Promontory Point to be considered for National Historic Landmark status

Bride and groom Katie Drews and Justin Dardick perform for the camera with their wedding party as they get their photo taken by Polly Cannella on Burnham Park’s Promontory Point, Saturday, July 11, 2015. – Marc Monaghan

By EVAN HAMLIN
Herald Intern

Promontory Point, a scenic historical site that’s long been caught between the crossfire of modernization and historic preservation efforts, may finally come under the recognition of the National Register of Historic Places later this year. The Program Committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will hold a meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, at City Hall in room 201-A to review a nomination of the site to the National Register.

The nomination was submitted by the Community Task Force on Promontory Point, an organization that has fought for access to the waterfront as well as the park’s preservation since 2001. The Task Force has advocated for a historically responsible restoration of the Point for almost 20 years.

Following the Commission’s review on the 20th, the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Committee will consider the nomination in Springfield in late October. Assuming the nomination goes through, it would be sent to Washington D.C. to join 80,000 other nationally recognized historic sites individually listed in the Register.

Jack Spicer, a member of the task force whose work has been crucial to producing the nomination, said this is a victory the entire Hyde Park community should feel proud of.

“The community has always deeply appreciated and loved Promontory Point, and this gives a chance for the whole country to appreciate it,” he said.

While the park is a popular attraction for weddings, corporate gatherings, and those seeking the waterfront, its aging limestone steps have been the subject of debate for years. Those in favor of modernizing the waterfront by installing concrete steps in place of the limestone argue that it would increase safety and accessibility to the water. Proponents of the steps’ preservation say they capture the original vision of the park as it was built in the 1930s.

Asked who he thought had been the biggest ally in the fight to gain this recognition, Spicer didn’t hesitate to recognize the Hyde Park community and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th). “They’ve been tremendously supportive,” he said. “Alderman Hairston has supported the community in tremendous ways.”

The limestone still stands at the park today, but Spicer said the Point’s nomination couldn’t have gone through had earlier plans for a concrete upheaval of the steps been carried out. It’s likely that there will still be debate as to how to approach this historical structure in the future. For now, though, Spicer chalks this up as a win for the community.

Should the Committee approve the nomination and send it to Washington, however, it wouldn’t afford the Point any definitive legal protections. This kind of recognition can offer incentives like tax credits to landowners, but it doesn’t necessarily make the historical structures on it immune to renovations or other kinds of modernization efforts.

Looking to the park’s future, Spicer said it’s now up to the community, Hairston, and the Park District to come up with a preservation plan for the Point.

“There’s lots more to be done but this is a very good beginning,” he said optimistically. “This will allow everyone to take great pride in the park. This points us in the right direction.”