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New leadership in Washington could provide a beacon for historic Chicago lighthouse’s reuse

Lighthouses can be remarkably picturesque and popular sites to visit, once the right reuse is found.

Chicago Harbor Lighthouse
Here’s hoping the federal government can find a new use for the landmark Chicago Harbor Lighthouse.
Mitch Dudek / Sun-Times

Given this city has a reasonably good track record of reusing old buildings, we’ve always had hope there would be a new life for the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, located by Navy Pier and the mouth of the Chicago River.

The feds turned over ownership of the dilapidated 127-year-old fixture to the city in 2009 in hopes that local planning officials could then find a new owner who would give the structure a new, public use.

But no real plans ever materialized despite the city’s efforts to make something happen. Now the feds want back the deed to the lighthouse, and Chicago officials plan to oblige.

We understand finding a new life for such a unique building is no easy thing. Plans to turn the lighthouse into a high-end hotel with a helicopter pad — that’s pretty imaginative — were ditched after developers realized it likely wouldn’t turn a profit.

And as the Sun-Times reported last year, Navy Pier seemed interested in creating a destination there and then ferrying people between the lighthouse and pier. That proposal evaporated as well.

But lighthouses can be remarkably picturesque and popular sites to visit, once the right reuse is found. For instance, Evanston’s 147-year-old Grosse Point Light Station houses the area’s only maritime museum. It also has a nature center and a visitors’ area.

North Carolina’s 150-year-old Cape Hatteras Light Station, with its well-known candy-stripe paint scheme winding up its tower, receives 175,000 visitors a year.

With the Biden administration headed to the White House in January, we’re hoping the expected new leadership at the National Parks Service and the federal General Services Administration can finally find an imaginative new use for this asset.

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