Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thanks to Susan Olin for kindly contributing a great piece that places Sheridan Road in Rogers Park in its proper historical and architectural context. 

The Virtues of Sheridan Road and the Rogers Park Lakefront

By Susan Olin— In 2009-2010, I was a member of the Rogers Park Business Alliance’s “Sheridan Road Planning Committee” and since then I have been researching and writing about Sheridan Road in Rogers Park to raise awareness of its many virtues.

The Rogers Park Lakefront, and its companion promenade, Sheridan Road, make up one of the few areas on the lake in Chicago that have not undergone major reconstruction (i.e. Lake Shore Drive landfill) or major development (Edgewater high-rises). Thus, this area in Chicago is still a charming, approachable, urban lakefront. Due to its original boulevard design and later legal protections, Sheridan Road in Rogers Park and the lakefront here are low-rise, residential and beautiful. Every city in the world would love to have such a walkable street and such lovely lakefront space. So why should we destroy ours in Chicago with over-development and over-commercialization by constructing enormous parking garages on the lake? More . . .

Sheridan Road and the Lakefront in Rogers Park are low-rise, residential and beautiful--

Sheridan Road in Rogers Park was laid out over 100 years ago as a grand lakefront boulevard and it is still just that. Anyone who walks Sheridan Road (Devon to Evanston) can see its many beautiful features. Sheridan Road was designed in the 1880’s in the great tradition of other Chicago boulevards and “pleasure routes” of that time. These wide, low-rise avenues provided air and light and were adorned with greenery for scenic travel (before the invention of the automobile). These gracious boulevards were an antidote to the city’s narrow, dark, grimy streets. Also, unlike most city streets of that era, these routes were paved, enabling optimal use by horse carriages, pedestrians and the newly-invented bicycle.

It is not by accident, it is due to its original boulevard design . . .

Thus, Sheridan Road was designed to be the showcase boulevard along the lakefront in Chicago and up to Wisconsin. When you walk Sheridan Road in Rogers Park today you see this original design. The street is very wide. It has tree-lined parkways next to the sidewalks. It is primarily residential and low-rise. It has many of its original high-quality vintage buildings from the 1910’s, 20’s and 30’s. Because this was high-end real estate, the lots and set-backs for these original buildings are very large and provide large green spaces.

Many of these vintage residential buildings have small commercial spaces on the first floor for quaint cafes or shops, appealing for the pedestrian. Because of the low-rise architecture, when walking down Sheridan Road here, you have air and light and can feel a lake breeze. You can see the lake at every street-end and you can easily walk one block to the lakefront park. This all adds up to a wonderful, walkable lakefront promenade and lakefront space in the city. Indeed, this corridor is easily accessible by anyone in the city via the Red Line “el” train and “151 Sheridan Road” bus.

A commercial 250-car tower on the lake would destroy the green, walkable, and residential character of Sheridan Road and the lakefront here. Its density of traffic is not safe for pedestrians and such a large car garage creates an enormous amount of pollution in our protected lakefront park. Moreover, a parking garage of this scale creates a physical and psychological barrier to the natural and beautiful space that is the lakefront.

As a side note about Sheridan Road, there are several large nursing homes and “4+1” multi-unit buildings, but if you walk the length of the street, (Devon to Evanston) you will see that many of the buildings are lovely vintage buildings with large, green setbacks (see my photography survey of Sheridan Road architecture).

As often heard, it is true that Sheridan Road in Rogers Park was once lined with mansions like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bach home, the Shambala Center mansion and the Wheeler mansion on the Loyola campus, now known as “Piper Hall”. In fact, you can see many of these remarkable Sheridan Road luxury homes in the “must-see” 1910 “Book of the North Shore”.  Notably, the Shambala Center building (c. 1917) is the last remaining 1900’s mansion south of Jarvis on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. Sadly, all the others have been torn down over the past decades.

. . . and due to later legal protections--

The fact that Sheridan Road and the Lakefront here are still charming is not by accident. On the heels of the high-rise “canyonization” of Edgewater, the city of Chicago enacted the “Lakefront ProtectionOrdinance” in 1972.  The stated intent of the Ordinance is “the protection and preservation” of the “special environmental, recreational, cultural, historical, community, and aesthetic interests and values” of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Lakefront (§16-4-020). This law was intended to provide an extra layer of review by the city to guard against the whims of developers and local wards for development that is too large or too commercial and incompatible with accessible, environmentally-sound, lakefront space.

Moreover, in 1990, the 49th Ward of Rogers Park instituted the “Sheridan Road Plan” which down-zoned portions of the street. The stated intent of this Plan was to preserve the “residential character” and the “low-rise vista” of Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. Therefore, we have many people to thank over the past century for this exceptional lakefront in Rogers Park.

A lakefront and lakefront street like this is what every city wants--

Studies show that cities with walkable, green corridors and readily accessible park space are happier, healthier cities (see the New York Times bestselling book Thrive: The Blue Zone Way) Historic architecture enhances these thoroughfares even more. Sheridan Road in Rogers Park is just that-- a walkable, green corridor with historic architecture connecting people to the lakefront. A corridor like this is what every urban design planner and every city in the world wants and Chicago has it!

We should not ruin it with developments like enormous commercial car garage--

So why should we throw away this important lakefront corridor with over-development and over-commercialization turning it into just another exhaust-filled, cheesy, highway strip with massive parking garages? Is this the best we can do for our unique-in-the world lakefront? I do not think so. In response to Col. Pritzker/Tawani’s proposed 250-car tower several hundred feet from the lake at Sherwin and Sheridan, I say: “Don’t do it on the Lake!” We do not want the Rogers Park Lakefront to become “Rogers Park-ing Lot”.