Built near the mouth of the Chicago River in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse has been a beacon of light in Chicago for 130 years.
In 1919 it was moved to its present location at the end of the north pier and has stood there since slowly falling into disrepair since it became automated in 1979.
Though the lighthouse was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2003 it was then declared excess by the Coast Guard in 2005 and was transferred from the General Services Administration to the City of Chicago in 2010. For years many of us have hoped that something would become of the beloved lighthouse but it has remained a neglected Chicago Landmark since.
Now a nonprofit group by the name of Friends of The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse is pushing to “preserve, restore and celebrate the lighthouse so future generations can enjoy its history” with the intention of turning the lighthouse into a museum with exhibits, artifacts, and event space in the observation deck.
According to the nonprofit’s website savethelighthouse.org, an amendment to The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act (NHPA) means that Federally-owned historic light stations can be passed to “qualified new stewards after years of unfailing and faithful service as beacons to sea-farers and traders.”
Due to the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, city officials are only required to maintain the light for navigational purposes and aren’t responsible for repairing the physical structure, which has remained largely the same as when it was built.
“The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act Program facilitates the continued use and public appreciation of these historic properties by transferring ownership to other government entities and non-profit organizations who have committed to preserving the lights into the future” it reads.
Public bodies and non-profits may now apply to acquire historic light stations at no cost through a competitive application process administered by the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS).
Since the City of Chicago first took ownership of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse there have been discussions with developers for potential commercial development with talks of it being transformed into a hotel.
According to Chief Dreamer and President of Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse, Kurt Lentsch, the nonprofit is hoping to prevent the iconic structure from falling into the hands of a body that seeks to use it for profit rather than preservation.
They expect the entire project of restoring the lighthouse and turning it into a museum will cost $3-$5 million but right now are focused on raising awareness as well as funding.
“You would never be able to see the city from this angle anywhere else,” said Lentsch. “Everyone should be able to experience this view of our beautiful city. The city of Chicago is so rich in its history, in its architecture, so it’s just a shame that the lighthouse is sitting out there empty right now.”
Currently, the Go Fund Me page has received just 107 donations amounting to just $8,255 of its $5,000,000 goal.
Friends of the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse has support from city officials and are working with architects and structural engineers who are helping the nonprofit with planning and building permits.
[Featured image from Shutterstock]