May 19, 1908 – A plaster of paris model goes on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, showing landscape architect Frderick Law Olmsted’s vision for Grant Park. The Chicago Daily Tribune reports rapturously, “From the sooty network of railroad tracks and the malodorous wastes of mud and garbage, there will rise, according to the model, a magnificent plaza, beautiful buildings, broad meadows, great trees, swimming pools, boat houses, brilliant flower gardens, impressive boulevards and winding drives. Above all, Chicago will regain its heritage, the lake, which will be bordered by high wooded banks, surmounted by promenades and drives.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1908] The focal point of the plan will be the Field Columbian museum, situated in the center of the park on Michigan Avenue, dwarfing the Art Institute’s building just to the north. The plan locates the Crerar library to the south of the Field Museum, balancing the Art Institute to the north. Other amenities include a gymnasium, natatorium, “a monster playground,” boat houses, restaurants, rest houses and “airy piazzas.” The chairman of the South Park Commissioners, Henry G. Foreman, says of the plan, “Chicago has become so used to a front yard filled with smoke, and cinders, and railroad tracks, and ugly freight cars, and mud, and refuse, that any plan to change it seems to many people a mere dream. It is hard to wake people up to the fact that we not only have great opportunities, but that we are making the most of them, and soon will have adjoining the loop a great and beautiful park.”
May 19, 1893 -- The battle for the city’s lakefront, which continues to this day, commences as a judge issues a restraining order that prevents the city from leasing any part of the Lake-Front Park “to a circus or to any party or parties for any purpose except as a public park.” [Chicago Daily Tribune, May 20, 1893] Although the judge says that he will allow the circus to continue in the park until the end of its run on June 5, he orders that all other parties leasing space in the park must get the heck out. Elbridge Haney, attorney for Montgomery Ward & Co., says, “The city authorities have rented the property at ridiculously low figures to circuses and other shows. This year they have rented it for two weeks for $5,000. Then the city has for years maintained a yard for storing paving blocks, tar wagons, stones, old lumber, and all sorts of rubbish, and lately it proposes to add another objectionable building for stabling sixty garbage horses and wagons. Last Monday it commenced the erection of such a building, and I compelled the city to quit work as soon as I discovered it.” The battle over the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts, pictured above, a plan that has now been abandoned, is just one more episode in a 125-year narrative about how best to use the city's lakefront.