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Who is R. J. Jarvis? Mystery of Beach's Namesake Could Lead to New Name

By Benjamin Woodard | September 9, 2014 5:30am
 Architect Marion Mahony Griffin, with her husband Walter, designed the city of Canberra a century ago.
Architect Marion Mahony Griffin, with her husband Walter, designed the city of Canberra a century ago.
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DNAinfo/Benjamin Woodard (inset: National Library of Australia)

ROGERS PARK — The Aussie push to rename the beach at the end of Jarvis Avenue in honor of architect Marion Mahony Griffin moved closer to becoming a reality when Ald. Joe Moore threw his support behind the proposal Monday, asking: Who the heck is R. J. Jarvis?

The 49th Ward alderman said in an email to constituents that research turned up little about the identity of the street's namesake.

In fact, it's entirely possible R. J. Jarvis, purportedly a friend of Rogers Park's early developers, Patrick Leonard Touhy and Philip McGregor Rogers, never even existed, he said.

Ben Woodard explains how the potential renaming of a beach has spawned a deeper mystery in Chicago's past:

Moore, citing research from the University of Illinois at Chicago, said Jarvis Avenue had been named Bryan Street after "a prominent Rogers Park landowner." But in 1913, Bryan Street was among hundreds of streets renamed by the City Council.

"Bryan Street was renamed Juniata Street, apparently because there was a 'Bryan Place' elsewhere in the City," Moore said.

Inexplicably a few months later, Moore said, the City Council voted to change the name yet again, this time to its current identity, Jarvis.

Moore said R. J. Jarvis might have existed and had only been overlooked in documents, but no relatives of the mysterious man have come forward so far.

The lack of info about Jarvis was among Moore's arguments to rename Jarvis Beach after Griffin, the architect, who with her husband designed Australia's capital city more than a century ago and has been credited with working alongside Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago.

"Naming a beautiful beach and park, just steps from Frank Lloyd Wright's historic Emil Bach House, is a fitting and long overdue tribute to this giant of a woman who broke every glass ceiling in her chosen profession and blazed a trail for future generations of women during a time when women's professional work was seldom acknowledged and recognized," he wrote.

Since last year, Consul-General Roger Price, the Australian representative to the Midwest, has pushed to rename a Chicago park after Griffin, who lived in Rogers Park from 1939 to 1961.

Moore said most of the feedback he'd received since announcing the proposal for Jarvis Beach had been in support of it.

He argued that Griffin's accomplishments far overshadowed those of the park's current namesake, R.J. Jarvis, who may not have even existed, according to his research.

The Chicago Park District's Board of Commissioners, who meet Wednesday, would have to initiate a 45-day notice period before the park could be officially renamed by a vote of the board.

Moore initially said the board planned to address the proposal this week, but said late Monday that the proposal likely will be on its November agenda, meaning the notice period wouldn't begin until then.

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