Editor’s note: This Reader Forum article was submitted by Art Miller of Lake Forest. Reader Forum articles represent the writers’ opinions and not necessarily those of GazeboNews. We encourage you to comment on this article, but please include your full name per the GazeboNews comments policy.
The City of Lake Forest, with funding from IDOT, the state’s Dept. of Transportation, seeks to replace the century-old bridge over the ravine near Woodbine and between 955 and 975 N. Lake Road with a new wider bridge with sidewalks on both sides, not just on one as presently is the case. The original bridge was built c. 1913-14, and may have been upgraded then by the new homeowners nearly, especially Clayton Mark at 999 N. Lake Rd. with the firm of his architect, Howard Van Doren Shaw.
The original 1857 plan for Lake Forest was innovative in many ways, one being “the boldly sweeping street plan [that] did not follow topography” (Philip Pregill and Nancy Volkman, Landscapes in History…, 1993, p. 479). What this means is that Almerin Hotchkiss’s 1857-registered plan had streets surf across the wide gorges near the lake, so that carriages would have the sensation of flying, as did the new railroad trains crossing valleys on bridges–as at Niagara Falls, 1855: http://histoiredurailhistory.ca/image_section/pont_niagara_falls.jpg. The Lake Forest Association’s early minutes (LF College Archives) c. 1859-61 registered the complaints of lot owners who could not get to their properties, because the bridges were not ready. But later they were.
(Visit www.historicbridges.org to see photos that help tell the story, including that the 1978 work probably already took away the historic under-structure. But the balustrades and the scale–one sidewalk width only–are crucial to the Lake Road streets cape.)
Why is all this relevant? These narrow bridges in the original 1,200-acre 1857 street plan are integral to the historic character of Lake Forest and its plan, arguably among the most important town plans in the state — and nation. The narrowness heightens the sense of flying or edginess, as on the Millennium Park/Art Institute almost transparent Nichols Bridgeway (I call it the Bridge of San Luis Piano, after Chicagoan Thornton Wilder’s 1920s novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, where a rope bridge in the Andes gives way, but here with a slight change for the AIC’s architect’s name): http://www.altergroup.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/nicholas-bridge.jpg.
This century-old bridge on Lake Road is historic and significant, perhaps also for its possible patron and design team (999 N. Lake Rd. homebuilder in 1913 Clayton Mark and his architectural firm, Howard Van Doren Shaw’s). But certainly it is significant for its classic treatment of this mid 19th C. illusion of flying over the gorge so close to the lake and with its view east to the water, not always possible on local streets near the lake.
The Lake Forest plan–with its lake front park, campus town center, and “boldly sweeping” street layout–was the first of its type in many ways. It had no businesses east of the tracks, it was almost gated in the 1850s, with all east west streets converging on the depot, it in effect was no growth (bounded by the lake, the tracks, and rounding out north and south) so development by the 1890s leapfrogged over the downtown to Green Bay Road (and led to Market Square later), was and is anti-urban, and–last but not least—was an is Romantic in its pursuit of sublime sensation on, especially its far east side, bridges and the implied defiance of gravity they brought to those who crossed them. The sense of danger recalls Asher B. Durant’s “Kindred Spirits” painting of 1849, showing friends, Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole and poet William Cullen Bryant, in the Catskills: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9e/Asher_Durand_Kindred_Spirits.jpg. This sublimity of the Catskills, very likely well known to New Yorker Hotchkiss, is here recreated in Lake Forest, the edgiest visually–most prone to visceral landscape sensation–of Chicago suburbs.
I hope the bridge can be saved, situated as it is near so many significantly historic properties (955, 975, and 999 North Lake Rd.), and so integral to the owners’ and our experiences of these from the street.
Messing with the configuration of the historic bridge, indeed, anything not preserving it or else completely replicating it, will be a devastating loss to the community, the state, and the nation. The need to widen it for bureaucratic imperatives should not be a defining choice by the City—which should oppose this restriction in this case, in effect, appeal it, and failing that find another solution, including fund-raising, to preserve this highly valuable local asset.
Arthur H. Miller
November 18, 2014