By Donald Gordon, Executive Director, Rogers Park Conservancy
As some of you may know by now, Loyola has a plan to begin building an Information Commons building on their campus this summer. It's a LEED approved building, which makes it environmentally correct and architecturally quite stunning. The purpose of the building is to provide study areas for the students and have a secured, enclosed connection to the library. It's a $30 million dollar project with 4 floors and will rise 67' and will be primarily a glass front. The building is stunning and the facility an incredible state-of-the-art asset for the students.
The problem is the location, which is in front of the Jesuit residence between the library and the chapel, on a piece of property the students and alumni refer to as the Jesuit Lawn. It is the last remaining green space on campus with a vista of the lake and it is quite spectacular at that. This building is being placed right on that property at the lake's edge and blocks the last remaining vista of the lake, while creating a canyon effect along the shoreline. The students have been very vocal against it and community residents, including myself, expressed similar feelings at Loyola's meeting a couple weeks ago.
Unfortunately, the community meeting requested by the Alderman was once again too little too late. The project was undertaken and planned well over a year ago, and all the meeting provided was yet another wasted venue for citizens to sit and be in awe of the proposals put in front of us. We have presented two alternative locations, which would accommodate the structure as is and be within proximity to the library to allow for the connectivity that is needed.
The University will hear nothing of it at this late stage, so we are invoking the Lakefront Protection Ordinance to bring pressure upon Loyola to move its location. You might ask, though, why should we care about the students problem with their university? Why care about their remorse over their loss of this last respite of lakefront open green space on campus? Why care about anything that a private university is doing on their private campus? Well, we should care.
First, Loyola's property, private or not, is within the Lakefront Protection Ordinance district and like any other property owner they need to comply with the intent and purpose of the Ordinance. Paragraph 16-4-030 (Purposes), paragraph (g), states: To promote and provide for the pedestrian access to the Lake and to protect and enhance vistas at these locations and wherever else possible. This building is in direct conflict with that purpose as well as other purposes of the Ordinance.
Second, we should also be remorseful over this loss because the campus, though private, is accessible and utilized by the residents of this community. Residents in the southeast corner of Rogers Park have little to no green space and only a small play lot and beach at the end of Albion that provides a lakefront vista. The campus is their open space as well as anyone else's in the community who chooses to run and walk through this tranquil setting and most importantly enjoy the wide-open vista now provided by the Jesuit Lawn. That will be lost forever by the ill-conceived placement of this building.
Finally, we should hold Loyola accountable to the spirit of Daniel Burnham and everyone who has fought for our lakefront over the past 150 years. If you care to, you can read this extraordinary history in Lois Wille's book "Forever Open, Clear, and Free - The Struggle for Chicago's Lakefront. The title of the book is from the immortal words of Gurdon Saltinstall Hubbard, William F. Thornton and William B. Archer, who at the time of this city's founding, refused to "sell our lakefront." Instead they inscribed these words on their map of a little prairie town on the southern shores of Lake Michigan. So many more were to follow in their footsteps.
All of us who fight the fight today to keep even the smallest of open spaces on this grand and spectacular lakefront are following in these footsteps as well. This is not just a student battle with their Administration; this is our battle, in concert with the students, as stewards of this lakefront and as champions of a cause that has persisted for 150 years. We cannot shrink from that responsibility nor allow Loyola to disgrace the legacy of those who fought so hard to preserve for us what we have today.
I'll close this appeal with the words of Daniel Burnham, which so eloquently make our case today: "The lakefront by right belongs to the people. It affords their one great unobstructed view, stretching away to the horizon where water and clouds seem to meet. No mountains or high hills enable us to look over broad expanses of the earth's surface; and perforce we must come even to the margin of the lake for such a survey of nature. These views calm thoughts and feelings, and afford escape from the petty things of life. Mere breadth of view, however, is not all. The lake is living water, ever in motion, and ever changing in color and in the form of its waves. Across its surface comes the broad pathway of light made by the rising sun; it mirrors the ever-changing forms of the clouds, and is illumined by the glow of the evening sky. Its colors vary with the shadows that play upon it. In every aspect it is a living thing, delighting mans' eye and refreshing his spirit. Not a foot of its shores should be appropriated by individuals to the exclusion of the people. On the contrary, everything possible should be done to enhance its natural beauties, thus fitting it for the part it has to play in the life of the whole city. It should be made so alluring that it will become the fixed habit of the people to seek its restful presence at every opportunity." Daniel H. Burnham, Chapter IV The Plan of Chicago, 1909
We propose moving the IC building, as is, to the Quinn Quadrangle and adjoining parking lot at the north end of campus (the moderately hilly landscaped area just east of the Winthrop entrance on Loyola Avenue), which would still allow for connectivity to the library, be in closer proximity to student housing and Centennial Forum, while providing easier access to the library for residents in the community. By doing this and tearing down the Jesuit residence, which is already planned, a spectacular open space vista would be created within the campus. This would be a win-win situation for all, since the University would have to do very little modification of its plan for the IC and the students and community residents would gain a tremendous open green space and lakefront vista to enjoy for generations to come. The contingency recommendation would be to put the IC in the current location of the Jesuit residence by tearing it down first and at least preserving the Jesuit Lawn and lakefront vista, as it exists today.
Please contact the Rogers Park Conservancy for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org