The Run Down

We're taking a trip to Chicago's South Shore where we'll be visiting a monstrous relic from an abandoned steel complex. This once busy industrial complex is now a quiet park that runs along the shores of  Lake Michigan, but after the park conversion, the city left behind a series of 30 feet high concrete walls that span over 5.5 football fields. We're here to explore these walls and see what's on the other side.

1. Steel Workers Park

We’re at Steel Workers Park, which is on the far South side of Chicago and right off 87th and Lakeshore Drive.  We made the journey by car, but you can also make it easily on bike. The park is along the Lakefront path, and if you’re coming from downtown, it’s about a 1.5 hour ride.

The park itself is hidden from the traffic on Lakeshore Drive. There’s a 1/2 mile stretch of road you’ll turn into that takes you towards the lake. There’s nothing at the end of this road other than the park, so there’s virtually no cars or anybody else in sight. On our first bike ride down here, the road was so quiet that I thought we might have been trespassing on private land. It looked out of place for anything, much less a park to be here. Along one side of the road are giant concrete walls and on the other side are tracts of conservation lands being restored.

But finally as you get to the end of the road, you’ll find the entrance to Steel Workers Park.

Because we’re in a quieter industrial area and not visible from Lakeshore Drive, you’re going to find that this place is a nice retreat if you’re looking for some solitude. There’s not a whole lot of activity in the park, but there is a small walking path that loops around the park grounds. We explore this loop first before getting to the wall.

In the distance, you can see the wall as you make your loop on the walking path. We’re getting closer.

All along the park are signs providing information on the history the area and conservation efforts being undertaken. Just a few years ago, this place looked like one giant mud pit. You’ll also see signs for some really interesting commercial developments. In fact, in August 2017, a developer purchased this 430 acre parcel of land to redevelop it into 30 urban blocks. There have been plans to build on this site for the past 20 years, so it’s still to be seen if these new owners can make that into a reality.

2. The Ore Walls

The walking path finally takes us to these massive concrete walls. They are called the “Ore Walls,” because as noted in one of the informational signs:

The manufacture of steel requires enormous amounts of ore. Along the North Slip at South Works, half-mile long ore walls were built to accomodate huge barges bringing ore via Lake Michigan. Cranes lifted the ore from barges and deposited it between the walls for sorting and storage

This is my favorite picture of the ore wall that I think almost captures the overwhelming presence of the wall. This only captures a part of it — it extends down for 1/2 mile. 

Between the walls is an undisturbed and flourishing crop of trees and wild vegetation. It has a beautiful post-apocalyptic vibe going on. There’s a whole lot more you can explore in these walls. Along the sides, we saw little entry ways that might lead you deeper into this structure. We didn’t venture into it ourselves, but we’ll leave that little bit of mystery for all of you to uncover.