Everything Old is New Again
Most of us who have come to Highland Park relatively recently take for granted the beaches we enjoy. In reality, Highland Park’s Rosewood Beach is young by municipal standards, purchased after voters in 1945 approved a $196,000 bond issue for public parks (about $2.3 million in today’s dollars). Included in the purchase was $130,000 to purchase the 12 acres of the former Rosenwald and Mandel estates and construct a beach house. The purchase doubled the lakefront facilities for Highland Park.
While the bond issue passed in 1945, there were issues with the availability of materials and labor during the post-war building boom. The two-story Rosewood Beach House, designed by a well known architect and longtime Highland Park resident, Norman Schlossman, opened for service in 1949 and included a total of 4,080 square feet of space.
Back in the 1950s, before air conditioning regularly cooled homes and drove us indoors during summer, the beaches were a popular refuge from the summer heat (this is hard to believe, given their relative desertion today). In fact the crowding at the beaches led to another bond issue, passed in 1959, to build the now defunct “Twin Pools” on the site of our current Aquapark. The bond issue was preceded by a Lions Club fund raising drive, which promoted the pools as a way to relieve “overcrowding” at Highland Park’s city beaches.
The Rosewood beach house which offered a locker room, showers, toilets, concessions, and a large shaded patio with room for picnicking, last served residents in 2004 when the structure had to be condemned. It faced the wrecking ball in 2006, but you can still see the outline of the foundation along the shore if you look closely when you come down the stairs on the north end of the beach.
Today's Beach House
The Park District of Highland Park recently announced a new plan to revitalize the Rosewood property. Included in the plan is a 2,000 square front multi-purpose beach house with washrooms and about 1,000 square feet of multi-purpose space..
Opposition to the structure is shortsighted.
This structure is not out of proportion with our beach. We sustained a 4,080 square foot fortress of a beach house on this same property for more than 55 years. The current plan calls for a massive renourishment of beach sands, supported by a natural breakwater system which will sustain the renourished (that’s an Army Corps term, not mine) beach. We have also learned much about building construction since 1945, and today’s plans promise to provide a stable and environmentally sound structure at Rosewood.
The structure will not interfere with beach vistas. Great care has been given to the design, by Woodhouse Architects, to ensure that views are not inhibited.
The building will not increase our maintenance cost. With a multi-purpose room available for rental in the new Rosewood Plan, we have a chance to recapture some operating income. In 2011, the PDHP spent nearly $60,000 to maintain Rosewood (with a large chunk of this going toward a particularly wasteful expenditure, the porta potty truck rental). Rental income will change this equation – the PDHP estimates that they will net about $10,000 annually from beach revenue.
The building use has been clearly defined. The PDHP has clearly stated that the building would be used for summer camps, educational programs (field trips by local schools), exercise classes and other programming, and would be available for rentals by the community.
The building will be used year-round. There are few sights more magical on the lakefront than the quilt of ice which forms on our shores in the winter. We have many reasons to offer winter programming in this location and this facility will help maximize its potential in all seasons.
I respect and understand the need for conservation, but our only lakefront beach designated for swimming and recreation – our only people beach – should support more than minimal development. The reality of suburban life is that we live in a highly developed community along Lake Michigan’s shore, 20 miles or so from Chicago -- not the wilderness of Michigan or Wisconsin. It’s always nice to “escape” to our beaches, but with the density in our community, it’s not reasonable to expect a wild, untamed shoreline. It IS reasonable to expect a responsibly developed beach with appropriate resources available to residents. Our peers along the North Shore including Lake Forest, Lake Bluff, Glencoe, Wilmette, Winnetka, and Evanston all have some form of a beach house or multi-purpose facility along their shores, and many use these shelters for programming as well as rentals.
We must not ask our Park District to think small and just get by. We must ask them to plan for the future and anticipate our needs. The Park District has revised plans and offers a compromise, based on community input.
I wholeheartedly agree that the plans from 2007 and 2009 were big, overdone, and insensitive. I didn’t support either one of them, and may well have signed a petition in protest. I approached the 2012 plan with an open mind, though, and came up with a different conclusion. Signatures gathered by a neighborhood group protesting the old plans don’t reflect accurately the feelings about this latest rendition. Residents should attend the meetings, hear and evaluate the proposal, and form their own opinions.
In my opinion, it's time to replace the fortress that served Highland Park for more than 55 years with a flexible space that will meet our needs far into the future.