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Promontory Point, Chicago

#36 of 44 in Parks in Chicago
Scenic Walking Area · Hidden Gem · Park
Promontory Point (known locally as The Point) is a man-made peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan. It is located in Chicago's Burnham Park. The Point was constructed from landfill and by the late 1930s was protected by a seawall or revetment. The revetment was designed and constructed by Chicago Park District engineers and consists of limestone blocks arranged in a series of four steps leading to a promenade.

Located on Chicago Park District land at 55th Street in Chicago's south side Hyde Park neighborhood, it was opened to the public in 1937. Alfred Caldwell, a disciple of Jens Jensen, designed the landscaping, following the Prairie School which uses native plants and stone. Caldwell's design featured a raised "meadow" section in the center of the 12-acre (49,000 m2) peninsula and included hundreds of flowering trees and shrubs. In 1938, Caldwell created stone sitting rings - called "council rings" - around the lakefront edge, which today are used as fire pits. Few of Caldwell's original plantings remain today.

The park is accessed by the Lakefront Trail, and a tunnel which passes under Lake Shore Drive at the east end of 55th Street. At the head of the park, seen immediately upon emerging from the 55th Street tunnel, is the David Wallach Memorial Fountain. This fountain was designed in 1939 by Elizabeth and Frederick Hibbard in the shape of a fawn, with drinking areas at human and animal levels. During the Cold War the park also housed a 150-foot (46 m) radar tower for the Nike Hercules missile defense system; it was dismantled in 1971.

The park contains a field house, built in 1937, the exterior of which is made of Lannon stone from Wisconsin. Partly because of its view of the lake and cityscape, it is a popular wedding and corporate event location. It competes with the much larger Jackson Park 63rd Street Beach House and the even larger South Shore Cultural Center as south side beachfront special use facilities. The frequent summer fireworks displays at Navy Pier are often viewed from The Point, especially on Independence Day, when large numbers of Hyde Parkers and other south side residents gather there. It neighbors the Museum of Science and Industry and the 57th Street Beach.

Water access is an important aspect of the Point's history of use. Swimmers, sunbathers, kayakers, and windsurfers use the Point's revetment to access the waters of Lake Michigan. People have been swimming off of the limestone revetment at Promontory Point since it was built, in 1937. In the summer months, the North side of the Point functions as a "rock beach." The water is shallow and the lake bottom is sand, making the North side a family friendly swimming area. On the both sides of the Point, open water swimmers enter the water off the rocks and swim across the bays. Both North and South side swimming areas are marked with "Swimming Area" buoys in the summer months. In the past, open water, or distance, swimming was a source of conflict with the Chicago Park District as the legality of swimming off the Point is ambiguous. From time to time, swimmers were ticketed. Recently, however, the Chicago Park District created an officially sanctioned open water swimming area off the South side of the Point. All motorized boat traffic is prohibited inside the buoyed areas.

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  • Promontory Point on Chicago's South Side has been known in recent years as the site of Barack and Michelle Obama's first kiss. But it's much more than that. Its view of Lake Michigan and Chicago's...  more »
  • We happened to stay at a motel near Promontory Point. We were up early and this looked to be a nice place to spend 30 minutes to take some nice photos. It's a nice peaceful park that goes out a...  more »
  • Amazing, amazing, amazing!!! We spent the entire day, well into the evening! Just a note, get there early to claim a fire pit!! It is just picture perfect! The beach is a slight hike away. There are restrooms and showers to clean up in, though. The best part is the view! You can see our great city as well as the majesty of Lake Michigan! Completely peaceful. The parking is not bad at all, as long as you pay attention to your times. It is tuly wonderful! I cant wait to go back!
  • The most magical park in all of Chicago. Plenty of shade and sun, fire pits, cute groups of people just enjoying being outdoors and being together. In warm weather you can unofficially swim there (no lifeguards). I almost don't want to post about this place because it's so fantastic.
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