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An online and photo-panel exhibit created by the Newberry Library for the cnetennial of the Plan of Chicago

Nurturing Open Space

Transforming the Lakefront

Transforming Chicago's lakefront into attractive and useful public space was no small task. Railroad yards and refuse dominated a long segment of the shoreline to the south, and few people recognized the lakefront's tremendous practical and symbolic value. But Burnham and Bennett did, noting that views of the water could inspire "calm thoughts and feelings...delighting man's eye and refreshing his spirit." Like many green spaces, the lakefront could provide space for active recreation and social interaction. And, it could be a source of pride and common ground for the city's diverse population; as the plan put it, the "Lake Front by right belongs to the people."

"Chicago. Park Development Proposed for the Lake Shore from Jackson Park to Wilmette," Plan of Chicago, plate L. Chicago History Museum

The Plan of Chicago proposed adding cultural and educational institutions, including the Field Museum, to the lakefront near the existing Art Institute. Some park advocates, including Montgomery Ward, opposed plans to locate any institution there as it violated the promise Chicago's founders had made to keep the central lakefront "forever open, clear, and free." In a compromise, the Field and other museums were built at the far south end of Grant Park.

Jules Guerin, "Chicago. Bird's-Eye View at Night of Grant Park, the Façade of the City, the Proposed Harbor, and the Lagoons of the Proposed Park on the South Shore," Plan of Chicago, plate CXXVII. Chicago History Museum

Aerial view of Navy Pier, ca. 1920-21. Chicago History Museum, ICHi- 14115

Over the last one hundred years, many of Burnham's ideas for the lakefront became reality. Municipal (Navy) Pier, completed in 1916, realized half of a scheme for recreational piers downtown (right). Just east of Soldier Field, Northerly Island partially fulfilled the vision of a long park-rimmed lagoon, just in time to host the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition (below, left). In the 1930s, the federal Works Progress Administration funded a dizzying array of programs, from kite tournaments to concerts (below, right). This tradition continues especially at Grant Park—a hub for performances, festivals, and civic events, including Barack Obama's presidential election celebration in 2008.

Detail of George H. Bodeen, Pure Oil Pathfinder Map of a Century of Progress Exposition (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1934). The Newberry Library. Map © RAND MCNALLY - Reproduced with permission, R.L. 09-S-55
Kite Tournament in Grant Park, 1936. Chicago Park District Special Collections