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Chicago Palm Trees

Updated on September 19, 2011

Palm trees have sprouted up all over the city of Chicago, outdoors plus the Chicagoland area too. From private residences, businesses, car dealerships to restaurants and banks to the indoor domestic United Airlines terminal at O’Hare International Airport. The palms at the airport have been there forever it seems, however, potted indoors and huge! But the most dramatic, most romantic, most tropical and the most perfect location here is at the beach. Lake Michigan’s shore kiss Chicago’s front yard with a fresh water aquatic playground for the Gods, Neptune and his friends. The palm trees, obviously, if left to the frosty Chicago “Ol’ Man Winter” would certainly die and freeze to death. But a Florida based company transplants the palms here in the spring and removes them in the fall. The trees head for a giant greenhouse/warehouse where they winter in a climate controlled environment with a glass roof or more romantically a glass ceiling.

Those of you from palm tree growing climates may think, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal to us penguins is that this is awesome! It’s as if the Conquistador himself, Juan Ponce de Leon, Florida’s discoverer and first Spanish explorer, has arrived on the southwest shores of a northern Great Lake and found the mythical “Fountain of Youth…..Northern style, right here in good old Illinoissssssssss!” Some here however beg to differ and think its Obama, lol! In any case the palm trees on the beach here are a sight to behold, and like buried treasure in the sand, the weathered Chicagoan pirate population can now enjoy a “Shiver Me Timbers” moment instead of a “Shiver Me Backside Off” when dreaming of the palms in the dead of winter.

Foster Ave. Beach Hieroglyph
Foster Ave. Beach Hieroglyph
1925 Oak Street Beach
1925 Oak Street Beach

Argggh……Blymee, Paulie want’s a cracker! I witnessed the pecuiliare palms, growing like a miracle mirage in a desert oasis, first hand at Chicago’s Oasis Street Beach. Ooops…I mean this summer on Oak Street Beach. The (Latin: Phoenix dactylifera) palm trees added a magical presence, a spiritual awakening and a long since forgotten, the remembrance of the Great Lakes basin of millions of years ago, once was a tropical paradise. I was mesmerized, totally and unexpectedly, pleasantly surprised and drunk with the essence of coco butter. The palm trees were a gorgeous green jewel addition in the already Chicago lakefront gem with in an architectural wonderland. Being a lifelong Chicagoan and a Florida vacationer, I found my self transposed into a fantasy that only Palm trees, water, Sun and Sand can do to me. Chicago forever, only had three of the four ingredients. But now by masterstroke they have captured the fourth, the fourth de Leonism, the fourth element of the elusive “Fountain of Youth.”

The palm trees sprinkling the Chicago lakefront have 28 miles of shoreline. This translates into 29 beaches along the southwestern Great Lake’s shore of Lake Michigan. Under the auspices of the Chicago Park District which manages them. Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that borders entirely in the United States. Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario and Lake Erie all share borders with Canada. They form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth. They are sometimes referred to as inland seas or Canada and the United States’ Third coast.

The sand at Chicago beaches and on Lake Michigan is soft and off-white, known as "singing sands" because of the squeaking noise (caused by high quartz content) made when one walks across it. The water is usually clear and cold (between 55 degrees F and 70 degrees F [13 and 21 degrees C]) even in late summer. However, because prevailing westerly winds tend to move the surface water toward the east, there is a flow of warmer water to the Michigan shore in the summer.

Oak Street Beach

Chicago Beaches on Lake Michigan- only the main beaches have palm trees.

1) Juneway Terrace Beach

Juneway Terrace Beach is the northernmost beach in Chicago. It is located at 7800 north and Lake Michigan. It lies within Rogers Avenue Beach and the Park. It is separated from Rogers Beach by a stretch of riprap protecting three apartment buildings.

2) Rogers Beach

Rogers Beach lies in Rogers Avenue Beach and Rogers Park at 7705 north. Barely one block long, the park also has tennis courts.

3) Howard Beach

Howard Beach lies in Howard Street Beach and Park at 7600 north, which is just south of Howard Street. It is perhaps 213 feet (65 meters) long.

4) Jarvis Beach/Fargo Beach

Jarvis beach located at 7400 north and Fargo beach is located at 7432 north. Offshore stretches of riprap material to act to reduce erosion of this beach, which is about three blocks long.

5) Loyola/Leone Beach

Located at 7032 North Sheridan and extending for eight blocks, Leone Beach is Chicago's largest.

6) Pratt Beach

Contiguous with Leone/Loyola Beach located at 1050 West Pratt Boulevard.

7) Hartigan Beach

Contiguous with Pratt Beach, located at 6800 north, ends just north of Loyola Avenue. Named for former 49th Ward Alderman David L. Hartigan.

8) Columbia Beach

Columbia Beach is located at 6726 north. Columbia Ave. a residential and apartment street runs east and west to a dead-end at the beach. Many beaches are like this, but some are also affiliated with parks.

9) North Shore Beach

North Shore Beach is located at 6700 north.

10) Thorndale Beach

Thorndale Beach is located at 5934 north.

11) Kathy Osterman Beach (formerly Hollywood Beach)

Located at the 5800 North block where Lake Shore Drive ends at a curve that feeds into Sheridan Road (near West Hollywood Avenue and North Lake Shore Drive), this crescent-shaped beach serves two groups. The northern half is largely a family beach and the southern half is largely a gay men and lesbian beach. The northern half of the beach has shallow water which makes it kid-friendly.

12) Foster Avenue Beach

A Hieroglyph was found on The rocks on Foster Beach in Chicago.

Foster Avenue Beach is located at 5200 north.

13) Wilson Avenue/Montrose Avenue Beach

The dog beach at Montrose Avenue Beach.

Montrose beach is a large north side beach. It is one of few beaches patrons may launch non-motorized watercraft, such as kayaks and catamarans into Lake Michigan. It also has one of only two dog beaches in the Chicago Park District, making it a popular beach for dog lovers. In the fenced off dog-friendly section at the north end of the beach leashless dogs are permitted once on the sand. Montrose beach hosts the Junior Guard regional championships every summer. There is also an "unofficial" dog beach at Belmont Harbor, which is not officially a Chicago Park District beach. Wave action deposited a small triangular patch of sand in a protected corner of Belmont Harbor sometime in the 1980s. This beach is completely fenced in, but patrons allowing their dog off leash may still get ticketed. Wilson Avenue is 4600 north and Montose Avenue is 4400 north. Thus, it is actually a misnomer that the dog beach is at Montrose Avenue Beach because the beach is at the northern end of these contiguous beaches. Testing for E. Coli bacteria in the beach water is checked daily in the summer months. E. Coli is caused by sea gull fecal matter from the birds. Park District canine patrols work to control the birds by chasing them off the beaches in early morning.

Wilson Avenue Beach once officially located at the 4600 North Block, was at one time a private beach owned. In 1915, the City opened Clarendon Beach (now Montrose Avenue Beach) immediately to the south at the 4400 North Block as a public beach. By 1929, 2 million people had visited the two long public beach. In 1916, a clash over a suspected non-paying transgressor to the private beach led to the beating by lifeguards and members.

14) North Avenue Beach

The North Avenue Beach, located at 1600 north, is considered by many to be Chicago's premier beach. It has the largest lifeguard staff and is home to the most developed beachhouse. Technically running from North Avenue to Diversey Harbor, North Avenue Beach is characterized by its piers which hold the sand in place and create a scalloped shoreline, terminating in a Cape Cod-like hook. The beach hosts international volleyball tournaments as well as millions of sun worshippers every year. North Avenue is also center stage for the Chicago Air & Water Show, which draws over a million people a day from Ohio to Diversey along the lakefront. North Avenue Beach is the site of the annual AVP Chicago Open (2006 is known as the AVP McDonald's Chicago Open presented by Nautica). In 2008 it was a televised two-day event from Oak Street Beach this year as these volleyball athletes were in training for the Bejiing 2008 Olympic Games.

15) Humboldt Park Beach (a non Lake Michigan beach)

Located in a former lagoon of Humboldt Park which was dredged and given a sand bottom. At this "beach" is mostly used by small children as a shallow wading pond. It is guarded in the summer and drained when not guarded.

16) Oak Street Beach

Oak Street Beach, located at 1000 north, covers the area from the North Avenue 'Hook' Pier south to Ohio Street Beach (Illinois St. Beach, Olive Beach), about 1.5 mi (2 km). Oak Street is home to the largest area of deep water swimming in the city (1/2 mile (800 m) over 10 ft (3 m)), and is training grounds for hundreds of triathletes and distance swimmers. Until 2006 Oak Street Beach was also the only place in the city where SCUBA divers could dive close to the shore. The north ledge was once a hot spot for the city's gay community, and still is a second home to thousands of sunbathers, runners, skaters and bikers. At one point Oak Street was the city's most popular beach with its proximity to downtown and boasted tens of thousands of visitors each day. Oak Street Beach is also home to Chicago's only chess pavilion and many beach volley ball venues. Oak Street Beach adjacent to Michigan Avenue, aka the Magnificent Mile has the 100 story John Hancock Building towering over this beach and the near by Palmolive Building, formerly known as the Playboy Building in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, used to have Playboy Magazine’s publisher Hugh Hefner peering out the windows with binoculars in search of new “fold-out” talent on the beach.

17) Ohio Street Beach

A small beach in Olive Park located just north of Ohio Street (400N) east of Lake Shore Drive. It faces north, rather than the usual east, because it formed on its own in a bay created by the Jardine Water Purification Plant which juts out into the Lake adjacent to Navy Pier.

18) 12th Street Beach

The 12th Street Beach is just south of the Adler Planetarium on Northerly Island (formerly the site of Meigs Field a small commuter air field for small planes). The beach runs from about 1300 S to about 1450 S, but was named 12th Street Beach rather than (unlucky) 13th Street Beach. When 12th Street was renamed Roosevelt Road the beach retained its name, but now is sometimes called 14th Street Beach. There is also open water swimming that is great for triathletes or avid open water swimmers. The swimming runs along Ohio St. Beach almost all the way North to Oak St. Beach. The total distance out is .5 miles, making a 1 mile round trip swim.

19) 25th/26th Street Beaches

No longer extant, these once segregated beaches were the flashpoint of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.

20) 31st Street Beach

The 31st Street Beach is located in Burnham Park. The beach is host every year to the Junior Lifeguard Chicago Area Tug-o-War. Lifeguards here cover most of the area from the beach north to McCormick Place.

21) 49th Street Beach

49th Street Beach is a small stone beach in Burnham Park. It is not guarded, so swimming is not allowed.

22) 57th Street Beach

The 57th Street Beach is in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood, across Lake Shore Drive from the Museum of Science and Industry. Recent renovations have made it easier to access with two large underpasses at the intersection of 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. 57th Street Beach provides an area of deep swimming south of Promontory Point.

23) 63rd Street Beach

The 63rd Street Beach is just outside of Jackson Park. It is home to the largest and oldest beach house in the City. In July 1913, Jackson Park Beach was the cite of a clash over required bathing attire when Dr. Rosalie Ladova was arrested for disorderly conduct for swimming in her bloomers after removing her bathing skirt.

24) South Shore Beach

South Shore Beach is the beach behind the Chicago Park District's South Shore Cultural Center (formerly South Shore Country Club), which is located at the intersection of 71st and South Shore Drive. The Country club is a magnificent old building and it home to a ballroom, restaurant, golf course and tennis courts. The Beach also runs up against 67th street beach and Jackson Park

25) Ashe Beach

Ashe Beach Park is a newer addition to the Chicago Park District's beaches, bought in 1979 and named for the late tennis great Arthur Ashe, after he died of AIDS in 1993. In addition to the beach, the park features two tennis courts. It is located between 74th and 75th Streets.

26) Rainbow Beach

Rainbow Beach is officially located at 3111 E. 77th St., is a beach in the Chicago Park District's Rainbow Beach & Park that stretches from 75th Street to 78th Street on the Lake Michigan shoreline. Rainbow Beach was named such in 1918.

Starting with the 1919 Race Riot, Chicago has had a long history of race riots related to use of public resources, such as parks and beaches. Rainbow beach was an area of controversy for black and white youth. Black families that were economically dependent on the nearby South Chicago steel mills had avoided the public hostility of the lifeguards and white bathers. Demographic shifts and racial climate change of the 1960s led to a July 7 and 8, 1961 “freedom wade-in” at Rainbow Beach staged by an interracial coalition of demonstrators, including members of the NAACP Youth Council.

27) Calumet Beach

Calumet Park, which is not to be confused with Calumet Park, IL, contains beaches located at the 9600, 9800 and 9900 South blocks along Lake Michigan. The main beach has a Beach House with a concession stand.


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