Plans for a new sign at Evanston’s lakefront lagoon to honor the family who’s donated $500,000 to renovate it came in for sharp criticism at Tuesday’s Preservation Commission meeting.

Commission member Jack Weiss called the sign, shown in a rendering above, to be “inappropriate to the site, rising up beyond the horizon line and destroying the horizontal look of that end of the lagoon.”

Despite the complaints from Weiss, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the sign as not being “incongrous to the historic character” of the site.

The proposed sign (top) superimposed on an image (above) of what the same area looks like today.

The vote came after the city’s assistant superintendent of parks, Stephanie Levine, said that the placement of the sign was the result of a lengthy negotiation with Michael Arrington, representing the family foundation that’s donating the money in honor of his father, the late W. Russell Arrington, who long represented Evanston in the Illinois House and Senate.

Michael Arrington, Levine said, wanted the sign to be visible from Sheridan Road.

But Weiss complained that even most commercial signs in the city wouldn’t be visible from that distance.

The sign would be located about 200 feet from the roadway.

Landscape architect Ryan Kettelkamp, hired by the city for the project, said the lagoon steps (at left in the photos above) were built as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s, but that the limestone retaining wall, where the sign would be placed, was added in the 1980s.

The $500,000 donation from the Arrington Foundation, combined with a $400,000 state grant means the city will spendonly about $100,000 of its money on the project, which was announced nearly two years ago.

City officials hope to begin work on the project this summer, assuming the City Council approves the signage.

Related stories

Lakefront lagoon gets donation, new name

Evanston gets $400K grant for lakefront lagoon upgrade

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Incongruous to the historic character

    Commission member Jack Weiss called the sign, shown in a rendering above, to be "inappropriate to the site, rising up beyond the horizon line and destroying the horizontal look of that end of the lagoon."

    Despite the complaints from Weiss, the commission voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the sign as not being "incongrous to the historic character" of the site.

    How is the lagoon "historic"?  It is artificial, built on landfill, around 50 years ago.

  2. Would be nicer without the self-aggrandizement

    I think it's great that these guys want to contribute half a million bucks to repair the lagoon, but in the spirit of true philanthropy it would be nice if they didn't insist on exacting an aesthetic toll on the community.  The sign's too big, and the family's insistence that it be visible from Sheridan Road makes me think less of them, and of their gesture.

  3. Sign exhibits gross hubris

    While I am grateful to the Arrington family for donating the money to fix up the lagoon, I just can't imagine that this senator would have ever been in favor of such a gross display of self-aggrandizement. 

    This enormous sign is not only inappropriate for the environment, but it also teaches our children that it is okay to selfishly advertise one's wealth in a public park–this isn't a stadium named after a corporation. 

    The fact that this family can't generously donate the money to better the community out of the goodness of their hearts (and make due with a normal-sized sign) is an affront to the original senator's values and a slap in the face to all of us, the residents, who have to look at the sign. 

    Residents far more famous and far more generous have lived, served, and donated money to communities on the North Shore in the past and none, to my knowledge, has had the audacity and hubris to "negotiate" with the city for an enormous sign like this one. 

    And if this is the negotiated size, what on earth was this family asking for in their opening request?  Something neon? Rotating? Larger than the lagoon itself? 

    What a disingenuous donation.   Shame on the Arrington family and shame on us for not working out these details before accepting their money.

  4. We thank the family for the

    We thank the family for the generous donation to refurbish the lagoon, but did they have to insist on a sign that can be seen from space?

  5. Now we have Northwestern,

    Now we have Northwestern, Pritzker, and Arrington.  Is that a certain trinity?

    1. Now we have Northwestern

      Yes, they are the "trinity" of providing money to the city.  Be thankful your taxes aren't higher!

      I guess if you don't like a world class university, business developmet or the city's infastrucure being rebuilt for a franction of the cost to the tax payer you might be on to something….

      Oh well, some people will never get it!

  6. A simple small plaque …

    How about a simple small plaque like the ones on the benches that surround the lagoon somewhere on the facade, not above it?  The Arrington name can live on there gracefully.

  7. Another city mistake?

    Is the location correct?  If the purpose of the sign is to put out the senator name, then a better location would have been closer to Sheridan Road.  The sign does not work, who decided on this location? The city? The landscape Architect? Or a staff member? Or the family?

    Given more people are driving by the lagoon each day, a sign closer to the road would have been the best choice.

    Also wasting all the money to build this wall when the lagoon needs many other repairs, is so typical of our city's leadership and staff.

    I am not against a sign versus a small plaque, but wasting a large amount of the $500,000 is so typical of how the city operates, it just never changes.

  8. Lagoon wall sign

    You know what?  The sign isn't neon. It isn't seven feet tall. It's designed to blend in with the retaining wall built in the 80s. That lagoon looked like absolute crap. We didn't have the money to fix it. The same people bitching about the sign would be having an absolute conniption if the city wanted to use tax dollars to find the 500k this guy is putting up. The sign is a small price to pay to revitalize the lakefront. It's happening, so embrace change. 

    1. Response to Lagoon Wall Sign post


      I think you have musunderstood the previous postings regarding the lagoon wall sign.  If you reread the posts, you will understand that there are multiple objections not just to the physical sign, but to the family's insistence on its size and the city's negotiating process.  Speaking for myself, in response to your assumption that those critical of the sign would never want tax dollars spent to revitalize the lakefront, you are mistaken.  These are precisely the projects that we should be undertaking using tax money.  Using my tax money to clean up parks and public areas makes my property more valuable. 

  9. A simple wooden sign would be preferable

    If the Arrington family wants the sign to be visible from Sheridan Road, then why isn't it nearer to the street?  The way it's placed now, it's invisible to people traveling southbound past the park, and (as Mr. Weiss noted) the sign would be hard to see by people traveling northbound unless it was painted blaze orange.  Even people coming up the access road would have problems reading it.

    A simple wooden sign — not unlike those placed elsewhere in the park district — placed closer to Sheridan would be cheaper, more in line with other structures in the park, and more readable.  Even taking the proposed structure and placing it right by the entrance to the park would be much preferable


  10. Do good, but not for bragging rights.

    Some thoughts on the proposal:

    I'm always far more appreciative of those who choose to give that they not also insist that they get. It is how I chose to donate.  And it is not that such a generous deed be done with anonymity, but to require such an advertisement is unwanted. Is that not what it means to gift a gift?  Or was the donation not really a gift but payment?

    Aside from philosophical differences, a huge signs like this cheapens the look and feel of a place.  No, it's not neon, but it is advertising.  Does such a sign not boost the value of their family name?  Why should the look of our lake front suffer for that cause? 

    Furthermore, it's not on the side of a building or wall that would inherently be a part of the design, but a special wall or section erected just for the sign. That's a bg difference!

    Finally, while I agree the contribution is substantial, it's only half of what is required – it's not as if the money covers all or even most of the expense.  Should we not also then erect a similarly sized sign noting the donaton from the federal goverment? 

    Personally, I find it distasteful.   And wonder if  the requirement for a sign were presented as a condition of that "gift" before it was accepted, if the people of the city would have instead worked to create a fundraiser to help meet the required funds or propsals offering alternatives would have been more steadily sought. 

    Remember the Fountain Square Centennial Fountain fndraiser?   Of course, alternate solutions would have been more seriously considered if the people were aware that such an eyesore were a required condition of the donation.

    Looking at it further makes me feel as if I'm looking at a corner sign on an in-road to a mall.

    Are the most beautiful parts of our city up for sale to the highest "gifter"?

  11. Uh oh, Arrington was a Republican senator. That’s not good.

    How about renaming the park Arrington Park and post it on a wood sign?

    I wonder how many people might be bothered by the fact that that W. Russell Arrington was a Republican? 

  12. Restrain your complaints

    People love to complain and rarely give praise when it's due. Who knows what Mr. Arrington's motivation is for requesting large signage. There are possibilities beyond him wanting to bring "value to the family name", "hubris", or "self-aggrandizement". It's possible he has a deep need to prove to his father that he is a good son. He may want to honor his father in a big way to satisfy some personal issue. The point is, it's unfair to jump to negative conclusions.

    It is not widely know, because Mr. Arrington doesn't publicize it, that the Arrington Foundation gives to many charities every year, including the Evanston Police Department. He once purchased all of their water life-saving equipment. 

    The sign is big, but at least it's made out of natural materials, not an ugly painted or printed sign. Would the complainers rather have this?

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *