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Obama Library Likely Violates National Monument Rules


Preservationist groups are warning that the planned Barack Obama Center in Chicago may violate federal laws against destroying sites placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Obama Center is currently planned to spread out over sections of three sites with history stretching back to 1869, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

The portion of Jackson Park that Obama intends to disrupt with his massive new project includes the area where the World’s Columbian Exposition was staged in Jackson Park and the Midway in 1893. Created by famed architect Daniel Burnham—the man who planned New York’s Central Park—the Midway was placed on the historic site registry in 1972.

Obama’s center is also expected to disrupt a portion of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Washington Park, a site that was added to the registry in 2004.

Finally, the Obama plan will also require the closure of Cornell Drive, a roadway that is an integral part of the park system.

According to Curbed Chicago:

As proposed, the Obama Center’s multi-building campus will replace roughly 20 acres of park space, including a number of historic trees. Developed in tandem with a merger between Jackson Park’s golf course with the course at the South Shore Cultural Center, the plan looks to close stretches of Cornell, and Marquette drives as well as construct a new parking structure in the center of the historic Midway Plaisance.

But a historic preservation group called the Cultural Landscape Foundation says that the proposal for Obama’s new center would violate the rules of the historic registry. The group wants the review of Obama’s construction project to be expanded to review the impact it will have on the whole series of protected parklands.

“The need to fully recognize the unity of the South parks is now brought into greater relief by the current proposal to impose a parking garage at the eastern terminus and hinge point of the Midway Plaisance, effectively placing a further barrier to the connection that Olmsted and Vaux first envisioned,” the group’s president, Charles Birnbaum, wrote in a recent letter to the federal government.

Birnbaum added that Olmsted’s design, “was intended to lead visitors on a choreographed journey through passages of landscape scenery. Neither the location nor the disposition of the roads were accidental.” He noted that the Obama Center would erase that journey.

The preservationist also noted that the huge tower planned for the Center itself would also destroy the historic sites.

“Moreover, the (presidential center) tower, as currently conceived, would adversely affect viewsheds from the full expanse of the Midway Plaisance, not just from the portion of it now included” in the government’s review of the plans, Birnbaum said.

“The imposition of a massive high-rise tower, hundreds of feet tall … is directly contrary to the overall concept of the park,” Birnbaum concluded.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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