By AARON GETTINGER
The Chicago Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and the Department of Transportation (CDOT) held a public meeting Thursday, March 29, at the Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., announcing the Section 106 review findings of potential ramifications of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center and changes to transportation like the proposed closing of Cornell and Marquette Drives, on historic structures in Jackson Park.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is the lead federal agency of the Section 106 process, in conjunction with the National Parks Service (NPS) and the two municipal departments. Each federal agency is charged to assess proposed actions on areas that are listed on, or may warrant inclusion in, the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), as ordered by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.
The NPS is charged with determining if there is a conversion of recreation to non-recreation parkland within Jackson Park because of funding received in the 1980s through the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Act. The NPS is examining the OPC museum, forum and library buildings, the baseball fields displaced by the new track and field near Hyde Park Academy High School (the track and field is itself displaced by the planned construction of the OPC) and any recreation areas to be gained or lost because changes to roadways in the park.
The eastern edge of the Midway Plaisance, across from the Illinois Railway tracks at the 57th Street Metra station, will be devoted to a new active recreation opportunity as a replacement for the one of the two lost baseball fields; what exactly the recreation opportunity will consist of will be decided with community involvement at a later date. The other baseball field will be constructed at another location in Jackson Park.
The FHWA is examining the areas in Jackson Park where there would be an “unsatisfactory level of service” resulting from planned closures of Cornell and Marquette Drives. Should the city get funding to enhance roadways to ensure a satisfactory level of service, the FHWA needs to approve proposed mitigation strategies.
DPD, Deputy Commissioner of Planning, Design and Historic Preservation Eleanor Gorski said two “areas of potential effect” (APE), where visual or auditory effects or any kind of historic impact could occur because of construction of roadways or the OPC, have been defined—one for archaeology and one for architecture and landscape. Two reports, one on archaeological findings and a historic properties inventory, have been issued on them.
The archaeology APE includes areas where there could be ground disturbance, namely the OPC site and roadways. Public comments solicited to define the architecture and landscape APE’s boundaries were compared against definitional criteria, namely proximity to the OPC site and roadway work and where historic resources’ visibility could be affected by the OPC’s buildings. The architecture and landscape APE ultimately included Jackson and South Shore Parks, the Midway Plaisance and areas north and south of the meeting point between Jackson Park and the Midway.
The Illinois State Archaeological Survey, a unit of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, conducted archaeological digs in the APE. As anticipated, it uncovered many artifacts from the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition, but the survey concluded that there was no new information to be gained from archaeological work in the APE that would qualify the site for listing under the National Register for Historic Places (NRHP).
The review established the architecture and landscape APE’s period of significance from 1875 to 1953, after which a Nike missile instillation was installed in Jackson Park, significant changes affected the lagoons and landscape and the park as originally planned by celebrated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was “compromised” by roadway changes.
A historic properties inventory resulted from a joint DPD, CDOT and landscape architectural review of the architecture and landscape APE. It defines the broader historical context of both the parks and adjacent neighborhoods and describes properties within the APE in terms of their potential for listing on the NRHP. (Properties 50 years or older associated with historical events or significant persons, embody an archetypical period or method of construction or have yielded or are likely to yield useful archaeological information are eligible for inclusion on the NRHP.) Properties suggested from solicited public input were considered and included on the list.
Both reports are listed online at tinyurl.com/jpimprovements. A 30-day comment period ends April 19, 2018; the public is asked to send comments to DPD@cityofchicago.org.
After review of public comments by the FHWA and NPS alongside the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. The final content will be decided by those agencies, and the DPD will post the final document—which will serve as the “baseline” for analyzing any OPC or roadway construction effects on historic properties, landscapes and monuments within the park—online.
The next step of the Section 106 process is the effects assessment that may potentially discuss potential effects of construction on landscape and historic properties. Effects will be judged to be adverse or non-adverse. The NPS, concerned with how proposed changes to recreation in Jackson Park impact historic properties, is examining construction effects on a particular comfort station and the cultural landscape, namely circulation, topography, vegetation, spatial organization and views. The FHWA is examining proposed roadway improvements (not closures) impacting historic properties, namely those associated with the cultural landscape.
Another public meeting in May will follow the release of the effects assessment.
An extensive questions-and-answer forum followed the presentation. Officials said that Jackson Park officials will be in charge of the uncovered archaeological artifacts, the Jackson Park Highlands were not included because the OPC will not be visible from it and because it is designated and protected as a Chicago Landmark District. Other questioners asked about disability access, golfers having to cross over several roadways in the park’s current configuration and the proposed removal of free parking. CDOT engineer John Sadler confirmed that no further archaeological digs were planned and, to a smattering of applause, denied that the OPC planning on taking over 40 acres of parkland for its site.
Margaret Schmidt of Jackson Park Watch referenced the Historic Properties Inventory’s mention of projects in the South Lakefront Framework Plan like the OPC and roadway reconstruction, saying that the plan itself has not yet been concluded and that all inventory had been made prior to the announcement the 1999–2000 framework plan would be revisited. “You appear to put the cart before the horse in every regard—you and everyone in this process—and we would like to understand how this could possibly be explained,” she said. She later brought up roadway changes in the park from 1895 to 1953, questioning the authorities’ defining certain roadway changes as “major” and the proposed closing of Cornell Drive.
“This isn’t a hard and fast science by any means,” Gorski responded, saying it was hard to find a comparison in looking at “other projects of this magnitude with this many layers.” She said that roadways constructed after 1895 were not historically significant but rather that changes after the 1950s deviated dramatically from Olmsted’s vision.