The Beaches of Edgewater
By: Everett Stetson
“Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer” - so the song goes, wistfully sung by Chicagoans in the throes of contending with sub-zero temperatures just a few months ago.
Then came the second week of July 1995, when the thermometer soared to a steamy 106 degrees at Midway Airport. Those fickle folk quickly changed their tune to “Hot town, summer in the city. Back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty,” as they flocked for respite to the cool waters of Lake Michigan. My Edgewater neighbors thanked heaven for our beaches, but few realize how much they owe to the machinations of man in the formation of those delightful shores.
For instance, before 1930 there was no beach at all at Foster. An early map I have shows a beach at Winona and old-timers have talked about a beach at Glengyle (now Carmen) where they kept canoes. But Foster Avenue Beach did not exist.
In the very early ’30s, the outer drive and Lincoln Park were extended to Foster. First, a breakwater was built entirely enclosing the new area, which was then filled in with clean beach sand brought across the lake in large sand suckers. The ships pumped the sand behind the breakwater through large pipes. One evening my father was invited to dinner aboard one of the ships.
Once the breakwater was built at Foster, the southwest drift of lake sand began to form a huge natural beach which extended to the Edgewater Beach Hotel. The hotel lost its docking facilities but gained a large sand beach. In the ’40s, the beach had become so large, the hotel built a boardwalk on the lake with a small dock at the end. A large chain link fence was installed out into the lake at Berwyn to keep out the public.
To the south, the Saddle and Cycle Club made it a practice of emptying its swimming pool onto the beach, which formed a large swamp. Bushes grew up along the fence and my swimming group could still sunbathe in cold weather.
In the 1950s, Lake Shore Drive and the park were extended to Hollywood and the hotel and Edgewater Beach Apartments both lost their beaches. To build the present Foster Avenue Beach, they dug up the park south of Foster and extracted the sand underneath.
The Saddle and Cycle Club on Foster used to extend west to Sheridan Road, where they had tennis courts. In the 1950s, however, they traded that western section for part of the newly made land to the east, where they built their five hole putt and pitch course. Two motel buildings were constructed on the vacated land, one of which was later demolished to make way for the present day Dominick’s store on the corner.
Farther to the north at Bryn Mawr in the 1920s, there was a very nice street-end beach with three very battered groins, or piers, filled with rocks. In 1928, the beach was taken over by the Edgewater Beach Apartments and a chain link fence put up to “privatize” the area.
The lake level was very high in 1929; water came all the way up to the old sea wall. The sea wall was built in 1906 or 1907 and extended from Bryn Mawr almost to the hotel. It is now buried under the park. although a very small part of it is still visible at the end of Bryn Mawr. The sidewalk leading to the park cuts through it.
In the ’30s and ’40s, a very nice beach extended from the street end at Bryn Mawr north almost to Hollywood, behind the many beautiful mansions on Sheridan Road. There were also lovely beaches at Hollywood, Ardmore and Thorndale.
When the city extended Lincoln Park beyond Foster in the 1950s, I thought they would close in the breakwater and use clean fill as they had done years before in the ’30s. Instead they left the north end open and filled it with refuse from construction of the Eisenhower Expressway - lampposts, toilets, marble doorsteps and such. After the fill was in place, the lake took over and fashioned the beach at Hollywood-Ardmore as it is today. I can recall when the beach was only a few inches of sand…
It was another “scorcher” today. The TV is leading into the weather report with strains of “We’re having a heat wave.” You can bet the beaches were crowded. Somewhere in Edgewater, someone is wistfully singing “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”