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A Lakefront Beacon from Boston

In keeping with our city's, and the rest of the country's, renewed solidarity with Boston in recent weeks, today we'll be opining a mammoth turn-of-the-20th-century tower almost brought to us by Beantown architect Désiré Despradelle. (Is it just us or does Chicago have a thing for unfinished sky-scraping spires?)

The Beacon of Progress went down in history as one of Despradelle's greatest works – though it never actually went up. Meant to represent the founding of America and to be constructed on the site of the vanquished White City in Jackson Park, the structure's 13 obelisks signified the original 13 colonies, and merged to form a single 1,500' granite spire (that's taller than the Sears, er, Willis' 1450 if we're not counting those antennae). At its base, Despradelle envisioned an amphitheater seating 100,000 and piers that jutted into the lake for regattas. Crowning the beacon, Despradelle wrote not so subtly in the July 1900 issue of Technology Review?, "guarded by the eagle is the goddess of the twentieth century, the modern Minerva, flanked by ranks of lions roaring the glory of America."

The architect and MIT professor spent years in Boston and Paris showing off and embellishing his drawings for the project, but as his concept grew, the probability of the behemoth actually being constructed shrank. Even so, the inspired plans won the praise of Despradelle's big time contemporaries and landed the drawings in the Chicago Architectural Club's 1902 exhibition catalog, as well as the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London.

"No one can stand in the presence of the magnificent Beacon of Progress without a feeling of enthusiasm at the inspiring ideal, which pierces the sky, yet treads the earth," the Boston Daily Advertiser's art editor wrote in 1912.

Unfortunately that sky-piercing, earth-treading edifice never quite made it to Lake Michigan's shores.
·Beacon of Progress [MIT Museum]
·Curbed's Could Have Been [Curbed Chicago]

—Gwendolyn Purdom