Brief History: The Early Years
The Burnham Park Yacht Club represents more than a building, docks and grounds to serve its members. It’s a connection between the men and women who have worked during the past 76 years to honor the original club goals identified in the Sept. 14, 1938, papers of incorporation, and to broaden them as expansions and changes came to the club facilities and the Burnham Harbor.
The club’s original objectives were ―social pleasure and entertainment of its members; to promote owner construction of one design boats and provide racing competition for these craft; to foster, develop and encourage Corinthian yachting on the Great Lakes and tributaries thereto in the United States of America.]
Since then our activities have expanded to include promoting ownership of many types of crafts and using club facilities in public services projects.
Similarities between the club’s earliest years and today do stand out as members work on racing, planning social events, supporting local charities and encouraging sailing with our sailing school.
GAGE PARK NAUTICAL ASSOCIATION
The club actually began as the Gage Park Nautical Association when 15 to 20 members built National one design, class B dinghies: of 11 1/2 feet at the city’s Gage Park Field House. After building the boats, they needed a place to sail and moor them. Someone at the park district said they could anchor dinghies in the north end of Burnham Harbor. Meanwhile, members met at the Auditorium Hotel and held special parties or dances at area halls, such as at a Lithuanian hall at 71st Street and Western Avenue.
At the anchorage area, everyone cooked their own food outdoors by large piles of rocks directly next to where the club is now located, in the area that is a part of Meigs Field. Members would peel potatoes to get ready for a party. If someone brought in a lot of food, others would contribute the needed “extras”. Charlie Anderson, a charter member, often brought in steaks from the stockyards. He also designed a deep fryer with a charcoal flame for outside use.
In 1941, Nautical Association members learned of a discarded portable warming house in Burnham that the park district no longer needed. This building turned out to be in two squares which members made into a rectangle by connecting them at the corners. The one large room soon contained a heatilator fireplace, electricity was put in as well as doors and windows, but there was no plumbing. The inside was pretty well finished by Pearl Harbor Day. There was knotty pine dado around the walls, with booths and table tops also of knotty pine.
DUES WERE $3 A YEAR
Anyone who had been an original member from Gage Park and helped form the building was given the designation of “plank owner”. By 1942, members believed they had reached milestone #1: their own building was finished off and livable. They even learned to live with “Old Faithful”, the club’s one cylinder generator with its unpredictable moods and pleasures. Before each meeting members would sweat and perspire to get it going. Then about 10 p.m. the lights would begin to dim so everyone knew to get their coats and find the door right away.
GROWING POWER BOAT FLEET
In 1943, with Abe Jacobs, a well known racer as commodore, a new roof was put on the clubhouse. Wartime restrictions prohibited anything else in the way of building. The club also joined the LMYA Power Squadron because of the growing power boat fleet.
In 1945, the grounds received an intensive manicuring. Truckloads of black dirt were dumped, and the grounds leveled and graded. A major headache had been the landing dock, constructed by sinking piling in the ground and bolting a wooden frame onto it. Each winter ice would destroy the dock, so each summer club members would rebuild it.
Commodore Ed Krug learned that the park district would be using a pile driver on the lakefront and was able to negotiate for its use to drive permanent steel pilings that would withstand the winter’s ice. Once the pilings were in, they had to be cut off to the right height and steel beams welded across their tops to form a permanent dock, meaning a permanent gas pump could be put in.
In the spring of 1946, Socony Vacuum buried a 3,000 gallon tank, installed a pump on the docks and put in overhead lights. Members had reached milestone #2: acquisition of a permanent dock offering fresh water, gasoline and steward service. In between the modest beginning at Gage Park and today’s expanded facility, there have been triumphs as well as one tragedy.
THE GREAT BURNHAM HARBOR FIRE
In 1976, a fire totally destroyed the club’s second floor office, the women’s head and part of the galley. Commodore William Erickson was called at home at 2 a.m. and told the club was on fire. He arrived to find the place six inches deep in water. Because of Meigs Field, a permit was not issued to rebuild the second floor which had included a patio, so members took space from the men’s locker room to build an office on the first floor. The women’s head was completely redone with the help of the Women’s Auxiliary. The galley was redone and a walk-in cooler installed.
THE EARLY 1990’s
By the early ’90s the Lou Davini Cruise had become an annual event for mentally impaired adults from Lambs Farm who enjoyed a picnic after their power boat rides. Boys who lived at St. Joseph Carondolet Home got sailboat rides each year followed by a supper, and they were invited to the club for a party/dinner before Christmas. A cruise for the vision impaired and disabled was sponsored by the club and the Chicago Power Squadron. Nabisco partnered with the BPYC to sponsor a “Leadership Regatta” which was the culmination of a year-long outward bound experience, partnering “the best and brightest sophomore students from New Trier High School and Harper High School. A mini regatta included the students and some teachers, followed by hot dogs, commemorative hoodies and trophies, and became an annual early season event for a number of years.
Club members and their families continued to work on the clubhouse, docks and grounds as well as with programs, membership, financial procedures, the directory and the sail and power fleets. Women’s Auxiliary representatives continued to raise funds for club beautification and sit on BPYC standing committees. In the mid-nineties, Commodore Fred Poppe spearheaded a bond issue to fund the excavation of the Club’s fuel tanks, which had begun to leak. It was a costly project, including clean-up, but PC Poppe was successful in raising the necessary funds with the bonds, which were eventually paid off with interest.
Club facilities were made available for organizations associated with sailing such as the US Power Squadron classes on celestial navigation. Pilots from Meigs Field enjoyed the use of our dining room. Tender services were available for club members and masts stepped for any sailboats that could get under our crane.
The New Millennium
The end of the century brought some significant changes to Burnham Harbor. The steel docks were replaced by floating ones and the face of the harbor permanently changed. A new configuration of docks was initiated. First the west side was converted to floating docks, followed by the east side. With this new configuration in the harbor, the yacht club gas docks, as well as the transient docks, were eliminated. In its place, four slips were allocated to the club for members and visitors to use. Commodore Marty Finerty designed a new crane for the docks so we could continue to step masts. Over a 15 month time frame, except for the columns, the old Soldier Field Stadium was torn down and a new space age stadium was erected in its place. The new stadium opened in September of 2001.
In 2002 the club installed a new roof and new a/c units, Bill Zoller oversaw the project. The club docks were utilized fully by new members. As usual, all slips were full for the season. Membership was increasing on a continuing basis.
In 2003 a few projects where completed: The patio canopy was installed, which was paid for by donations of various members. The bathrooms were given a once over with new fixtures. The biggest unexpected event took place under the cover of darkness. Late one Sunday evening, a large group of construction personnel and equipment made their way to Meigs Field. Large ―X’s‖ were cut into the runways. No further landings or take offs were allowed from then on. Planes that were still at Meigs were allowed to take off from the taxi way only. From then on, it was no longer Meigs Field, but Northerly Island. The club was not effected by the events that took place, although in years to come, we have been interfacing with new neighbors and enjoying the nature preserve next door.
As a result of a survey, in 2003, members made it clear that the washroom facilities at the Club were undesirable. In 2005, Commodore Tom McInerney and PC Marty Finnerty worked together to design and engineer new facilities. New, energy efficient windows were installed, and the Auxiliary purchased new patio furniture.
In 2006, many BPYC improvements took place. New flooring was installed in the chart room and new track lighting was installed in the dining room. An outdoor swing and sand box were added to the patio. One of the biggest changes in the Club’s history also happened in 2006, when Joann Murphy became the first woman Commodore of the Burnham Park Yacht Club. It was only a few years earlier that the membership voted to allow women to be members of the Club. Since then, Marcella Cimino became the 2nd woman Commodore, and 1st spouse of a former Commodore (PC Tony Cimino). Judi McInerney became Commodore in 2013, and is the 2nd spouse of a former Commodore (PC Tom McInerney). The by-law change has made quite an impact on the Club, as there are more women taking on leadership roles, every year.
2009 was a busy year, seeing the long range plans for the new bathrooms completed with the help of Commodore Dave DeAre. We also built the floating docks near the crane for our Jr Sailing program. In 2012 the start of the boating season was delayed due to Burnham Harbor being closed for the NATO International conference in Chicago.
In 2013 BPYC had its 75th Anniversary Celebration. PC Joann Murphy led a very successful fundraiser, which included a Casino night, which proved to be a wildly popular event, complete with a red carpet and paparazzi. Each year, new challenges have presented themselves and BPYC has overcome the challenges and thrived through the years. The Club continues to provide a great place to meet with your friends, have a fine meal, relax and enjoy the best view of Chicago.
— Lynn Raines, Dorothy Dobes, Judi McInerney