By EVAN HAMLIN
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, the Program Committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks considered two nominations to the National Register of Historic Places. Committee members listened to verbal arguments regarding the historical and architectural significance of Promontory Point, 5491 S. Shore Drive, and the Elizabeth Peabody School, 1444 W Augusta Blvd.
Julia Bachrach, a historical preservation consultant who researched and wrote the nomination, presented a slideshow outlining the Point’s historical and contemporary importance as a staple of the Hyde Park community.
While famous landscape architect Alfred Caldwell designed most of the Point in the early 1900s, the stone revetments that have caused controversy within the Hyde Park community were installed by the Chicago Park District to protect from lake erosion. The Point also housed the radar control towers for a Nike missile site situated farther north on 31st Street during the Cold War.
“This was a very exciting opportunity for me to write this nomination,” Bachrach said following the presentation. “The park is very special, it has more heart than a lot of parks, and so much diversity and a spirit of friendliness. It’s a glimpse into the best of what Chicago can be.”
Following Bachrach’s presentation to the committee and members of the public were invited to share their input, questions, or concerns they had regarding the nomination or the landmark itself. No dissenting voices were present, and Hyde Park community members and preservation advocates expressed their gratitude for the Point.
“The community is really committed to the park,” said Jack Spicer, a member of the Task Force on Promontory Point. “I think the nomination sets the stage for us to come together and do this in a responsible and beautiful way.”
Spicer and the rest of the Task Force have played a critical role in advocating for the Point’s historic preservation over the last 20 years.
“It’s so much a part of what Hyde Park is as a community,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.
While community members have undoubtedly played a critical role in fighting for the point, Spicer lauded Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) as the fiercest advocate for the Point over the last two decades.
“Alderman Hairston gets a lot of credit,” he said. “She’s really been the leader of this and she has been all along. It could’ve failed at any point and she didn’t quit. The credit really goes to her, we’re lucky she’s still the alderman.”
Hairston spoke during the comment period, praising the park and the community’s willingness to fight for its preservation.
“It is something that is beloved in the community and something the community will continue to fight for,” Hairston said.
Promontory Point’s nomination to the Register will now be reviewed by the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Committee later in October. Passage at the state level would then send the nomination to Washington D.C., where it would join 80,000 other individually registered historic sites across the country.
While the nomination is an important acknowledgement of the Point’s past, it’s still a largely ceremonial recognition that doesn’t ensure the park’s preservation in the future. For that to happen, according to Spicer, community members and members of the local government need to come up with a plan to ensure the preservation of the historic landmark.
“Given the 20 year-long wrestle, this becomes an avenue to the promised land,” Spicer said following the meeting. “It depends on all the parts coming together. It can’t happen unless everyone gets together now, the community, the alderman, the Chicago Park District. It’s not easy, it takes everyone’s cooperation.”