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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Could Promontory Point Become A City Landmark? Key Commission Will Take Up The Question This Week

Members of a nonprofit have spent 20 years pushing local leaders to preserve the South Side spot. Landmark status would ensure another level of oversight for any work done at the Point.

A person takes a nap in the warm spring weather at Promontory Point in Hyde Park on April 26, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — Promontory Point is being considered for landmark status, a crucial designation supporters say will help safeguard the Point’s limestone steps during future renovations.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will vote Thursday whether to grant the Point a preliminary landmark designation.

The Point, which runs from 54th to 56th streets on the lakefront, features limestone steps that protect the shoreline from erosion and are iconic gathering places for South Siders, supporters of the landmark proposal said.

Landmark status would ensure “an extra step of oversight” toward preserving the limestone as city and federal agencies reinforce Chicago’s shoreline, advocates said.

The commission’s virtual meeting starts at 12:45 p.m. Thursday. To watch the livestream, click here.

Attendees who wish to comment on the landmark proposal can email the commission at ccl@cityofchicago.org by 12:45 p.m. Wednesday. Attendees may also comment via Zoom with the passcode 775371.

The preliminary designation would touch off a multi-layered approval process, including a reports from the city’s planning department, a public hearing, a final landmarks vote, review before the City Council’s zoning committee and finally a vote from all 50 alderpeople.

The Promontory Point Conservancy, a nonprofit that grew from the Save the Point campaign of the early 2000s, requested the commission consider a landmark designation for the Point in November.

Neighbors sent more than 600 letters to commissioners in support of a landmark designation, conservancy president Jack Spicer and treasurer Debra Hammond said in a joint statement.

Thursday’s meeting could bring “very good news for the Point and the historic limestone revetment finally being preserved and protected,” Spicer and Hammond said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People swim in Lake Michigan at Promontory Point in Hyde Park on an exceptionally hot Sept. 20, 2022 afternoon.

For more than 20 years, conservancy members have demanded city and federal officials preserve the Point’s limestone as they reinforce the lakefront through the Shoreline Protection Project.

Promontory Point, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018, features the last stretch of limestone barriers in the city, as it hasn’t been renovated since the shoreline project was funded in 1996.

Advocates for landmarking the Point cite resident-led studies that found preserving the limestone would be cheaper and more effective than replacing it with concrete, which was the preferred design for new Lakefront barriers through the project.

But that concrete design, developed by local agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is no longer the official guide for reinforcements.

The 2023 defense bill signed into law in December by President Joe Biden requires the federal government to fund 65 percent of a “locally preferred plan” for renovations to the Point and nearby Morgan Shoal.

The law enables neighbors, city officials and Park District to negotiate a preferred design for Promontory Point without the Army Corps’ input, while ensuring the feds pick up most of the tab for reinforcements.

Local leaders — now empowered to shape the Point’s future — have said they support preserving the Point. But “nobody really knows what anybody means by that word,” Spicer said in November.

A landmark designation would help resolve that, ensuring “a common language” where “everybody knows what preservation means” as they develop a design for Promontory Point reinforcements, Spicer said.

Landmark status “doesn’t absolutely prevent the Chicago Park District, the [Chicago Department of Transportation] and the Army Corps from demolishing the historic revetment and replacing it with a new concrete one, but it would make that much harder to do,” Spicer and Hammond said this week.

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