A group of Rogers Park neighbors have asked me to support a proposal to rename Columbia Beach Park in honor of the late Helen Doria, a long-time Rogers Park resident and advocate for the parks and cultural affairs, who passed away three years ago this December. I’m writing to ask you what you think of the proposal.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, a Rogers Park resident, and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Rogers Park native, also support the renaming. The Loyola Park Advisory Council, which oversees Columbia Beach Park, voted last summer to lend its support to the initiative.
Columbia Beach Park is so named because it is at the end of Columbia Avenue. According to the Chicago Park District’s website, the beach was one of 18 street-end beaches acquired by the Park District in 1959 to protect our lakefront from real estate development.
Ironically, Columbia Avenue received its name from a real estate developer, A.W. Wallen, who in the mid-1800s subdivided the section of Rogers Park in which the street and its namesake beach are located. Wallen named the street after his beloved alma mater, New York’s Columbia University (then college).
The Chicago Park District and its Board of Commissioners have the final legal authority to rename any beach or park under its jurisdiction. Before they take official action on the Columbia Beach Park renaming proposal, they have asked for my opinion on the matter and I, in turn, want to hear your thoughts.
Below is a brief summary of Helen Doria’s life and accomplishments:
Born and raised on Chicago’s southwest side, Helen Doria moved to Columbia Avenue in Rogers Park in 1969 to attend Mundeleine College. Helen remained in Rogers Park after graduating from college and quickly becoming a part of the fabric of our community, working on a variety of political campaigns and community initiatives.
She served in the early 1980s as a staff assistant to my predecessor, then-49th Ward Alderman David Orr, where she worked with neighborhood activists in both Rogers Park and Edgewater to preserve the Berger Park mansion and establish Berger Park.
She left Alderman Orr’s office in 1983 to work for Mayor Harold Washington at the Mayor’s Office of Special Events and later the City’s the Department of Cultural Affairs where she gained national and international in the field of cultural programming by developing and expanding Chicago’s “Sister-City” relationships with cities around the world.
Helen joined to the Chicago Park District in the early 1990s, where she launched mini-festivals in the neighborhood parks, drawing thousands with an array of creative arts and cultural programs. The festivals led to Parks Partners, a union of cultural institutions and the Park District that fostered programs in Park District fieldhouses on subjects from theater to gardening.
Helen was later appointed by Mayor Richard Daley to the Millennium Park Board of Directors and was the park’s first executive director, serving from 2004 until the end of 2007. She is widely credited with making the park an open and inclusive place for people from all cultures and economic classes and was instrumental in establishing the “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” concert series.
Helen left Millennium Park launched Helen Doria Consulting in 2008, working as a nationally recognized arts consultant on arts, culture and public spaces. She took a lead role in the development of the 606 Recreational Trail and worked on many other projects and programs that made Chicago a more culturally rich place to live and work.
Her wide experience in the fields of culture and recreation led Mayor Emanuel to ask Helen to serve on his arts and culture transition committee after his election in 2011.
From her days as a student at Mundelein College to her untimely death in December, 2012, Helen lived in close proximity to Columbia Beach Park. It was a place of relaxation and a source of inspiration for her.
If the Park District Board renames the park to Helen Doria Beach Park, it would join a growing list of parks, including Toby Prinz Beach Park at Pratt Boulevard and the lake andMarion Mahony Griffin Beach Park at Jarvis Avenue and the lake, named for women whose accomplishments inspire future generations.
Let me know what you think of the proposal. Absent an outcry of community opposition or compelling argument against the name change, I will offer my support for renaming the Columbia Beach, the Helen Doria Beach Park at the next Park District Board meeting in December.