An Historic Chicago Location
The Belmont Rocks
AIDS Garden Chicago will be built within 2.5 acres along the magnificent shore of Lake Michigan at the original location of the Belmont Rocks, a space where the local gay community gathered between the 1960s and 1990s. “The Rocks” were about claiming the right to be out of the shadows and out of the closet.
Since the early days of the gay movement, the Belmont Rocks were a place to call our own. The lakefront stretch of stone and grass from Belmont to Diversey harbors was a public space Chicago’s LGBTQ community claimed from the 1960s through the 1990s. This was more than a frequented area. The Rocks were a political statement tied to our liberation, a symbol of our right to be here, our right to exist, and our right to gather outside and in the sunlight at a time when our bars still had blackened windows.
Community happened along this undesirable strip of uneven limestone blocks. Relationships and friendships happened there, hook-ups, unions, memorials, picnics, cookouts, dance parties, and rallies. Artwork covered many of these stones. At the Rocks, people lay in the sun, watched the sunset before going out, and sat to watch the sunrise after the bars closed.
In 2003, the Belmont Rocks were bulldozed and removed as part of a revetment project to safeguard against shoreline erosion. The Rocks themselves may be gone, but this portion of the Chicago shoreline will forever remain a place of celebration, joy, and remembrance in the pre-AIDS era and throughout the darkest days of the epidemic.
— Owen Keehnen
Chicago Author & Historian