Sunday, January 13, 2008

Promontory Point Historical Photos

Part III in the Promontory Point Controversy Series

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Hey kids, here are some old pictures that are fun and informative!

First, an architectural elevation of the revetment between 39th Street and 56th Street (built in the early 1930s):
Second, a photo from 1923 showing workmen installing the bulkhead (the steel rails and wood piling that hold the riprap and limestone blocks above) between Randolph Street and the 12th street Beach:

Notice how the original bulkhead hardly resembles the deteriorated little toothpicks and dental floss that we have at all:

Finally, here's a photo of the way a step-stone revetment appeared at completion, in 1922:

Clearly the steps are for sittin', the promenade is for walkin', but the lake is not for swimmin'. In fact, the revetment we have at the Point was not originally designed for water access. We are able to swim off the Point precisely because the revetment failed: blocks of limestone from the promenade slipped into the water, and we use the partially submerged rocks to clamber (as best we can, if we're athletic) into the water.

But let's get back to that promenade above. The one you could walk along with your beau, your heels, your long skirt, your white gloves, and your parasol, in 1922.

Today you'd better have your hiking boots on, and keep your hands free, because there is no promenade left:

I admit this scene is harshly beautiful. What it isn't is functional for any sort of recreational activities -- sittin', walkin', or swimmin'.


chicago pop said...

What it isn't is functional for any sort of recreational activities -- sittin', walkin', or swimmin'.

That harsh beauty that you refer to is also, is it not, a sign that the revetment is less able to serve its purpose, which is to protect the landfill from erosion due to wave action. The more picturesque it gets, the more waves can get in among the cracks in summer, freeze and thaw in winter, and eat away at the Point. Which, as you've also demonstrated in photos of erosion around the edges of the revetment, is about the opposite of saving it.

Sten said...

My first date with my fiancee included a trip to the Point; one of the reasons I was so taken with her from the start was her willingness to laugh in the face of danger by walking up the south face of the point in flip-flops. Broken glass, uneven footing, wicked shrubs, and she hardly batted an eye. It takes cojones, yo.

chicago pop said...

Sten: Glad you found the right partner, and that the Point was there to make it happen. I only hope your marriage survives whatever the future brings, like a major renovation of the revetment.

It's pretty funny that the Point is becoming the site of consciously high-risk adventure sports. Like dating.

Jennifer said...

May I borrow that harshly beautiful Point photo of yours? I'll credit you and HPP, of course.

Richard Gill said...

Does someone have a photo of the Cold War NIKE missile facility that was located at the Point in the 1950s and 1960s? That was a prominent episode in the history of the Point. I was 'just a kid' then, but I recall some neighborhood paranoia crystallizing around the issue of the missile site, or more specifically, why it was here and not "there".

I remember my 8th grade teacher--Mrs. Owsley, who lived at Vista Homes--waxing angry about it. She was less upset about the missile site, per se, than that "They imposed one on Hyde Park, but didn't make the North Side have one, too." So, I suppose if a NIKE site had also been plopped down around, say, Montrose Harbor, the Point site would've been ok with her.

That was my first exposure to some of the Hyde Park schizoidiana: We don't want to be like the North Side. How come "The City" doesn't treat us the same way they treat the North Side?

If the North Side shoreline had limestone, would the Save-the-Pointers want concrete?

Anyway, Mrs. Owsley was a fine teacher. She got me to buckle down; she didn't believe in giving much homework; she didn't make us diagram sentences; and she's the only person I ever heard use the words "gerunds, infinitives and participles" in a single sentence.

Peter Rossi said...

I remember the NIKE site as well.

One of my son's friends cut a ligament in his foot stepping on broken glass on the Point revetment.

I don't really get the "harsh" beauty stuff.

The beautiful thing about the Point is Lake Michigan. Also, the brilliant Caldwell design of the landscaping (NOT THE revetment) that gives the impression that the lake is floating all around you (the paths and the meadow are raised).

Lake Michigan can have a harsh beauty, that I will heartily endorse.

EdJ said...

After doing a little bit of research, it looks like there was a Nike Missile site at Montrose Harbor (see

With the missiles gone, what are we using for mutual assured destruction with the north side now? The destruction is so one sided now. I mean, if people in Hyde Park are trying to destroy our neighborhood, shouldn't residents of the north side do the same for their neighborhoods? It seems only fair.

Peter Rossi said...

the nike site at the point was simply a radar installation to help guide the missiles. there were no missiles on the Point.

I'm not sure why that matters, though

Elizabeth Fama said...

Jennifer, you may use the photo with the credits you mention.

I changed one word in the post: I should have properly said "steel rails" when referring to the historic bulkhead, not "steel sheets." The bulkhead is made of wood piles, steel rails, and tie-rods. The modern photo of the eviscerated bulkhead shows the rails, with tie-rods anchored into nothing, and wood piles that are so rotted, they're just snaggly spindles now.

Richard Gill said...

Oh, so there WAS a missile facility on the North Side. Well, then Mrs. Owsley was wrong. Or a missile and/or radar site was put on the North Side, just to get Hyde Park to stop whining about it. In the latter case, maybe the facility at Montrose Harbor was a fake. Anyway, the North Side facility surely had a prettier fence around it than the one at the Point.

EdJ said...

The Nike missile radar site is an interesting little fact because it raises the issue of NIMBYs and "frozen in time". NIMBYs generally want to freeze things as they are because they are comfortable with the way things are. At what point do you keep things as they are. Should we have kept the radar site?

The Point is a good example of what happens when you try to keep things the way they are. Other areas develop and leave you behind. The things you try to keep in place start to deteriorate. The north side also lost the Montrose Radar site, but the peple in thoe neighborhoods have built and made something that reflects the needs of the people who live there now. Not the people who moved away ad would like their memories maintained for them by someone else.

Keeping things the same just means you fall behind.