When Chicagoans want to show off the beauty of our town, we take visitors to the lakefront. Most cities don't have such a spectacular front yard. That makes December 21st an important date.
Back in 1836 Chicago was still a village. The commissioners who were building the nearby Illinois & Michigan Canal used their authority to make the lakefront public land. They ruled that it would be "a common to remain forever open, clear, and free of any buildings, or other obstruction whatever."
The lake came almost up to Michigan Avenue then. The order applied to the area east of the avenue, between Randolph and 12th Street (Roosevelt Road). In 1856 the Illinois Central Railroad built a trestle over the open water to a terminal at Randolph and Michigan.
After the 1871 fire, the city started dumping debris into the space between Michigan Avenue and the railroad trestle. This created a landfill known as Lake Park. Squatters' shacks sprang up, while the garbage mounds kept growing. For a few years the city's National League baseball team played their games on a corner the site.
By 1890 Lake Park was an eyesore. Mail-order tycoon Montgomery Ward had his office directly across from the park.