A Stony Island alternative

To the Editor:

Walking down Stony Island, from 56th Street, you can’t help but notice this nearly two-block-long, red brick building on the west side of Stony Island. As a kid, growing up in Hyde Park in the mid-‘50s, there had been a correspondence school located there; they had printing presses, offices full of workers grading papers. To the North was a taxi stand, and storefronts, an artist colony, was located south of it.

I’m not sure who built this building, but eventually, it ended up in the hands of the U of C, who use it for their facilities department. Presently, it is being used as a very large janitor’s closet. It provides no benefit to the community.

This seems like a very extravagant site for what is basically a warehouse. I cannot understand how it is this eyesore of a building is taking up nearly two blocks of prime, park frontage land. This building is also redundant, the U of C has several buildings, along with a facility at 110th and Torrance, that fill the same role this building. And, because it is on the U of C’s property inventory, they do not pay one cent in property taxes. To the West lie railroad tracks, and air rights, above. It is a huge site. At present, it is mostly going to waste.

Continuing down Stony Island, you come to 60th Street, the site of the former Plaisance Hotel. Clarence Darrow had an apartment, there, for many years. He was fond of the park, nearby.   It was demolished by urban renewal, late ‘60s. While some apartments were built on the South end of the site, a majority is a paved parking lot (again, owned by U of C). Here again, we have a parcel of land over two blocks long, it runs from Stony Island all the way to the railroad tracks. And again, it is tax exempt.  Park frontage being used as a parking lot?

Next, we come to 63rd Street, and here there are opportunities for business, and the revitalization of Woodlawn. This was Woodlawn’s Main Street, for many years. It has fallen on hard times, and it could use the traffic the OPC will generate. Small business will be able to sprout up, with the OPC anchoring it, nearby.

Continuing further down Stony Island we come to the site of the Southmore Hotel, yet another victim of urban renewal.   What is sad is that probably 600 different families, between the two hotels, (Southmore, Plaisance) lost their homes in this demolition project.  This was urban renewal.  At present there is a Chase bank located on the site.

All of these sites should be in contention for the OPC. Anything you can build on park land could just as easily be built on Stony.  Why not spread this out along Stony Island? It could have several locations, with more room to grow. Putting this in the park will overwhelm the park.

This secret bid process, from the U of C, they only looked at park land. When you take a look at a map, see how much land the U of C has, you see just how flawed this process was. None of their land was in contention. In the bid from Columbia University, they offered land they already own. They did not suggest building this on Central Park.

Also raising a lot of eyebrows is the design of this center. A windowless, 235-foot-tall tower; it has been described as ‘funerary.’ No one knows what kind of stone is covering this building. With its angled walls, it has a squat, monolithic feel to it, imposing comes to mind. The entire campus is built up, with satellite buildings, concrete plazas and roadways, it is unlike any museum campus we have ever seen. This is now a huge construction project, with a 22-story tall building at its core. It does not belong in Jackson Park.

The OPC has now grown to the point it would detract from the park experience. It is simply too large to be accommodated in Jackson Park, and the best solution is to move it to several sites along the west side of Stony.  This gives the design a lineal dynamic that will lead visitors along Stony, and it will connect with commercial areas along 63rd Street. In this manner, the benefits of the OPC would expand far beyond a park-based plan. These sites on Stony could be a starting point, with additional potential for expansion South.

While in office, the President made significant contributions to the environment, to our national parks, to Federally protected lands. Bear’s Ears, Grand Escalante, just two. This flies against that, it is taking up public park land, and constructing this huge tower, and sprawling campus, this will forever change the character of this park.

I think it’s time to reconsider this plan. Obviously, they misjudged community interest in park preservation, and failed to look at all the sites available. This is what comes when you make your plans in secret. The next mayor may not be so hasty to try and cram this down our throats. Why does this have to be built in our park, and only in our park? Parks are, by definition, open spaces, for the enjoyment of all.  Three locations on Stony are far superior to any park-based plan. We will be enlarging our park, not building it up.



Ross Petersen