Greetings, All:  

Here are some recent developments and opportunities for action:

Chance for a Fresh Start on Much-Needed Golf Courses Restoration 

In our prior Update we had lamented that Crain’s reporter had not followed up on an unsolicited statement by Valerie Jarrett that the Obama Foundation would no longer be an advocate for the proposed Tiger Woods golf course in Jackson and South Shore Parks.  Thankfully, the Tribune did pursue the matter, diligently seeking clarifications from the Park District, the Obama Foundation, Tiger Woods’ planning firm–TGR Design, and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance.  The trail of noncommittal statements and declinations to comment led to the conclusion that the plans for the TGR project have indeed stalled, and public attention is correctly turning to the more realistic and desirable possibility of restoring the two existing courses.

We join many others – local golfers and other park users alike – in urging the Park District to delay no longer in developing with full community input a revised plan to update and maintain the separate Jackson Park and South Shore Park golf courses.  We would hope Alderman Yancy will be instrumental in guaranteeing community input in the planning process. 

As the president of the national Olmsted Network noted in a letter to the Tribune headed “Abandon golf course plans,” there is an opportunity to honor and advance Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision of ecologically sustainable and class equitable access to active recreation as a key feature of public parks.

The Bridge at the Center of Jackson Park’s Future

For those who do not regularly read the Hyde Park Herald, we commend to your attention a valuable  report by Marc Monaghan, “Is Jackson Park ready for its future?”  It is projected that 700,000 visitors will flock to the Obama Presidential Center each year, starting perhaps in 2025. But as Mongahan notes, should any of those visitors wander beyond the shiny new OPC into Jackson Park, they will find a public park long neglected and ill maintained.   The article highlights many park features needing attention, but we focus here on a central problem: 

the continued closure of the Columbia Bridge (locally known as the Darrow Bridge), which should be the key link between the east and west sides of the northern half of the park. It was deemed a safety hazard and closed to pedestrians and bicyclists a full decade ago.

The bridge is not only an important missing link for crossing the park; it is an important and unique link to the history of Chicago architecture, landscape design, and the World’s Columbian Exposition.   The placement of the bridge was included in Olmsted’s original 1871 design for Jackson Park;  finally built in 1880 and with many of its original stones still in place, it is the oldest structure in the park; it was designed by Burnham and Root with modern engineering features combining masonry and iron that presaged the pioneering skyscrapers to come; it was adapted by Olmsted when he prepared the landscape design for the Exposition, introducing modern landscaping features that continue today. 

One would think that such an historically significant structure would be carefully preserved and lovingly maintained; instead, having received no real attention since the 1930s, the Columbia Bridge can be Exhibit #1 for the benign neglect and bureaucratic bungling that afflict Chicago public parks away from downtown. Over the past decade (and before) there have been periodic promises of repair and varying explanations for delays, but no action.  So it is particularly distressing to learn now of the current plan for its reopening as revealed by funding applications prepared by the Chicago Department of Transportation, which controls bridges even in the middle of Jackson Park.

A 2020 CDOT application for use of state funds stated “The Columbia Drive Bridge will be removed and replaced with a structure that matches the existing structure as closely as possible.”   No consideration of preservation and restoration; no assurance that the historic limestone abutments will not be replaced by concrete ones; no promise that the replacement design will not be an over-engineered and needlessly costly version of the new South Side DuSable Drive bridges; no statement that the bridge will never become part of a trans-park roadway; no acknowledgement that Jackson Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and therefore any construction plan would require Section 106 review and approval because federal funds would also be needed for the project.

Then, to add insult to injury, it is revealed that funds for work on the Columbia Bridge – some $14 million –are available in Chicago’s 2022-2026 Capital Budget, but carry the restriction that they must be spent by 2025, at this late date an unlikely possibility.  

This information provokes several reactions.  Dismay at the bureaucratic tangle that gives CDOT control of a bridge in the middle of a public park managed by the Chicago Park District so that conflicting priorities and interests result in neglect, delay, and disarray.  Frustration with CDOT’s lack of transparency about its plans. Disgust with CDOT’s disregard for historic structures and its refusal to explore engineering options that could accommodate both historic preservation (and aesthetics) and utilitarian transportation standards (or, in the case of Promontory Point, erosion protection requirements).  

It’s hard to know where to direct one’s outrage, but if you are concerned after reading the Herald report, we suggest you send your comments to Alderman Desmon Yancy (Desmon.Yancy@cityofchicago.org / 773-324-5555) and Park District Superintendent Rosa Escareño (Rosa.Escareno@ChicagoParkDistrict.com).

Take a Walk in Jackson Park with Friends of the Parks

As part of its Walk in the Parks series, FOTP is sponsoring a visit to Jackson Park on Saturday, October 14, 10 am to 12 noon. The event is sure to be of interest to Jackson Park users and advocates. 

FOTP Executive Director Juanita Irrizarry offered a preview of the event:

We’ll meet in front of the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) at 10 am for a bit of history and context of the site, from its legacy as the only building left from the World’s Columbian Exposition to its future positioning as part of a south side museum campus including the Obama Presidential Center.

The timing of this visit relates to a request from the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) for FOTP to help them think about exterior changes they want to make to their building and the parkland that they are responsible for per their lease with the Chicago Park District. They are casting a vision that includes making their bathrooms available to park users, enhancing ADA accessibility to the building and its surroundings, and making their green spaces more inviting and activated by both museum goers and the general public.

We’ll walk around to the Columbia Basin side of the building to get a close-up look at the concerns and opportunities from the point of view of the back steps of the museum. And then we’ll walk together to the Garden of the Phoenix.

The complete FOTP email announcement of the event includes the Tribune coverage of the golf course project mentioned above and may provide an opportunity to read the article if the link above is blocked.

The FOTP event is free but pre-registration is requested.



Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.  (If you encounter difficulties with PayPal, please let us know.)
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 67 E. Madison St., Suite 1817, Chicago IL 60602, ATTN Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch.

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch