Living on Lake Shore Drive

As a Baby Boomer lifer in Chicago and the suburbs when I graduated college from Lewis University, I had picked out 3550 Lakeshore Drive where I would live. I ended up moving much further north in Gurnee for my first teaching job. But that’s what we did back in the 1970’s/1980’s after high school or college. We picked out our Lakeshore Drive home. Where did you want to live then or even now? As as a young child, it was Outer Drive East built in 1963 with the geoplastic covered pool. My mother wanted luxurious Lake Point Towers. A friend lived at 900/ 910 Lake Shore Drive in the 1980’s. Now, I can’t begin to find Outer Drive East since so many new buildings tower above it.

According to sources, Lake Shore Drive’s origins date back to Potter Palmer, who coerced the city to build the street adjacent to his lakefront property to enhance its value. Palmer built his “castle” at 1350 N. Lake Shore Drive in 1882. The drive was originally intended for leisurely strolls for the wealthy in their carriages, but when bringing on the auto industry, that changed quickly.

The condos at 3550 Lakeshore Drive are pretty popular still with a store and exercise room and children would attend Lakeview schools. 400 E. Randolph 400 East Randolph Street Condominiums or simply 400 East Randolph is a 40-story high-rise in Chicago and considered Outer Drive East. It was the first high-rise residence constructed on the east side of Lake Shore drive, in an area that has become The New Eastside. You can buy or rent as small as a studio. Other amenities for 400 East Randolph residents included a full service restaurant and bar, beauty salon, dry cleaners, convenience store, 1000 book lending library and 2000 sqft hospitality room with catering kitchen.

At the time of its completion in 1968, the 645-foot tall Lake Point Tower was the tallest apartment building in the world. You may rent or own a condo…generally renting a three bedroom for about 5,000 a month. Definitely a city within a city with many shops and service with a four lane heated swimming pool and state of the art fitness center including a racquetball and handball court.

910 Lake Shore Drive was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the architecturally significant modern style 26 story building was built in 1951 along with 900 N Lake Shore Drive. They were originally called The Esplanade Apartments and now house 524 condos combined. 

Chicago’s Oak Street Beach

It was in the 1970’s during my high school and college years that I remember traveling with friends to Chicago’s Oak Street Beach for a summer field trip from the south suburbs of the city. We would also pick out high rise apartment buildings we wanted to live in after college. And I remember it crowded with beach chairs, towels, bicycles and of course, numerous bathers and acrobatics. I remember male friends wanting to be a life guard as a summer job there; where prestigious life began. Oak Street Beach is located at 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street and Lake Michigan near the Gold Coast/Streeterville neighborhoods.

According to the Chicago Park District, Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive suffered constant damage from storms and lake shore erosion. The city built a breakwater made of pilings, planks, and stone on the lake’s edge between Oak Street and North Avenue in the 1870’s. This device could not protect Lake Shore Drive, so in the late 1880s, the commissioners began working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a seawall between Fullerton and North Avenues to provide better protection. Lake Shore Drive was also extended south from Oak Street to Ohio Street.

The park district claims property owners helped pay for the landfill extension, which included a breakwater to protect the lake shore and roadway from erosion. Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a 50-foot-wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, and luxury lawns with elegant trees.

The beach was extremely popular in the early 1900’s but rich, mansion property owners complained about how small it was so it was extended in 1923. My father remembers living in the city in those early years as a child attending the beach. According to sources, over 50,000 visitors were known to travel to the beach during that time.The Chicago Park District offers some wonderful history on all Chicago area parks and when they can be used.

Today, Oak Street has gone through many renovations and has a outdoor cafe though with Covid restrictions, not available at this time. Currently, the beach is closed but when opened, you can rent beach chairs, umbrellas and cabanas. Of course, public restrooms are available. Usually, various vendors carts are seen along the path. Besides swimming, many beach goers play volleyball or just sit, taking pictures of amazing sunrises and sunsets. Still, a beautiful place to visit.

Photo courtesy of Greg Wass