The Politics of the Lakefill
In a sign of political goodwill--recognition of Northwestern's
staunch efforts during World War II --the University's proposal
for the new lakefill campus sailed over every political obstacle
it encountered. The Evanston City Council approved the plan in
one meeting. Members voiced concern for the city's newly renovated
Clark Street Beach, though that issue was overshadowed by a more
serious worry: Evanstonians were frantic that the state might
extend Chicago's Lake Shore Drive as far north as Wilmette. The
lakefill, they hoped, would prevent a new highway on the suburb's
There were some dissenters to the lakefill plan, but not many.
"One encroachment on the lake area can easily be used as
justification for others," wrote Northwestern alumnus and
Evanston resident W. J. Bruns '26. He added that the University's
rationale that reclaimed land was cheaper than existing property
"does not justify the taking of public assets by unilateral
private action°" Bruns added that the lakefill would place
many Evanston homes considerably farther from the shore than they
were at present. "Should the University seek to compensate
for such loss of property values, it is quite likely that the
cost of a lakefill campus would exceed that of acquiring adjacent
property on an equitable basis," he said. But Bruns's argument
Good feelings between Northwestern and state government were
categorical; in Springfield, both houses of the legislature approved
the sale of 152 acres of Lake Michigan for $100 per acre without
a single dissenting vote. University business manager William
Kerr had spent considerable time in Springfield lobbying for the
measure, and with Governor Otto Kerner and Speaker of the House
William Redmond, both graduates of the law school in 1934, Northwestern
had powerful friends in the state capital.
On the federal side, any alteration of waterways required the
approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which quickly issued
a permit with a report that the lakefill was "sufficiently
removed from established lake shipping routes°" A single
unpleasant glitch came up, however, just as the $5.2 million project
was to begin. Because sand for the lakefill was to come from the
dredging of a controversial harbor in the Indiana Dunes, Senator
Paul Douglas of Illinois, an ardent conservationist, accused the
University of being complicit in an act of environmental vandalism.
Before long, Douglas's protest was overcome; Indiana got its
harbor, and Northwestern got the fill. But in retrospect, the
controversy foreshadowed what was obvious later--that the growing
environmental movement would make any further lakefill projects
politically difficult if not impossible.
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