Council cites Point as one of ten most endangered places in Illinois

By Daniel Gilbert

The efforts of local community activists for the preservation of Promontory Point received a boost last month (March 24), when the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (LPCI) added the Point to its list of the state’s “Ten Most Endangered Places.”

According to Lisa DiChiera, LPCI director of advocacy, the council hopes the announcement will serve to galvanize the cooperation of the city engineers and the local activists.

“The most disturbing fact about the preservation talks thus far is that they have been going on for so long,” DiChiera said. “The limestone is available and just as cost-effective as what the city engineers have proposed. The funding is there, but the city just keeps coming up with excuses.”

The listing is intended to garner statewide and national attention on endangered sites, as well as to rally public support for their preservation. Historic sites featured on the list in the past include the Farnsworth House and the Cook County Hospital Building. Jack Spicer of the Community Task Force for Promontory Point emphasized in a March 27 e-mail that “of the over 90 historic places listed during the last decade, only 13 have been destroyed.”

The announcement comes at a critical time, after recent setbacks in negotiations between the city and community groups. Plans for renovation collapsed in January when the community rejected a city proposal that called for the rebuilding of the bottom two steps of the revetment and the promenade with concrete. The proposal set forth by the city engineers was largely based on accommodating persons with disabilities.

Greg Lane, spokesman for the Task Force, called the city’s proposal “preposterous,” noting that it would “destroy the very landmark that you are trying to preserve.” Lane also pointed out that the city engineers are not coastal engineers, and cited two incidents of wheelchairs rolling off promenades along other parts of the lakefront that had been certified by the city. Tragically, one of the cases was fatal.

The addition of the Point to the LPCI’s list may put increasing pressure on the city to formulate a plan that is in accordance with the 1993 Memorandum of Agreement, which stipulates criteria for renovation of the historic site. The agreement requires that any repairs made to the revetment match the existing one. While the steps may be rebuilt with concrete and steel, the document requires that they maintain a facade of limestone, so that the visual effect is not significantly altered.

Lane described the Point’s addition to the LPCI’s list as “somewhat bittersweet.”

“It will help to elevate the Point to statewide and national prominence, but it is disappointing that it is on the list at all,” Lane said.

With the Point’s new endangered status, the Task Force hopes to enlist the support of the University, which was active in the preservation of another Hyde Park historical site—the Robie House—but has remained silent thus far on the issue of the Point.

At the very least, the LPCI’s announcement has aided the Task Force’s fundraising efforts; of the $40,000 they hope to raise this year, they have already collected $5,000. Community members have been active in their support for the Task Force, donating one-third of the fundraising total last year. Lane said the money raised would be used to shore up the advocacy effort, as well as pay for the outside engineers the force has hired.

Whether the announcement will lead to an agreement between the city and the community activists remains to be seen. The endangered status does not appear to have moved many key officials, such as Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston. “We have always recognized the historic significance of Promontory Point,” said Hairston, who does not view the announcement as an important development in the ongoing talks.

The next progress report will be released April 15, according to Hairston.