Jane Byrne to be honored

Water Tower plaza will be named for Chicago's first and only female mayor.

July 29, 2014

(Wikimedia Commons)
Former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne could have the city's Water Tower Plaza named after her.

Chicago’s first and only female mayor is getting something named for her after all.

The Chicago City Council voted Wednesday to honor Jane Byrne by renaming the plaza surrounding the historic Water Tower building on Michigan Avenue after her.

The council earlier this week had considered four related resolutions that would rename landmarks for the former mayor: Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom; the O’Hare International Terminal; the Buckingham Fountain; and the Water Tower Plaza. The plaza idea won the day. 

Backgrounder: Why it's taken so long for Jane Byrne to have a Chicago site named after her.

Byrne’s only daughter, Kathy, had testified at a Tuesday hearing, telling aldermen that her mother would most appreciate the Water Tower Plaza, as it’s across the street from the apartment her mother lived in while mayor.

“Whatever the trouble was in the city, whatever crisis was brewing, she could look out and see that Water Tower and say, ‘Well, you survived the [Great Chicago] fire and there was no city left, and you made it,’” Byrne said. “So whatever matter was before her, she knew that everyone would be alright.”

Kathy Byrne said she didn’t want to be “presumptuous” by choosing one of the proposals over the others, but generations of her family had lived in the area surrounding the Water Tower, including her great-great grandfather — the first of Jane Byrne’s forebearers to come to Chicago. Kathy Byrne said he lived there during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

“The Water Tower is a survivor, and my mother is a survivor, and Chicago is a survivor,” she said. “And I think that would be a tremendous way to honor her.

Kathy Byrne suggested Tuesday that the City Council could improve the plaza proposal by moving her mother’s beloved Children’s Fountain. The fountain was dedicated during Byrne’s administration, and is displayed on the cover of her book, My Chicago. It’s currently located in Lincoln Park. Kathy Byrne said the Children’s Fountain could replace the small fountain that’s situated by the Water Tower building.

Finance Committee officials Tuesday said that wasn’t part of their proposal. They said if the current proposal’s passed by the full council, the Chicago Park District would be responsible for deciding whether or not to move the Children’s Fountain.

Many aldermen support the naming of a public asset in honor of Jane. Several spent a good portion of this week's Finance Committee hearing to reflect on their time serving under Jane Byrne, who lost her reelection bid in 1983. Ald. Tom Tunney (44) reflected on her influence and support of the gay community, and her revitalization of Taste of Chicago.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34) called Jane Byrne an icon for women to go further than they are today. “Maybe there will be another female mayor,” she said, “but we are grateful for all that she imparted to all of us in so many different ways.”