Today's Rainbow Beach at 75th Street at Lake Michigan in Chicago was named for the U.S. Army's 42nd Rainbow Division in World War I. Rainbow Beach Park began as two separate beaches; "Manhattan Beach" and "Windsor Bathing Beach."
Manhattan Beach was a popular spot for middle-class families to enjoy until the turn of the 20th century. Because the beach was private and not monitored, issues surfaced in the neighborhood. Problems of sexual promiscuity and minors drinking alcohol were some of the reasons the City of Chicago reclaimed the land to operate it as other Chicago beaches.
The first was established in 1908 by the Special Parks Commission, a city agency that studied open space needs and created parks, playgrounds and beaches in densely populated areas of Chicago.
|Manhattan Beach advertising The Fair Department Stores.|
A small beach at 79th Street at Lake Michigan was called "Rocky Ledge Beach." The name referred to the area's rocky terrain and the manufactured limestone ledge that served as a shore promenade and prevented shoreline erosion.
Manhattan Beach was Illuminated by electric lights. The beach remained open until 9:30 pm to benefit working folks and provide families more time together.
In 1914, the city began efforts to expand the beach and soon acquired the land between 75th and 79th Streets, nicknamed "Rocky Ledge Beach." The City Council officially renamed the cojoined area "Rainbow Beach" in 1918. The little Rocky Ledge Beach continued operating as a children's beach.
Manhattan and Windsor beaches were consolidated in 1959 when the Chicago Park District began leasing the sites from the City of Chicago. Rocky Ledge quietly joined Rainbow Beach's party.
For many years the park lacked sufficient indoor recreational facilities. In 1999 the Chicago Park District constructed a large field house. Designed by David Woodhouse Architects, the field house takes full advantage of Rainbow Beach and Park's breathtaking views of the lakefront and skyline.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.