The Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront is a grassroots coalition to remove Lakeshore Drive from Grant Park, and eventually the entire Chicago shoreline.

Impersonators dead-on over stadium plan

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by Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2001

Daniel Burnham and I made a little plan: He and his friend Aaron
Montgomery Ward would meet me on the east side of Buckingham Fountain and we'd ride our bikes a mile south to Soldier Field.

As the dispute rages over whether the proposed redesign of the stadium
will be a monstrosity or a civic improvement, I decided to go to the
source--the two most significant visionaries in the history of Chicago's
beautiful front yard.

Around the turn of the 20th Century, Ward almost single-handedly led the successful fight to clean up and block construction projects in what is now Grant Park. Shortly thereafter, the eloquent architect Burnham,
roughly Ward's contemporary, drew up a master plan for the city that,
while not followed to the letter, has ever since inspired and reproved
those who build along the water.

Without these two, Chicago would have become a less livable and
attractive city. So, I wondered, what would men with such bona fides
think about the mayor's collaboration with the owners of the Bears to
plop a looming metal and glass bowl between the existing colonnades of Soldier Field?

Seeing as they died nearly 90 years ago, I had to rely for channeling
purposes on software engineer Jim Redd, billed as "Chicago's premier
Daniel Burnham impersonator," and affordable-housing advocate Michael Burton, almost certainly the world's leading (and only) Ward
impressionist.

Redd, 58, and Burton, 36, usually play their roles during Burnham Vision Rides, educational excursions led by the Campaign for a Free and Clear Lakefront. Their group takes its name from the annotation on an 1836 planning map designating the downtown lakefront as "Public ground--a common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings or other obstruction whatever."

The campaign's ambitious agenda includes "de-paving" Lake Shore Drive between McCormick Place and the Chicago River, diverting all through traffic and transforming it back into the sightseeing road Burnham envisioned.

After we exchanged pleasantries and talked a little history, faux Ward
expressed misgivings about the Millennium Park project on the northwest corner of Grant Park.

Faux Burnham begged to differ: "Millennium Park is consistent with my vision in that it will be a place for the people. It'll be free, it'll
be open, it'll be a civic area. I don't have any problems with Millennium Park."

Both wore cravats and other vintage clothing--a three-piece suit for
Burnham, a natty paisley vest for Ward. Neither man bears much physical resemblance to the real-life figure he portrays. But because Ward and Burnham aren't exactly household faces, it hardly seems to matter.

They've studied writings, public statements and history in order to
improvise in character for extended stretches. The Vision Rides, which
began last year and occur several times a summer, include readings from original texts and from Redd's own "Burnham 2001 Chicago Plan," rendered in the high-flown style of the original:

"Although the architecture of Soldier Field is consistent with my love
of classical forms, a stadium for spectators with means is an
abomination and counter to my philosophy that public parks should
provide breathing space and recreation for the wage-earners," he orated
when we arrived at the Soldier Field parking lot. "And even worse than
the original location of the structure, the new proposal for changing
the aspect of the stadium is a grotesque departure from the organic
arrangement of the classical colonnades that I so admire." Latter-day
Ward expressed his full agreement.

Predictable, given Redd and Burton's real-life agenda? Sure. But
inauthentic? Not in the least. History itself also asks of those who
would further yield our lakefront to a private business interest, "Which
part of `forever open, clear and free' don't you understand?"

Montgomery Ward fought seemingly done deals in court and won by relying on the laws that still protect our lakefront. And instead of voicing despair at the city's latest plan, his spirit issued a challenge to
those who share his beliefs today to wage a similar fight: "It still
takes men of vision, men of principle, to protect the will of the people
..."

"`Men and women,' we say now," I corrected him.

"Definitely," said the chastened impersonator. "Yes. That's right."

To get the full flavor of this excursion, read the transcript of my chat
with Burnham and Ward at ericzorn.com.