Pictured (left to right): Dr. Michael Ruchim, Associate Chief Medical Officer, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 2nd Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti (Seneca Park &  the Eli M. Schulman Playground are now in the 2nd Ward), Eli’s Cheesecake’s Maureen Schulman, reigning Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skating Champion, Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, Eli’s Cheesecake’s Marc Schulman and Ritz Carlton Hotel General Manager Tom Segesta.

The evening of Thursday, November 21st continued a tradition in the Streeterville neighborhood as a ceremony was held to light Seneca Park & the Eli M. Schulman Playground for the holidays.

It was a festive evening (although a little wet) with a pre-lighting reception at the historic Company 98 of the Chicago Fire Department  catered by the Ritz Carlton Chicago and the Eli’s Cheesecake Company. Chicago Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, a former Captain at Engine Company 98, joined in the festivities.

The lighting of Seneca Park & the Eli M. Schulman Playground is 100% privately funded.  Funders of the lighting are Northwestern Memorial Healthcare, the Museum of Contemporary Art, American Girl Place, the American Dental Association, the Ritz Carlton Chicago, The Eli’s Cheesecake Company, Lookingglass Theatre Company, the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Broadway in Chicago, CBRE and Moore Landscapes.

 Reigning Olympic Gold Medal Figure Skater, Evan Lysacek (a native of Naperville), served as the celebrity in a countdown to direct Moore Landscapes to turn on the lights. Lysacek is a long time friend of Marc and Maureen Schulman, who coordinated the event with Sarah Burke of Northwestern Healthcare.

A highlight of the event at the Firehouse was the reading of the by Eric Schroeder of Lookingglass Theatre of the poem written by Sally Park in honor of the event. Sally is a long time resident of the area and annually writes a poem for the evening.

Attendees at the Lighting included 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti (Seneca Park & Eli M. Schulman Playground are now in the 2nd Ward,  Dean Harrison, CEO of Northwestern Healthcare, Susan Hayes Gordon of Lurie Children’s Hospital, Peter Roth, recently named GM of the Park Hyatt,  John Chikow of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association and Gail Spreen of SOAR.

In 1988, the Playground at Seneca Park was renamed in memory of the late restaurateur, Eli M. Schulman, whose restaurant Eli’s the Place for Steak was located just south of the park on the site of what is now the Lurie Children’s Hospital. Over the next one and a half years, Eli’s son Marc Schulman led a campaign to totally rebuild Seneca Park and the Eli M. Schulman Playground raising over $350,000 to fund the reconstruction and to purchase the equine sculpture, “Ben,” by Deborah Butterfield which is in the Park. Fund raising events included a Gala the Ritz Carlton featuring the late cabaret singer Bobby Short.

The Lighting of the Trees on the Magnificent Mile with tiny white lights dates back to the 1959 when the Greater North Michigan Avenue started this holiday tradition.
It wasn’t until 1992 when the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival as we know it today originated  under the leadership of Founding Lights Festival Chairman Marc Schulman of Eli’s Cheesecake. In an article in the Tribune in November of 1992, Schulman told Rick Kogan in an article entitled “It’s time to turn on the Lights” that “It’s all meant to be fun, to really kickoff the holiday season in a style reminiscent of bygone days.” “We think this will mark the new coming of age of Michigan Avenue, our hope is that the lighting of the trees will become a holiday highlight.”

What a great way for the Streeterville Community to welcome the Holiday Season: Thursday night in Seneca Park  & the Eli M. Schulman Playground and Saturday evening for the 22nd BMO Harris Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.