Story by: Albert Corvera
May 6, 2009 – Though many feel Chicago architect Daniel Burnham should have more recognition for his urban planning on the city, some oppose the site where the city plans to commemorate him.
The vast and beautiful parks on the brim of the city’s lakefront, as Burnham once said, “belong to the people.” The city already has two ventures dedicated to Burnham, Burnham Harbor and Burnham Park, both overlooking the lakefront. Now the city is deciding whether to create another entity for the late urban planning genius - a memorial on the north lawn of the Field Museum.
Bob O’Neill, president of the Grant Park Conservancy, admires the idea of having a memorial for Burnham, but is skeptical about the proposed location.
With the city planning the memorial on the great lawn, it may violate Burnham’s vision of Chicago. The more structures there are overlooking the lakefront, the less open space there is for people to enjoy; something Burnham wanted for the people of Chicago.
“I think there would be a better location for it,” O’Neill said. “I know there are a lot of different organizations that want it there.”
The Great Lawn of the Field Museum is wide open, and some people in the city have pushed to get some sort of attraction there for the area. But O’Neill finds that the Burnham memorial would be beneficial elsewhere in the city. The south end of the lakefront, near 31St Street, in his mind, is the best possible location, he said.
“The north lakefront has so much more attractions and traffic and heavily utilized, while the south end of the lakefront really has none,” O’Neill said. “Bringing the memorial there would be better so the south end of the lakefront would have additional people and attractions.”
The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation is behind the memorial to honor the architect in the centennial year of his urban plan for Chicago. The foundation is putting up close to $150,000 for a contest winner to design the memorial and other funding.
Chicago Park District spokeswoman Jessica Faulkner said that the park district does not back the proposed location of the memorial and that public meetings could determine whether or not the memorial would be on the Great Lawn of the museum.
Friends of the Parks President Erma Tranter said that there probably would not be much of a problem with having the memorial there, explaining that a landscape is being built and not a building.
“We oppose having buildings built above ground at Grant Park, such as the Children’s Museum,” she said. “But it’s just a landscape.”
Burnham was considered to be Chicago’s architectural genius that designed the city after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. It was his exposition during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago that gained him great recognition. His outright goal was to make the city like the next Rome.
O’Neill believes that the memorial is a great idea to honor Burnham in the centennial. But it’s really just about where he should be honored. And the lawn of the Field Museum is not one of them, he said.