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Then and Now: North Avenue Beach

Written by
Sara Freund
Photograph: Courtesy of Chicago Parks District Special Collections

Circa 1950

Our first public bathing beach opened in 1865, but it wasn't long before locals wanted more. It took time, but as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s, the Chicago Park District got a lot of money to make it happen. Lincoln Park’s $10 million project transformed the dead land into a crown jewel. The plan built out Lake Shore Drive and added horse and bicycle paths, athletic fields, gardens and three public beaches. In this 1950s photo of North Avenue Beach, children are seen in a sand-modeling competition and the beach’s ship-like bathhouses are visible in the upper-right corner. The Chicago Park District is digitizing this image and many more historical photos for the Chicago Public Library’s special collection.

Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas


Today the city has 29 swimming beaches and 16 beach walks with amenities like dog-friendly areas, volleyball courts, boat rentals and restaurants. The original bathhouses were unfortunately demolished, but the giant concrete boat you see today at North Avenue Beach, which houses Castaways Bar and Grill, was built to replicate the originals. The beaches serve more than just a recreational purpose: They were constructed to face storm waves head-on. The long concrete piers, called groins, are engineered to retain beach sand and protect Lake Shore Drive from erosion. In fact, it’s been decades since Chicago has had to replenish the sand at those beaches.

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