Swimming at Promontory Point: controversy over deep water swimming, harassment and ticketing of swimmers

Brought to you by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference, its Parks Committee, and its website hydepark.org.

Return to Promontory Point Park page. Return to Promontory Point home. Parks home. News home.

Among documents here: HPKCC letter. Point Task Force letter.

October 23, Wednesday, 1 pm. Chicago City Council Committee on Parks and Recreation meets at City Hall Room 201-A to discuss a resolution on swimming at Promontory Point. 121 N. LaSalle St.

Swimming, including so called deep-water swimming, of Promontory Point's limestone-block clad revetment has been a decades-long tradition--a true community asset and attractant, even more popular since currents have deposited considerable sand around the Point and lake levels have declined. Incidents are few. Yet the city and park district do not allow the liability of such deep swimming, here and at virtually every other beach or non-beach (except at a couple beaches on the north side) and will not provide (at least official) lifeguards at this popular spot for South Side swimmers. In recent years, ticketing and outright harassment by police, with vague ability to cite actual ordinances has accelerated. This year, Alderman Hairston (5th) has attempted to get a policy favorable to swimming, and in August sought a City Council committee hearing and spoke (gave a scolding) at the Chicago Park District board meeting. "Ideas" will be discussed by the Ald. and Park District and board reps. Swimmers and activist supporters in the community seek a policy that allows for swimming open to the public (rather than "licensed" swimming ) and insist that any proposed solution be brought before the community. One ticket was dismissed by the city.

Not surprisingly, since a vivid confrontation between Ald. Hairston and Supt. Mitchell and President Gery Chico at the Park District board meeting, the Park District's council issued on August 12, 2008 a memorandum saying the liability of present condition of the rocks on and off the Point creates an unacceptable liability to the Park District and a public danger. The declaration did not address whether and how the Point could ever become a designated swimming area. In light of comments at the board meeting such as "can we then build a cement slab" (such as at North Avenue Beach), there may be an element here of trying to rally swimmers in behalf of a concrete rehab. In general, the new concrete revetments have made entry and especially exit from the water either difficult or impossible. GO

First we provide 2008 coverage and op-ed, including HPKCC and Promontory Task Force letters, then background from previous years. For background about the Point and its history and other issues, see Promontory Point Park page. For the navigation to discussion of controversy over redesign of the Point (which could make swimming impossible altogether if not done sensitively) or material about the whole south lakefront and revetment design process, see Point home.


2008 ticketing - more determined; Ald. Hairston working on solution(s)

Point ticketing and arrest became more determined in 2008, including flushing with helicopters. And the letters and complaints have poured in from those who think the swimmers are being safe. Reports are that in mid summer lifeguards started to be posted on the south side of the Point, meshing with the shallower water swimming to a certain distance out of 57th Street beach, but are more determined than ever to put a stop to swimming off the north end. Rules and enforcement, including procedures for responding to summonses-- the city not knowing or listing what part of code is being enforced, seem to be confusing. Preferred swimming area depends on the wind and weather. Alderman Hairston has pursued several options with the swimmers and Park District and should be able to report in a few days or weeks (from the end of July.) Alderman Hairston spoke on the issue at the Park District board meeting August 5, 2008. In August, one of those ticketed went to court (administrative hearing) with a local attorney-- the case was promptly dismissed by the prosecutors. Grounds prepared by the defendant included law is unclear (no specific ordinance on swimming on the lakefront), maps are unclear on what constutes 57th beach, and lifeguards have given inconsistent directions on swimming and where.

HPKCC letter to Alderman Hairston, August 5, 2008

Dear Alderman Hairston:

Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Parks Committee thanks you for your efforts to end the harassment of swimmers at Promontory Point and to achieve a lasting resolution. We wish you prompt success.

Promontory Point and its many traditional uses have a special place in our community's life. The Point also has a very sensitive recent history in the necessarily uneasy balance in decision-making between community and city.

We prefer policies that keep the lakefront open to responsible use by any who wish, in this case whether with posted lifeguards or “at risk.” And we ask that any new policy or understanding be presented to the community.

The recent harassment and inconsistent enforcement of vague regulations—for use of public space—without a sufficient public reason disrespects personal and community choice. As with liberty, the diminution of one use-- in our parks and otherwise in the community-- diminishes all.

It is important that you continue your efforts.


Gary M. Ossewaarde
HPKCC Parks Chairman

Added at beginning of Herald version (HP-K Cc urges Hairston to take a stand on Point) :
The Parks Committee of Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference (HP-K CC) hopes for progress from Ald. Leslie Hairston's (5th) request for a City Council hearing on the treatment of swimmers at the Point and asking sanction for deep water swimming at places along all parts of our lakeshore. Our committee sent the following to Ald. Hairston Aug. 5:

Task Force (for Promontory Point) letter to Herald, August 13, 2008

Task Force concerned over Point swimmers

We have been following, with great concern, the conflict between the police and swimmers during the past few weeks at the Point. Since 2001, the Community Task Force for Promontory Point has worked not only to save the historic limestone structure of the Point but, just as diligently, to preserve the long tradition of swimming at the Point and to have that tradition recognized by the Park District.

For the vast majority of that past 60 years, the Park District has honored our community's use of the Point for swimming. Occasionally, a few over-zealous police officers disrupt the equilibrium of his arrangement, but for the most part it works well -- lifeguards have been stationed on the rocks, the swimmers ave enjoyed the lake, an a wonderful community has flourished at the Point. But recently, officers, and one in particular, have been harassing swimmers, criminalizing an innocent recreational activity.

Harassment must stop; the police must cease and desist, leaving the issue to the parties involved -- the Park District and the community.

What we have heard from the community is that all swimmers -- young and old, recreational and athletic, regulars and weekenders -- must be allowed to swim off the rocks on both sides of the Point as they have for decades. Possibly it is now time for public recognition of an open access swimming policy to secure the community's continued use and enjoyment of the Point.

A swimming policy that authorizes swimming for a segment of the community and prohibits swimming for everyone else would not be a full access swimming policy and would not be acceptable. And to prevent more confusion and conflict, any policy proposal must be reviewed by the community before agreement.

We ask tha Ald. Hairston act on behalf of the community to maintain our full swimming access tradition. We are eager to help in any way we can to resolve his issue so that the community can swim at the Point with pleasure instead of with fear, confusion and anger.

Swimming at the Point is not a crime.

Executive Committee, Community Task Force for Promontory Point. Fred Blum, Bruce Johnstone, Jack Spicer, Connie Spreen.

Herald says harassment holds a lesson on city arrogance and incomprehension re: communities

July 23, 2008

In the latest installment of the increasingly bizarre saga of police harassment at the Point this summer, swimmers are now apparently allowed to swim in the deep waters south of the Point, but nobody is allowed to do anything in the waters north of the Point. One woman was threatened last weekend with arrest--that's right, not a ticket but an arrest--for dangling her feet in the forbidden northern waters. First swimming is forbidden everywhere, then a lifeguard is spotted last weekend and now certain parts of the waters off the Point are safe to swim in. What is to be made od these erratic policies?

Everyone who makes use of the Point in any way--whether for special events or family picnics or even the occasional stroll--needs to be concerned about the harassment of swimmers there. All traditional uses of t he Point are threatened when any one use is threatened. where is the line past which authoritarian figures will not cross? The Point is a special place as much because of the various uses that have developed over time as because of its elegant design. When the Task Force for Promontory Point successfully fought to save the physical structure of he prk, they were adamant about preserving the ways in which we enjoy the Point--and they were given assurance that those uses would be allowed to continue. So, if promises about the way the Point is used are broken, what assurances do we have that restoration of the Point will proceed as promised?

We all need to recall the city's original intent to strip out the limestone revetment and replace it with the forbidding concrete-and-steel monstrosity that can be seen all along Lake Michigan north of the Point. When Park District officials talk about concern for safety, bear those series of meetings in mind where they insisted they were going ahead with their plans regardless of community input. These city workers have a goal--taking decisions about the Point away from from local residents--that they will use any excuse or tactic to achieve.

These instances of harassment are a sign that the work of preserving Premonitory Point is far from over. We must demand that all aspects of the agreement achieved by the task force be respected. The simplest way the Park District can resolve this current crisis is to assign a lifeguard on a regular basis there and to leave the decisions regarding whether and where one swims to the adult, law-abiding residents who choose to recreate there.

Herald July 30 2008: Hairston: Park District may create Point IDs. By Sam Cholke

A group of three Hyde Park residents pressed Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) at the end of the July 22 ward meeting on swimming at Promontory Point, where Hairston floated the idea of an ID card permitting vetted swimmers access to Lake Michigan there.

"We have this discussion every year," Hairston said. After persistent outcries from swimmers at the Pont, just north of 55th Street on Lake Michigan, the Chicago Park District legal department has taken up the issue, she said. Sometimes the gray area is good, she said.

The resident's complaints come on the heels of a series of weekend incidents with police, including multiple instances of summons being written for swimmer. Despite a decades-long tradition of swimming at the lakefront park, the practice isn't allowed [by] Park District rules. (However, city and Park District officials promised during a proposed redevelopment of the Point that traditional uses would be respected.)

Hairston said she had been trying to contact Tim Mitchell, park district CEO, and Tim King, park district Department of Legislative and Community Affairs, to talk about the Point, but they have been either sick or on vacation. Hairston said that, though lifeguards have been seen at the Point, they were not officially posted there. "I don't know if they're taking a break or thought it was a nice place to stand," she said.

Hairston said she imagined something like a "swimmer's card" issued by the park district that confirmed that a person was of adequate ability to swim where there are no lifeguards.

"That doesn't let company go in the water," said Berta Hinojosa, a Hyde Park resident and swimmer at the Point. "I home we can reach some sort of compromise," Hairston said. Hairston said residents need to have access to our lakefront here on the South Side; it can't be put aside as a liability.. There should be no way we should have to go the North Side to go swimming," Hairston said. "When we have places that are safe to swim, we are entitled to the same access the North Side is afforded."

Hairston seeks Point hearings- Herald August 6 2008. Hairston supported swimmers at the August 13, 2008 Park District Board meeting.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) sent a resolution to the Chicago City Council to open formal discussion on allowing swimming at Promontory Point. In the resolution introduced Wednesday, Hairston requests the Committee on Parks and Recreation, chaired by Ald. Mary Ann Smith (48th), to initiate immediate hearings on the issue.

In recent weeks, a number of residents have been ticketed for swimming at the location. Hairston said she made the decision to draft the resolution after she "didn't get a response" from the office of Chicago Park District (CPD) Superintendent Timothy Mitchell. "I've been calling for three weeks," said Hairston.

While Mitchell has been out of the office, the Director of Intergovernmental and Community Affairs Timothy M. King, the beaches and pools department and the legal department of CPD have all been in contact with the alderman, said Jessica Maxey-Faulkner, director of communications for the Park District. Hairston said by introducing the resolution, she is exercising the only powers she has to serve her constituents on the matter.

The alderman is looking at the issue as one of equity between the North side and the South Side. There is deep-water swimming of at least one North Side beach, at Ohio Street, just north of downtown at 400 N. Lake Shore Drive, where a lifeguard is posted, she said. The Point should offer such swimming to South Siders and post a lifeguard, Hairston said.

According to the Chicago Park District Web site, long-distance swimming parallel to the shoreline is available at eight beaches on the South Side and eight on th North Side. Diving is not permitted at any Chicago beaches, said Maxey-Faulkner.

The Point is not an official swimming area -- and has never been according to CPD legal department records -- and thus is not staffed with a lifeguard or tested for E. coli, Maxey-Faulkner said. Hyde Park residents have repeatedly reported seeing lifeguards posted at the Point, and swimming at the Point is a decades-long tradition.

It is uncertain when the parks committee will hear the resolution. Smith had not seen the resolution as of Herald press's time. Doug Frasier, chief of staff for Smith's office, said he didn't know whether it would be on the agenda for the next meeting [it was not]. The use of artificial turf on Park District property and the Douglas Park basketball courts were the only items on the agenda for the Aug. 5 meeting as of press time. Frasier said it would be better to brint the matter forward now than wait until the September meeting as Chicago beaches close on Sept. 1. Coincidently, Frasier is a former Hyde Park resident, and said that he used to swim at the Point when he lived close.

Aug. 20 Herald: Leslie versus Chicago Park District. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) demands park district back down on swimming prohibition at the Point. By Crystal Fencke

Captions: ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) displays a file full of letters written in support of deep-water swimming at Promontory Point as she speaks to the Park District Board of Commissioners at its regular August meeting last Wednesday.
City of Chicago Park District General Superintendent and Chief Executive Officer Timothy J. Mitchell and t he District's Board od Commissioners President Gery Chico debate with Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).
...Mitchell looks at ....Chico as he reacts to Ald. Leslie Hairston.

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) issued an angry tirade at the Chicago Park District (CPD) Board of Commissioners last Wednesday, seeking an easing of rules for swimming at Promontory Point -- but to no avail. At the meeting held at the CPD Administration Building, 541 N. Fairbanks Court, Hairston confronted the board regarding [the] ongoing matter of swimming at Promontory Point, a decades-old tradition not officially sanctioned by the Park District. But she received no definitive answers from the board. Hairston told the board that she believes the question of swimming at the Point is one of inequality between the South Side and the North Side. She pointed out that "there is no deep water swimming on the South Side." In order to differentiate between beachfront that provides swimming parallel to the shore, she defined deep water swimming as "where your feet don't touch the ground."

She compared the Point with the Ohio Street and Oak Street Beaches just north of the Look where triathletes, such as herself, can train. "In order for me to train, I have to go to the North Side. It makes no sense," said the alderman as she waved a folder full of letters fromm Point goers unhappy with recent harassment by police there.

Hairston said she believed the board is waiting until the end of the summer to take the matter under discussion "because t hen it wil bed too late" and they won't have to take any action.

CPD Superintendent Timothy Mitchell responded to the alderman with the suggestion that she present a proposal. Hairston rejected Mitchell's idea, saying that if they wanted to do it, they simply would. Mitchell also suggested, "So we can put up a cement slab?" referring to the local six-year campaign to save th limestone revetment at the Point. And CPD board vice president Bob Pickens said, "I've been here for the past eight years, and all I've heard is that they don't want cement."

.... Currently the Point is not a designated swimming area. The swimming designated areas at Ohio and Oak Street Beaches do have the concrete and steel revetments.

In the end, the board seemed nonplussed by Hairston's demands for a resolution to the controversy, and she went away with little more than that for which she had arrived. Top

Park District counsel rules rocks condition too dangerous for swimming designation, posing liability risk

Hyde Park Herald, August 27, 2008. State of Point rocks halts swimming push. By Sam Coke

A memorandum from the top lawyer at the Chicago Park District released tot he Herald advises the Park District that allowing swimming at Promontory Point "invites tragedy." The memo, from General Counsel Maria Garcia, addressed to Timothy King, director of intergovernmental and legislative affairs for the Park District, says the degraded condition of the limestone revetment at the Point "poses unreasonable legal risks for the Park District." "While a few unauthorized experienced swimmers may have mastered the maze of hazards at Promontory Point to safely swim there, it would be irresponsible for the Park District to ignore the safety of the public by designating Promontory Point as a swimming beach," Garcia said in the Aug. 12 memo released to the Herald by Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) .

Garcia reiterates in her correspondence with King that swimming has never been allowed at the Point. "When the Park District designates a stretch of the lakefront as a swimming beach, it then becomes open for all of the public, including young children and teens, many of whom are not skilled swimmers," Garcia said in the memo.

Though the Park District is largely protected from lawsuits that may arise from any injuries related to swimming at the Point under the Tort Immunity Act, "a Cook County jury could well find that the Park District's failure to correct known dangerous conditions at Promontory Point constituted willful and wanton conduct," making the Park District susceptible to suits, reads the memo.

Garcia confines her legal advice to address current conditions and does not elaborate on legal risks to the Park District of allowing swimming of a restored or repaired revetment at the traditional swimming spot for Hyde Parkers. Restoration of the Point has stalled since the 1990s because of conflict between the city, Park District and community residents on materials and plans to be used on the 55th street peninsula. Currently, a restoration effort to replace the limestone by the Army Corp of Engineers has halted awaiting a $450,000 appropriation from the federal government.

Sometimes gray area is good, Hairston said at an Aug. 19 ward meeting, referring to swimming at the Point being tolerated in the past because the legal argument against it remained unclear. The memo comes on the heels of repeated urgings from constituents to press the Park District to legalize the decades-old Hyde Park tradition.

Hairston said she will continue to urge the Park District to allow for t he same opportunity to do deep-water swimming afforded at North Side beaches. "In the meantime, we're at the mercy of the police," she said.


Earlier Point swimming controversy and "promises" to respect "traditional uses"

Note that during negotiations between community and city over Point redesign, the city would not agree to refer other than obliquely to "swimming access," although it proposed various means of access down to the lowest level at the waters edge and sometimes proposed "safety" ladders on the edge of the platform.

City pulls lifeguards; no more kids programming.

First, many ask about the dearth of kids programming and movement of programs to Jackson and other parks and lack of a supervisor or staff person at the facility. The latter takes on more significance with the permanent pulling of lifeguards. Someone should be watching this store other than police or landscaping/cleanup crew.

Park District officers such as then Lakefront director Alonzo Williams cite several factors as accounting for the dearth of staff and programs based in the famed Castle on Promontory Point. It isn't well suited in size and lacks special facilities such as a gym, shops, size for programs. The lower level cannot be made accessible and would be too small anyway. It is distant from roads, with no parking. The Castle is a special events facility--i.e. weddings and other rentals--such special events and programming would clash. Scarce resources are better spent creating a variety of large, synergistic programs at a few parks, especially when a major fieldhouse such as Jackson's is within a few blocks. Finally, the penultimate decision was made when reconstruction of the Point was thought about to start.

Removal of the lifeguards:

This is certainly a cost-saving message--is it retaliation--probably not. And Commander Lodding (then 21st District) told this writer he is not aware of any plans to patrol and ticket the Point. Also, there seems to be tacit agreement in the developing detente on the Point that swimming, called something else, will remain--still, it is touchy, especially since unattended swimming and diving is not sanctioned--in part because it really is potentially risky, and so is a liability problem. Still, the removal of lifeguards from a place that hosts heavy deep-water swimming--and has for decades, sanctioned or not--will be considered both ill advised and suspect, especially since a yellow flag flying at 57th Beach will now be the only warning of high bacterial count between the old standard for swim bans of 235 and the new standard of 1000 cfu. (Note, however, that this page is told that due to wave action there is seldom a high count around the Point.)

Hyde Park Herald, June 14, 2006. City pulled its lifeguards from Point, may ticket swimmers. By Tedd Carrison.

The Chicago Park District has pulled its lifeguards from Promontory Point this year and threats of arrests and fines are looming for those who continue to swim off the rocks. Point swimmer Jane Stone said a lifeguard approached her at the peninsular park last month and told her that the park district will not longer monitor the Point and police may start ticketing amphibious park users.

The park district has never formally sanctioned swimming at the Point and Stone said swimmers have "capriciously" been arrested and fined in the past. She said arrests seem to increase in the fall and she was unsure if the new no-lifeguard policy would prompt more police patrols.

The Point has been embattled in a fight between the park district and a group of Hyde Park residents over how to repair the aging limestone revetment that meets the water. Recently, the Community Task Force for Promontory Point garnered the support of U.S. Rep Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2) and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in its preservation efforts. In tandem, both politicians could restrict federal funding to the project if preservation guidelines are not adhered to.

According to Stone, some Point swimmers have speculated that the permanent lifeguard cuts could be a tacit message from the park district to Point preservationists. Chicago Park District spokeswoman Michele Jones said the decision to stop guarding the Point was an economic one. "It's not a sanctioned swimming area and we need to make sure that all of our sanctioned swimming areas are fully staffed with lifeguards, so we are no longer staffing non-sanctioned areas," said Jones.

Task force spokesman and avid Point swimmer Greg Lane said his group has not discussed the lifeguard issue and any possible implications. "I think it is pretty prudent for the park district to put lifeguards there because Hyde Parkers always have and always will swim at Promontory Point," said Lane.


Police scatter August Point swimmers. Herald, August 22, 2007. By Georgia Geis

Those who have lived in Hyde Park for years come to expect certain truly unique traditions--the 57th Street Art Fair in summer, the annual book fair in the fall, ice skating on the Midway during the winter months and the garden fair at the 55th Street mall courtyard in the spring.

One time-honored custom is enjoying Lake Michigan at Promontory Point during the sometimes oppressively hot summer months. A tradition that is not cherished is Chicago police officers shouting, "Get out of the water, there is no swimming at the Point."

More than two dozen local residents who regularly swim at t he Point have recently complained to the herald about police officers telling them not to swim at the Point.

Hyde Parker Fabio Grego describes what he calls "a glorious, beautiful day at the Point" when officer Martinez, badge 007, and three other officers demanded that everyone leave the water. This recent Sunday was not the first time this summer Grego, a regular swimmer at the Point, had encountered this officer. The Chicago Police Department refused to provide information regarding the officers patrolling the Point.

"This guy comes around whenever he can. It's just a blatant display of authority," said Grego. According to Grego, there was no reason for concern--no small children and no waves--when they tod 10 to 15 people to stop swimming. "He told me. 'There is no swimming here, and by the way, sir, dry up and leave or I will give you a ticket,'" said Grego.

Longtime Hyde Prk resident Rosalie Gutman, who has swam at the Point at the POint for the last 50 years, was also at the Point on the day Grego describes. She arrived after the police were already there and noticed everyone was out of the water except Grego, who was doing a long-distance swim. "I saw two policemen being very aggressive and sort of nasty. They were shouting at people," Guttman said.

Gutman said she asked one of the officers what ordinance they were violating and was told it was a rule rather than an ordinance and to speak with her alderman. "Technically, swimming is not allowed at the Point," said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th). "It is a tradition. Every year, an officer from some branch goes over to stop the swimming. The law is the law."

Attorney and hyde Parker Jorge Sanchez, who runs and swims regularly at the Point, said he also would like to know what ordinance the law officers are using to get people out of the water and to write up citations. "I would be interested in seeing a ticket. If someone has gotten one, they can call me for legal advice and possibly I can represent them," said Sanchez, who is with the downtown law firm Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan.

Michele Jones, spokesperson for the Chicago Park District (CPC) said that the Point is not a CPD-sanctioned swimming location and that is not staffed with lifeguards. "Any increase in security is due to the fact that there is an increase in park patrons attempting to swim at the location," Jones said. Jones also said she did not know whether tickets had been written at the Point this year.

Guttman said she was told on that recent Sunday that she would get a $200 fine if she swam. "I told them I was just going to sit on the rock and put my feet in the water. I sat her until they left, which they eventually did, and then I got in," Guttman said. She added that there were about 50 other people who went into the water after the police left. Gutman and other said that many of the officers on bikes were friendly and did not try to stop people from swimming.

Berta Hinojosa, who move to Hyde Park in 1962 from Mexico and goes swimming at the Point every day during the summer, agrees. "the police officers from the 21st District don't bother us," said Hinojosa. Hinojosa said it is new officers from other areas that don't know the culture of the point who harass the swimmers. She said she has not gotten a ticket in the last ten years for swimming at the point but knows some Hyde Parkers who have.

Hyde Park resident David Beale also said police presence at the Point should be for the benefit of the community.

"I love to have police officers there. It keeps us safe," said Beale. Beale said he witnesses several families leaving the area recently while a cop was writing something he though was a citation. "There is as demand for swimming at the Point, and they should guard it like they have in the past," said Beale.

Hinojosa call the Point the "Hyde Park Riviera" and sid that the Point is a big reason she lives here. She describes a culture that goes back many years where all the regulars know each other. Many of her closest friends are people she has met at the Point she said.

"It is glorious spot we have here in Hyde Park," said Grego.

Diana von Rudofsky tells Herald Police abuse at Point is scandalous. August 22.