Oak Street Beach is located at 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street and Lake Michigan near the Gold Coast/Streeterville neighborhoods. This popular summer hotspot offers beach goers amenities that include chair rentals, food and beverage options at Oak Street Beach Café, bike rentals, volleyball rentals, restrooms and a spectacular view of the city skyline. This beach hosts a number of popular amateur and professional volleyball tournaments throughout the summer. Distance swimming is available parallel to the shore from Division Street to the Chess Pavilion (20 yards west of the buoys). An ADA accessible beach walk is available. There is limited street parking nearby.
In 2011, a mural was created by Jeff Zimmermann entitled “You Know What You Should Do” located along a wall running parallel to the Lakefront Trail and is the access point to the Oak Street Beach underpass. The mural, measuring about 260 feet in length and 9 feet tall at the very center, helps raise awareness of beach health and water quality issues. Its message reminds the public to help keep the beaches clean by not littering or feeding wildlife. The project was funded through a grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Studies have shown that seagull fecal matter could be a contributing cause of swim bans. Feeding the birds and littering attracts the seagulls to the beach.
Lincoln Park began as a public cemetery during Chicago’s early history, and was first designated as parkland in 1860. Over the years, it has grown into a large park of 1212 acres, especially due to many landfill extensions. Oak Street beach is one landfill addition. In the 1870s, Lake Shore Drive had been extended to connect such with Pine Street (which is now N. Michigan Avenue). However, this stretch of Lake Shore Drive had suffered extensive damage from storms and lakeshore erosion, and it became necessary to construct a large breakwater system. The Lincoln Park Commission built a breakwater which extended from North Avenue to Oak Street, and then even farther south to Ohio Street. This project included a new sand beach at Oak Street in the late 1890s. Chicago’s Drainage
Lincoln Park began as an unburied portion of cemetery first designated as parkland in 1860. Management of the park shifted from the City of Chicago to the newly created Lincoln Park Commission in 1869. At that time, the boundaries of the park extended from Diversey Parkway to North Avenue, however, the original act had a provision to allow the first stretch of Lake Shore Drive to extend as far south as Oak Street.
Lincoln Park and Lake Shore Drive suffered continuous damage from storms and lakeshore erosion. In the early 1870s, the commissioners built a breakwater made of pilings, planks, stone and brush on the lake’s edge between Oak Street and North Avenue. This device could not adequately protect Lake Shore Drive, so in the late 1880s, the commissioners began working with the Army Corps of Engineers to design a seawall between Fullerton and North Avenues to provide better protection.
During this period, property owners who lived near Lake Michigan south of Lincoln Park asked the commissioners to consider extending Lake Shore Drive south from Oak Street to Ohio Street. They agreed to give up their riparian rights (the right to use the water in front of their properties) and to help pay for the landfill extension, which included a breakwater to protect the lakeshore and roadway from erosion. Constructed in the 1890s, the project included a 50-foot-wide roadway as well as an extensive granite-paved beach, stone sidewalks, bicycle path, bridle path, broad stretches of lawn and double rows of elm trees on each side of the roadway. The project included a small sand beach at the foot of Oak Street.
Chicago’s Drainage Canal was completed in 1899, which diverted sewage that had previously been dumped into Lake Michigan. This innovation made the lake much more desirable for swimming and bathing. By the early 1910s, Oak Street Beach became extremely popular for bathing despite its small size. Owners of mansions located on private property near the beach complained that the large numbers of bathers had become a nuisance. In response to these complaints, in 1917, the Lincoln Park Commissioners made new rules limiting the hours in which the public could use the bathing beach. Members of the public protested, and for years citizens asked for a beach extension and amenities such as a bathhouse. In the early 1920s, the controversy about extending Oak Street Beach had become quite heated.
The City of Chicago had appropriated funds to extending Ohio Street Beach in 1923, a project that was planned in part to relieve congestion at the Oak Street Beach. The Ohio Street improvement was held up, however, because of concerns that its perpendicular orientation might cause public health problems. Meanwhile, despite its small size, it was estimated that Oak Street Beach attracted as many as 55,000 bathers on hot summer days during this period.
Soon after the formation of the Chicago Park District in 1934, federal funds became available for improvements to the lakefront through the Works Progress Administration. This included a new pedestrian tunnel underneath Michigan to Oak Street Beach. The project included a long-needed comfort station. Thirty years later, additional improvements to Lake Shore Drive allowed for a small extension to Oak Street Beach through landfill. The shipments of new sand came by way of barges that crossed Lake Michigan from the Indiana Dunes.
Over the years, Oak Street Beach has remained as one of Chicago’s most popular places for swimming, and bathing as well as a fashionable place to see and be seen.
Canal was completed in 1899, which diverted sewage that had previously been dumped into Lake Michigan. This innovation made the lake much more desirable for swimming and bathing. Over the course of the century, Oak Street Beach has become one of Chicago’s most popular and fashionable beaches, and is definitely a place to see and be seen.