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The 57th Street Beach may be king of the south-side beaches, but a more glorified figure lies a few blocks south. The oldest and largest of its kind in Chicago, the 63rd Street Bathing Pavilion boasts a promenade, two courtyards, and an impressive view of the lake and skyline.
Completed in 1919, the pavilion features a Mediterranean revival style inspired by the architecture of the nearby South Shore Country Club, which went out of business in the 1970s after it continued to refuse membership to the area’s growing black population. At 63rd Street, African-Americans were only allowed access to the south side of the beach; they couldn’t enter the pavilion at all. In 2003 Paul G. Bruce, who grew up relegated to that “colored” beach, wrote of visiting the pavilion as an old man: “It was the first time in all my seventy-eight years that I had ever set foot inside of it.”
Today, though the pavilion serves as a site for barbecues, weddings, and outdoor film screenings, it often looms large and empty—a reminder of a social reality that’s both gone and ever present.