To the Editor:
The Jackson Park Advisory Council salutes the federal government for providing tens of millions of dollars to construct three pedestrian bridges over South Lake Shore Drive between 35th and 43rd streets (Chicago Tribune, Sept. 14, 2014). Convenient access to Lake Michigan for residents of South Kenwood, Oakwood and the slightly more distant Bronzeville is in keeping with the democratic spirit espoused by park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who with city fathers Aaron Montgomery Ward and Daniel Burnham agreed that the Lakefront should remain forever open, free and clear.
Some 20 blocks south of the sites for these bridges, another bridge cries for help. For several years, the historic Clarence Darrow Bridge in Jackson Park has been falling apart. The bridge’s original Beaux Arts railings and other fixtures, so in keeping with the grand style of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, are rusted, bent or missing. The rockwork supporting the bridge from beneath is spalling and stained from weather and smoke from illegal fires. Rusted support beams and fractured macadam make the bridge unsafe for any form of vehicular traffic. In other words, the public is denied safe, legal access to the park and lakefront, both of which are legally theirs to enjoy.
Suppose you are an elderly Japanese-American who, to this nation’s retrospective embarrassment, spent almost all of the World War II years in an internment camp in the West. You have come to Chicago to visit the most famous Japanese cultural site in the Midwest, the Japanese Garden on Wooded Island in Jackson Park. You have heard that the garden is a shrine to the tremendous contributions made by Imperial Japan to the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. You want to see it before you die.
You arrive at the parking lot immediately south of the Museum of Science and Industry. Your relatives assist you into your wheel chair for the planned excursion to the garden, but you can travel only a short distance before you are stopped by high, chain-link panels bearing a sign announcing, in huge letters, ROAD CLOSED. Is this another kind of insult?
Hardy individuals — committed trekkers, birders, joggers and bicyclists — have pried open the panels blocking access to the bridge. Physically impaired individuals are left out.
Since the mid-1880s, the bridge has been crossed by people traveling by foot, carriage or other vehicular means from the east “Lake Michigan side” or the west “Stony Island side.” The bridge was the way to go to get to the west side of Jackson Park, Wooded Island, the Midway Plaisance and points beyond. Or it was the way to get to Lake Michigan, the vast meadow now known as Bobolink Meadow or the tennis courts or North Harbor. In 1957 it officially became the Clarence Darrow Bridge in tribute to Hyde Park’s great trial lawyer. Every March 13, the anniversary of Darrow’s 1938 death, politicians, historians, family members and various individuals of liberal bent gather at the bridge to honor his memory by tossing a wreath into the lagoon’s friendly waters.
We South Siders rejoice that new pedestrian bridges across South Lake Shore Drive will open Chicago’s Lakefront to families and other groups from North Kenwood, Oakland, and Bronzeville. We all agree, however, that Jackson Park, so very near Lake Michigan, should be accessible to all. It would cost $5 million to restore the Darrow Bridge to its original beauty and function, far less than the tens of millions of dollars required for bridge repair and construction over Lake Shore Drive. An intact Darrow Bridge would complement the new bridges and complete local access to the great treasure that is Lake Michigan. It is an investment that must be made.
Jackson Park Advisory Council
Louise McCurry, President
Frances S. Vandervoort