Burnham, the Plan of Chicago, the Lakefront and Edgewater

Vol. XX No. 2 - SUMMER 2009

By: Kathy Gemperle

On July 4, 2009, the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the “Plan of Chicago” began at the Chicago History Museum. Authored by Architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett, the plan set forth a vision of how the City of Chicago could look in the future.

The Edgewater Historical Society has joined in the anniversary of the Plan by presenting an exhibit about the lakefront. Edgewater was included in the original plan, with islands in the lake to offer shoreline protection and a decorative street end park at Bryn Mawr.

The scope of the exhibit includes the Geological History of Lake Chicago, Chicago’s Early Lakefront, Edgewater’s Emerging Lakefront, a unique collection of the story of Operation Lakewatch and information about the changing lake levels and the High Water events in the mid 1980s. In addition, there is a section on the Friends of the Parks plan titled “the Last Four Miles.”

Books and publications and a bibliography are a part of the exhibit. In one case, the “Plan of Chicago” book is displayed open to the page featuring Edgewater. Many other publications are shown in cases including subsequent reprints of the Plan and other planning documents like “Planning the Region of Chicago” (1956), “A Digest of the Plan of Chicago” (1937) and “The Lakefront Plan of Chicago” (1972).

In the years after the presentation of the original plan by Burnham to the City Club of Chicago, many plans have been authored and presented. To understand this history of the lakefront, Lois Wille’s 1972 book “Forever Open, Clear and Free: the Struggle for Chicago’s Lakefront” is must reading.

What you will find in the Edgewater exhibit may be surprising. The section of Chicago’s Early Lakefront shows a map of the original mouth of the Chicago River and the Scharf Map showing the locations of some of the earliest Indian Villages. Also included in the section is a series of engravings depicting the shoreline prior to 1872.

In the section of Edgewater’s Emerging Lakefront is a copy of a hand drawn map of Edgewater from 1860 and a map of the area prior to its purchase by John Lewis Cochran in 1885. A 1909 protest by Edgewater residents about the sale of parkland, created by the construction of a sea wall along the Edgewater shore, to the private interests who built the Edgewater Beach Hotel is featured as well as plans from 1917, 1932 and 1945. Also presented is a construction photo for the shoreline addition north of Foster in the 1950s.

Two other special presentations include the original plan for Berger Park and an alternate version. Also shown is architect Thom Green’s plan for the lakefront from Ardmore to the northern edge of the city, presented in the Graham Foundations exhibit in 2003.

The lakefront in Edgewater has been the source of community action since the 1909 protest. A special section on Operation Lakewatch features the community action prompted by the closing of so many Chicago beaches because of high bacterial counts. Under the auspices of the Edgewater Community Council Operation Lakewatch volunteers tackled the problems first at McCormick Place, next at Navy Pier and third in the Chicago Park District Harbors. The Chicago Park District’s response was to sue and then negotiate with this powerful group. The story is here in this exhibit for the first time.

In the mid 1980s, the lake levels kept increasing. Photos and a graph show the history of lake levels and the problems with the High Water in 1986. Additional information and a collection of clippings are available for review.

This exhibit is a collaboration of many people who contributed in a variety of ways. EHS President, Robert Remer brought his collection of publications, maps and engravings to the exhibit. Tom Murphy brought his incredible collection of Operation Lakewatch materials. Sheli Lulkin offered her information on the High Water problem from the 1980s. Roula Akiotou Borenstine brought her collection of documents about the saving of Berger Park. Paul Boyd offered his collection of planning documents from The Next Mile project of 1988 and planning charettes since then. He also brought the latest plan of the Last Four Miles to the display. DePaul University students Ann Cummings and James Morahan researched Operation Lakewatch and did oral history interviews for their Doing Local and Community History Class. Students Katie Sherwood, Greg and Dan Terpsta added Oral history interviews of Sheli Lulkin as part of the same class. Kathy Gemperle and Lee McQueen combed through the Edgewater Historical Society’s collections and worked on labels with Bob Remer, while Tom Murphy offered his guidance and expertise in hanging in order to complete the presentation.

The exhibit is open to the public every Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m. until December 19, 2009. Stop by the museum on a Saturday and spend some time learning about our beautiful lakeshore.