South by South by South —
Sunday, August 20, 2017
07:57 Good morning —
Every other Sunday we will be park-hopping around the city documenting its myriad examples of green spaces. We will explore everything from tiny playlots and pocket beaches to urban farms and the crown jewels of the district and on to the far future pavilions for viewing the Andromeda-Milky Way galactic collision.
As carless Chicagoans, we will also use this opportunity to check out the city’s non-vehicular transit infrastructure. We will pedal down bike lanes and trails, hop on buses and trains, definitely use our own two feet, and perhaps flag down a canoe or convince strangers to give us piggyback rides.
08:49 Let’s go —
Meet Olmsted One, our mobile landscape research studio, in the Tranquil Garden at Skinner Park, our local neighborhood park. From here to our starting point, we’ll be heading south on Loomis Street (no bike lanes, just a signed bike route) then due east on Jackson Boulevard, whose buffered bike lane ends at Jefferson Street.
09:34 START: Union Station —
A bit of breakfast at this awe-inspiring space. Countless journeys have started here, so it’s the perfect place to begin not just today’s inaugural broad—cast but also for the entire project.
10:02 Offshoot: Sears Tower —
Breakfast done, again heading east on Jackson Boulevard towards the lakefront.
Since it’s on our route and has a direct connection to two of the parks we’ll be exploring today, here’s a shot of Sears Tower from Jackson Boulevard and Wacker Drive.
At the original eastern terminus of Route 66 on Jackson Boulevard and Michigan Avenue. Although the historic highway finishes up here, our own Sunday outing has only just begun.
10:38 Route Marker: Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive —
On Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive looking towards Monroe Harbor and Lake Michigan. From here we will be heading into the deep south on the Lakefront Trail. We will be passing through three of the four large lakefront parks — Grant, Burnham and Jackson — plus the South Shore Cultural Center to our first whirligig.
12:04 Route Marker: Lakefront Trail in Burnham Park —
Passing through Burnham Park on the first completed segment of the trail separation project. We’ll return in future editions for closer looks, so until then here’s a preview.
Brief stop at 63rd Street Beach, Jackson Park. We’ll return in future editions for closer looks. Here’s a preview, taken earlier in May.
13:12 Route Marker: Southern Terminal of Lakefront Trail —
On 71st Street and South Shore Drive at the southern terminal of the Lakefront Trail, which we have been following for a little over 9 miles, or half its total length. The trail directly connects to the buffered bike lanes on South Shore Drive, which again becomes Lake Shore Drive at 79th Street. The bike lanes terminate where Lake Shore Drive itself ends above 92nd Street where it becomes Harbor Avenue.
13:20 Route Marker: South Shore Drive —
On South Shore Drive in South Shore heading south by southeast for the South Works in South Chicago.
“Are we there yet?”
14:56 WHIRLIGIG #1: Rainbow Beach Victory Garden —
Located on the southwest corner of Rainbow Beach Park is the lush oasis of Rainbow Beach Victory Gardens, the oldest community garden in Chicago.
We can only imagined it being lush as it is fenced all around, its gates locked, and inaccessible to the general public unless your are already a member or knows someone who can show you around.
A member was out selling produce at one of two farmers market stalls outside the gates. We asked about how to get a peek inside. A few inquiries later, we got the impression that it’s best to keep on rolling. “It’s a secret. Nobody’s supposed to know about it,” we are told.
We did at least do some whirligiging around its periphery, catching fugitive glimpses of the walled garden through the metal fence and thick sheltering growth.
15:23 WHIRLIGIG #2: Park #566 —
[Postscript: The breakwater protecting Calumet Harbor juts out from one corner and has been appropriated as an open space extension of the park. Indeed, people were out there that day sunbathing while jet skis buzzed and wheezed about in the harbor. One guy, near where the Illinois—Indiana border bisects this concrete beach — pacing back and forth on his mobile, wearing nothing but a white towel — was constantly adjusting himself. He appears as a speck on the horizon in the photo below.]
Note to selves: Prepare text to copy-paste for next broad—cast. Typing site reports on tiny mobile keyboards is
18:31 WHIRLIGIG #3: The Ore Walls —
The ore walls are some of the few structures that remain of the once sprawling US Steel manufacturing plant, closed in 1992 and now mostly leveled.
Once they contained mountains of coals for use in the fiery bowels of South Works, the name of the steel plant. Now they shelter a thriving post-industrial ecosystem.
Were these really storage bins for coal or the b(e)(i)rthing terminals of ancient generation starships?
21:00 WHIRLIGIG #4: Steelworkers Park —
Park #566 and Steelworkers Park (former Park #523) are the two lakefront parcels on the South Works acquired by the Chicago Park District from US Steel. Park #566 is awaiting development. According to a framework plan commissioned by the Chicago Park District, it will connect Steelworkers Park to the south with Rainbow Beach Park to the north, forming an uninterrupted lakefront trail in South Chicago.
However, if the future design of Park #566 will be a carbon copy of Steelworkers Park, as suggested by the framework plan, inscribed simply with an ameboid trail system forming open lawns, a scattering of prairie grasses, lakefront views (but such magnificent views!) and somewhat criminally devoid of remants of its history (the ore walls are not actually on park property), then it’s best to leave it alone and just add it to the official list of Chicago parks.
[Postscript: The sculpture in the photo above is called “Tribute to the Past” by Roman Villareal, a Chicago artist and Southeast Side resident. According to the Chicago Park District, it “portrays a steelworker encircled by and embracing his family. The artwork pays tribute to generations of residents of Chicago’s Southeast Side, for whom life was centered around the steel industry.”]
Perhaps lakefront views are all that Steelworkers Park needs.
During our whirligig, Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks was also there with their production of Romeo and Juliet.
[Postscript: There were also a fire engine truck and several firefighters, who were gathered along the water’s edge. We asked one of the Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks crews what was going on, who were they trying help? Did someone had an accident, someone in the water that needed rescuing? “Nope, they’re just out here,” she replied.]
The audience might look sparse from this vantage point but it was a sizeable crowd. As we were leaving, we caught some of Juliet’s immortal lines:
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Southern edge of Steelworkers Park. Beyond the rocks is the mouth of the Calumet River.
Some of the interpretive trail signs at South Works. Click for somewhat readable full size.
[Postscript 1: Apparently not readable enough. We’ll edit later with links to legible versions.]
[Postscript 2: Click to enlarge photo. Or right-click to open full size image.]
As the label for the top photo in the middle panel explains, South Works provided the structural steel to many Chicago skyscrapers, most notably the John Hancock Center and Sears Towers, hence our photo earlier in the morning.
Below is a close-up of the right photo in the left panel, showing slag cars dumping molten slag along the shore, expanding Chicago’s coastline.
“THESE WALLS ARE IMMENSE”
22:19 Route Marker: South Lake Shore Drive —
Exited South Works on 87th Street, currently the only connection of Streetworkers Park to the rest of the lakefront trail system. Above, going south on Lakeshore Drive to our next whirligig. Marginally bike friendly but not community friendly.
22:24 WHIRLIGIG #5: Clara D. Schafer Park —
The northern half of Clara D. Schafer Park is a sparse affair: a standard meandering “fitness track” forming a large central lawn sparringly dotted with trees so threadbare they might as well be made of air.
The southern half is where the fun is. That’s the site of the South Chicago Farm. Yesterday we took a tour. Our photos are collected in a Medium piece.
We’re nearing the end of our broad—cast.
After Clara D. Schafer Park, we had planned on exploring the two parks in South Chicago that were among the ten innovative neighborhood parks around the city conceived in the early 20th century by South Park Superintendent J. Frank Foster that revolutionized what a park could be and proved highly influential across the country.
We also planned on passing by the Lakeside property sales office to highlight the grand schemes to develop the South Works.
And take a peek at the Artist’s Garden. Unlike the Rainbow Beach Victory Gardens, we would have been welcomed in.
Those will have to be for another broad—cast.
But before we sign off for the day there’s just one more stop…
23:14 LAST STOP: South Chicago Velodrome —
[Postscript: Closed, perhaps permanently.]
23:31 And that’s a wrap —
Stay tuned in a fortnight’s time for more whirligigs and loop-de-loops through the Chicago Park District.
[Postscript: Below is a map of our stops and simplified route.]