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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

Promontory Point Is Now A Chicago Landmark, A Major Victory For Activists Who Fought For Decades

Ald. Leslie Hairston, who advocated to "save the Point" for two decades, saw it landmarked in her final City Council meeting before retirement.

The Martin family from Hyde Park enjoy the warm weather and play in the waves lapping the shore at Promontory Point in Hyde Park on April 26, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — Promontory Point, Hyde Park’s beloved lakefront park and home to the last stretch of limestone shoreline barriers in the city, is officially a Chicago landmark.

Promontory Point, which runs from 54th to 56th streets on the lakefront, features limestone revetments which protect the shoreline from erosion, “council rings” of native stone, a French Eclectic-style pavilion, the David Wallach Fountain, a section of the Lakefront Trail and a central meadow.

The landmark designation protects the Point’s limestone revetments, Alfred Caldwell’s landscape design of a central meadow surrounded by “irregular groupings of plants and trees,” the pathways, the council rings, the fountain and “all exterior elevations and roofline” of the pavilion.

Specific plants and trees to include on the property are excluded from the designation, in case new plants must be grown to ensure the park’s resilience “in the face of climate change,” according to the ordinance.

Landmark status will ensure “an extra step of oversight” toward preserving the Point’s iconic limestone steps as city and federal agencies reinforce Chicago’s shoreline, supporters say. The beloved gathering space was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.

The designation passed unanimously during the last City Council meeting for retiring Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th), who has been a vocal advocate for preserving the Point’s limestone since the early 2000s.

Hairston thanked outgoing Mayor Lori Lightfoot as it passed.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) speaks at the last City Council meeting presided over by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on April 19, 2023.

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

The limestone is a special place for open-water swimminganonymous artistic carvings and other community activity, neighbors have said.

Supporters of the landmarking effort sent hundreds of letters to members of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks ahead of the park’s preliminary designation in January.

Wednesday’s vote “makes me want to go out and celebrate,” conservancy president Jack Spicer said. “This is a tremendous honor and a wonderment for the community.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
A person takes a nap in the warm spring weather at Promontory Point in Hyde Park on April 26, 2021.

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

The shoreline project is led by the Army Corps of Engineers, the Chicago Department of Transportation and the Park District. Unlike the rest of Chicago’s lakefront, the Point’s limestone is still in place because the park hasn’t been renovated since the project was funded in 1996.

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 the 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’s limestone.

The city committed $5 million in January to design reinforcements to Promontory Point that preserve “its historic nature” and iconic limestone steps. Park District and Department of Transportation officials have said in recent months they’re “in complete agreement” with advocates on preserving the Point’s limestone.

The concrete design used on shoreline projects over the last quarter-century — which Hyde Parkers have overwhelmingly demanded not be used at the Point — “is no longer relevant,” transportation Deputy Commissioner Dan Burke said in January.

Resident-led studies have found preserving the limestone would be cheaper and more effective than replacing it with concrete.

Activists “hope for the best” that city officials will stick to their word, Spicer said. He praised the landmark designation for creating “a shared preservation language” among everyone involved in the renovation process, which will be key to making upgrades everyone can be happy with, he said.

The designation is far from the end for the Save the Point campaign, which is part of a wider South Side movement for park equity, Spicer said. Advocates will continue gathering community input on the Point, as well as on the futures of the South Shore Cultural CenterJackson Parkthe Midway Plaisance, Washington Park and others nearby, he said.

“There is a lot of pressure for all these parks to become commercialized and developed,” Spicer said. “… We don’t want [the Park District] to be making money in the parks at the expense of the community.”

The Park District, which owns the Point, supported the landmarking effort earlier this year.

“We understand that this has been a long time coming — over 20 years — and you have been persistent in your advocacy,” Park District board President Myetie Hamilton said at a February board meeting. “I am happy … to support this.”

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