When the Circle campus opened in 1965, a broad elevated walkway ran from the north side of Harrison Street all the way to Lecture Center A, where it joined The Great Court above The Circle Forum. Beyond the Forum, it continued south from Lecture Center D and through the Science and Engineering Labs to parking lots and athletic fields south of Taylor Street. This corridor was the north-south spine of the campus. Connecting walkways provided access to most campus buildings' main entrances on the second level. The ground level was closed to foot traffic, except around the single-story Lecture Centers, as construction on Phase I was still in progress on opening day.
For the first twenty-eight years, students moved around the campus via this extensive system of elevated “pedestrian expressways” linking most campus buildings. This was Walter Netsch’s original idea to avoid creating an uninterrupted expanse of concrete in the tightly bounded area of the campus. Concrete and slabs of Minnesota granite, ten by twenty feet and a foot thick, were used in their construction. Down the center of large sections of the walkways Netsch left an opening through which shrubs and trees grew, softening the overall effect. Besides transporting people above, the walkways sheltered pedestrians below among “urban trees,” as Netsch referred to his butterfly columns that supported the walkways. Today only photographs of the north-south walkways remain; a wide sidewalk traces the route.
Over a six-year period ending in 1999 the walkways were removed to create a greener, more welcoming campus environment. The Circle Forum and The Great Court were dismantled at the same time. This was a highly controversial project which resulted in the elimination of significant elements of the Netsch design.
As with The Circle Forum and The Great Court, maintenance of the walkways was difficult, especially in winter, when snow had to be removed from exposed surfaces and the stairways leading up to them. Netsch had designed the steps with heating elements to melt the snow, but the transformers failed and were never replaced. Salt, in conjunction with the annual freeze and thaw cycles, gradually caused the concrete stairways to crack and deteriorate, seriously limiting access and use.
Granite damaged during demolition was donated to the City of Chicago, which used it to build an artificial reef at 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. A number of the “tiger tooth” granite bollards survived demolition and are found around campus and the neighborhood. A few of the bollards are still connected with the original thick, metal chain.
For more, see these UIC ARCHIVES collections:
- 086 Photograph Subject File
- 070-00-01 Chicago Illini (student newspaper)
- 003-23-00-01 The Historic Netsch Campus at UIC, 2008
- 003-21-02 Office of the UIC Historian — Research and Administrative Records
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