Publication Date

5-2014

Committee Members

Frank Sleegers, Chair - Robert Ryan, Member

Abstract

Shortly before midnight on March 30th 2003, without notice and at the orders of Mayor Richard M. Daley, bulldozers destroyed a small airport known as Meigs Field on Chicago's Northerly Island. Planes were trapped on the ground and other flights diverted. This action, dramatic and of debatable legality, effectively ended the struggle between the Mayor's office who wanted the site for a park, and the state legislature who wanted to keep the airport open (in no small part for their own ease of commuting). With the airport now demolished, Chicago has turned its attention to developing a vision for the future of Northerly Island.

The island is, in fact, a ninety-one acre peninsula jutting into Lake Michigan from Chicago's downtown. Envisioned as a public park and constructed in the 1920s, it is the only lakefront structure in Daniel Burnham's famous 1909 Chicago Plan that was actually built (four other proposed islands were never created).

The Adler Planetarium, now a National Historic Landmark, was built at the northern end of the island in 1930. It was the first planetarium to be built in the Western hemisphere and is the oldest planetarium in existence today.

In 1933 Northerly Island was the location for Chicago's second world fair and in 1947, now connected to the mainland by a causeway (a 1936 WPA project) that replaced the original bridge and having lost a bid to become the home of the United Nations, Northerly Island became the site of Meigs Field airport. Although some public facilities such as the 12th St beach and the planetarium continued to operate, the central idea of Burnham's plan, that of a large public park, was lost.

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