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A Jackson Park landmark was destroyed — is the South Shore Nature Area next?

Every foundation stone from the 1893 World’s Fair Women’s Pavilion was removed. Every plant from the May McAdams-designed garden was ripped out. Every tree was cut down.

The South Shore Nature Area.
Sun-Times library

Earlier this month, the Women’s Garden on the Midway at Jackson Park was destroyed to make room for the Obama Presidential Center.

For those of us who live near Jackson Park and have become spoiled by its natural beauty, the loss was jarring.

Every foundation stone from the 1893 World’s Fair Women’s Pavilion was removed. Every plant from the May McAdams-designed garden was ripped out. Every tree was cut down.

When I pass the site now, I have to look away. What we’ve lost as a neighborhood and as a city cannot be replaced. But in all transparency, I have a weakness for old things — trees and buildings especially. So the erasure of that special place hit me very hard.

With this very recent loss in mind, I cannot help but worry about another natural resource that is also in the crosshairs of the south lakefront plan: The South Shore Nature Area.

While the destruction of the Women’s Garden rests at the feet of the Obama Foundation, the fate of the Nature Area lies with the proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses by Tiger Woods’ TGR Design.

As a 20-year Woodlawn resident, I am very aware of the promise that both the Obama Presidential Library and a PGA level course could bring to the south lakefront. Initially, I was excited to have the Obama Presidential Center as a neighbor. It felt good for Woodlawn to be Obama’s first choice instead of being thought of as a neighborhood of last resort.

Sadly, and in true Chicago style, the promise to showcase Jackson Park soured before the groundbreaking. From the start, no community input was sought on the imminent closing of Cornell Drive. No discussion of how changing traffic patterns would make crossing Stony Island that much more difficult. No consideration how that extra traffic was going to affect CTA routes. Just a talk of a sledding hill and how the emerging park needed to be united, not split up by a roadway.

I remember asking at one of the earliest meetings if any traffic studies had been done and how increased traffic was going to affect the wear on Stony Island.

At the time, my questions were met with blank stares.

Seemingly, as with most of Chicago’s great civic undertakings, questions persist over finances — specifically the rising cost of construction (from $500 million to $700 million), the slim endowment fund for operating and maintenance costs ($1 million as of June 22) — and if the foundation has met all the requirements put forth in the Master Agreement signed in 2019.

But the one point that truly stuck out in my mind was how the Obama Foundation said they weren’t going to touch the Women’s Garden. At the time, the promise that was made was that they were going to stop right at the Midway and not go further north.

Clearly that changed.

Sometimes our city leaders tend to make poor decisions. The Skyway sale deal, and the parking meter sale deal are two that spring to mind. Any alteration of the South Shore Nature Area to build a golf course would add to that list.

It’s too late for the Women’s Garden. Nothing the Obama Foundation could put in its stead will rival its natural beauty. Please don’t let that happen to the Nature Area.

The louder the drum of jobs and economic opportunity is beaten, the less I’m inclined to believe it. Don’t let that projected promise deprive us of our neighborhood’s natural resources and landmarks.

Lyletta Robinson is a 20-year Woodlawn resident.