dear Mayor Daley:

I write to urge you to consider a full endorsement of the preservation plan for Promontory Point in Burnham Park as the Chicago Shoreline Reconstruction Project goes forward. The communities of the South Side have acted strongly and passionately in advocating for this preservation, and it is a position which I fully endorse.

Promontory Point is a standout in Chicago's famous park system. It is beloved by park users for its recreational, historic, and aesthetic value. It is a special place that deserves special attention. The Community Task Force for Promontory Point has praised Parks Commissioner David Doig who has worked hard to make our communities full partners in the planning for this park. I commend him and offer my support for his positive work with these communities.

Through Mr. Doig and the Community Task Force, the city has created a real opportunity for an elegant and extraordinary treatment of this national historic resource. Promontory Point and the City of Chicago deserve no less.


Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. Member of Congress

October 15, 2003

Ms Anne Haaker
Deputy State Historic Preservation agency
1 Old State Capitol Plaza
Springfield, Illinois 62701-1507

Dear Ms. Haaker:

I write to thank you for your continued efforts to preserve Chicago’s historic shoreline, especially at Promontory Point in Burnham Park.

As recognized in the Memorandum of Agreement governing work at Promontory Point, the Chicago Shoreline Reconstruction Project must maintain the form and material of the original limestone steps revetment constructed during the 1920s and 1930s. This historic structure is essential to the character of Promontory Point, a park that is extremely popular with and beloved to the communities of the South Side of Chicago. Many of my constituents have asked me to voice my support for their efforts to preserve Promontory Point.

Promontory Point is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places under the National Historic Preservation Act of which your agency is the local steward for the federal government’s interests in historic preservation. I urge you to continue your effort to protect this historic national resource on the city’s beautiful shoreline.


Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.
Member of Congress

cc: The Honorable Richard M. Daley, Mayor of Chicago

Richard Moe
National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20036

The Honorable Richard M. Daley
City of Chicago
121 North LaSalle Street
Chicago, IL 60602

Dear Rich:

As you know, I appreciate and admire the leadership that you have shown in protecting Chicago’s architectural heritage. You have done much to save and revitalize Chicago’s architecture which contributes significantly to its standing as one of the world’s great cities. I am writing you now to request your support for restoration of Promontory Point, an important historic landscape.

As you may be aware, this unique Chicago resource at the eastern boundary of Hyde Park was the focal point of Chicago’s Burnham Park—considered to be Daniel H. Burnham’s most ambitious work. His innovative 1909 Plan of Chicago had impact far beyond the city, as it set a new standard for urban design. So influential was this feature that landscape architect Alfred Caldwell saw it as a symbol of Chicago’s distinctive place—where the vast prairie meets the Great Lakes. How wonderful it would be for future generations enjoying the lakefront at 55th Street to truly experience the glory that Burnham envisioned and Caldwell created, complete with its massive limestone blocks at the water’s edge.

The Community Task Force for Promontory Point, along with the Hyde Park Historical society, has created a viable alternative that will enable the handsome 80-year-old limestone revetment at Promontory Point to be preserved while also meeting the city’s project goals in a most cost effective way. I applaud their efforts and hope that the city will recognize their dedication to the community by sincerely considering their plan.

After the marvelous results you have seen from your careful restoration of the Lily Pond in Lincoln Park another Alfred Caldwell architectural landscape project, I certainly do no have to tell you the benefits of protecting historic landscapes.

It is my pleasure to offer our assistance in the above matter. Please do not hesitate to call on me.

Again, many thanks for your continuing leadership and dedication to preserving our heritage.

Warmest regards, Sincerely

Richard Moe

cc David Doig, N. Maria Jimenez, Co. Mark A. Roncoli, Joanne Milo, Ald. Leslie Hairston, Valerie Jarrett, Hank Webber, Jack Spicer


Point named on of state's 10 most endangered sites

Hyde Park Herald, March 24, 2004. By Mike Stevens

The city proposal to pour two concrete steps at Promontory Point pushed the Hyde Park institution into the top 10 most endangered historic sites in the state, according to a preservation advocacy group.

Fearing city plans threaten "the historic nature of Chicago's lakefront," the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois announced that Promontory Point made its annual "Ten Most Endangered " list in Springfield, Ill. on Wednesday.

The Chicago-based group hopes the announcement will attract statewide attention for the preservation fight at the Point, said...LPCII spokesman Jennifer Gulotta Fisher. "We hope to get the last push [towards preservation,] said Fisher. The group also singled out 5th Ward Ald. Leslie Hairston for recognition.

"[Ald. Hairston] has been a tremendous support in the push for a preservation friendly solution," Fisher said.

Members of the Point Task Force, who made the downstate drive to the capitol, say the council's recognition gives the Point preservation battle a historical context. Other structures cited by the group over the years include the Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, Cook County Hospital and Gerri's Palm Tavern on 47th Street. The latter pair made the list again this year.

The Federal Works Administration built Promontory Point into Lake Michigan in the mid-30's. Keeping with the Prairie School of landscape architecture, Alfred Caldwell's 1936 Point design used native plants and stone, including the existing limestone-block seawall.

"People are just starting to consider parks and landscape as preservable, worthy landmarks and this will help that process," said Task Force member Jack spicer, who added "This puts the Point in the same lineage as Robie House."

Efforts to save Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, now a Hyde Park icon, were led by former 5th Ward Ald. Leon Despres and preservation advocate Thomas Stauffer.

"We created the atmosphere that [tearing down Robie House] was an act of barbarism," the 93-year-old Despres said. Although he holds Wright in higher regard than Caldwell, Despres said the situation at the Point was similar.

"It should be there, it's a place of extraordinary beauty," said Despres.