The Obama Center's rape of Chicago's lakefront

As a life-long Chicagoan, I never imagined that I’d see anyone get away with building skyscraper in one of the city’s precious lakefront parks.

Worse, I never thought that the news of the scarring of a lakefront park would be greeted with such a chorus of cheers by so many people who should delight in and brag about Chicago’s beautiful lakefront, unsullied as it is by the ugly, invasive, unwanted and discordant.

So it was with the news that U.S. District Judge John Robert Blakey waved away a century of law and tradition protecting the lakefront and with surprising speed dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the construction of the Obama Center in historic Jackson Park.

Essentially, Blakey ruled that it wasn’t up to him, a judge, to decide the issue,

The Obama Center: Forever ugly, invasive, and discordant.

The Obama Center: Forever ugly, invasive, and discordant.

but that he had to follow legislative intent. (I wish all Obama-appointed judges like Blakey were as respectful of the law.) But that’s where Blakey was wrong.  It was clearly the intent of  past Chicago and Illinois legislative bodies that the lakefront should be protected from such horrors. Instead Blakey ignored the history and relied upon the more recent legislative knee-bending to powerful Obama lickspittles to reverse the Lakefront Protection Ordinance and the time-honored principle that the lakefront should be “forever open, clear and free.”

(For the forgetful, newcomers and people who just don’t give a damn about the principle, I highly recommend Lois Wille’s important book, Forever Open, Clear, and Free: The Struggle for Chicago’s Lakefront.”)*

The center’s  tower will soar some 235 feet into the sky, a height that



overwhelms and darkens the park. To get an idea of just how out-of-place the building is, imagine if  the 17-story, 215-foot-tall Monadnock Building had been built  in Jackson Park, rising above the trees and blocking the views. I’ve described the tower as resembling a menhir, with its stark, stoney face, entirely inappropriate for a park-setting and violating any concept of human scale.

In an email to me, Herbert L. Caplan of Protect our Parks, the group that filed the suit against the center’s location in Jackson Park, succinctly described the objections: 

 The issues were not complicated:

(1) Jackson Park is unique and world famous as a distinguished public park;

(2) The proposed Obama Center is a private entity not an official NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] administered Presidential Library as originally promised;

(3) the proposed Obama Center is not a museum of either art (Art Institute), science  (Field Museum; Adler Planetarium; Shedd Aquarium) or industry (Museum of Science and Industry) as detailed in the Aquarium and Museum Act;

(4) The Park District Code expressly prohibits the Chicago Park District  from transferring and gifting dedicated public park land to a private entity for a private use;

(5) there is no compelling reason for building an Obama Center in Jackson Park instead of in one of the available underserved south side neighborhoods in need of new investment and development;

(6) the proposed Obama Center will only serve the personal, private, and political objectives of the former President, in violation of the United States and Illinois Constitutions;

(7)  The construction of an Obama Center in Jackson Park does not serve the public interest and violates the public trust.

The impact of Blakey’s decision could be far-reaching, Caplan said:

The consequence of Blakey’s opinion is to create a new precedent and suddenly remove all existing legal restrictions to open up the entire heretofore carefully protected lakefront public park system to piecemeal destructive exploitation; and welcome neo-commercial development in its place. This is the biggest land giveaway since the Canarsie Indians gave Manhattan to the Dutch for a handful of beads. 

Judge Blakey’s hell-bent order to get construction going immediately won’t be followed because of lengthy appeals and protracted federal reviews. We can only hope that those reviewers have a better understanding of and more respect for our lakefront.


*Here’s how Wille’s book  is described on Amazon:

Of the thirty miles of Lake Michigan shoreline within the city screen-shot-2019-06-12-at-11-06-14-amlimits of Chicago, twenty-four miles is public park land. The crown jewels of its park system, the lakefront parks bewitch natives and visitors alike with their brisk winds, shady trees, sandy beaches, and rolling waves. Like most good things, the protection of the lakefront parks didn’t come easy, and this book chronicles the hard-fought and never-ending battles Chicago citizens have waged to keep them “forever open, clear, and free.”

Ironically, the publisher is the University of Chicago Press. The University of Chicago is part of the power structure that is behind the rape of Jackson Park.


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    I love it how Lynn Sweet reporting on this story in the Sun-Times conveniently forgot to mention that the judge was an Obama appointee. You can always count on Lynn to fit the news to reflect her own biases

  • Rape? The only connection your story has with forcible sexual battery is the giant stone phallus you chose to illustrate your story. Or maybe this is just the sort of violent action verb tabloid journalists choose to enliven dull stories.

  • Jeez, I had no idea how ugly and tall the structure was planned to be. Woulda thought better of the dignified Pres. Obama. I can’t believe Michelle agreed with it. It’s the political equivalent of a mid-life crisis guy driving a red Corvette with BIG ROD vanity plates.

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