Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chicago: Second City

A view of Chicago from the John Hancock Observatory
Located on the Southwest edge of Lake Michigan, Chicago is America’s third largest city. More than 9,000,000 people live in the Chicago metro area. Sometimes called The Windy City, Chicago is also nicknamed the Second City and for a very interesting reason. In 1871 most of downtown Chicago was built from wood. When a huge fire broke out, it spread so quickly that much of the city of was destroyed. For three days the fire raged, eventually killing 300 and leaving 100,000 homeless. When the citizens rebuilt the city, they used steel and stone creating a second city where the first had vanished. As new construction replaced burned out shells, the goal was to build up. Why? Because in a city land is at a premium and very costly. As buildings rose higher and higher, Chicago became home to the first skyscraper in the United States.

Driving in big cities is difficult. Most people get around using mass transportation. There are many options in Chicago. The El (for Elevated Train) rises high above the streets encircling the city in a loop. My hotel was about 30 miles out of town, so I chose to ride the Metra train into the heart of the city. After disembarking in Union Station, I began to walk, heading in the direction of the Magnificent Mile (locals call it the Mag Mile) where much of the most prestigious real estate is located. After walking for a few miles, I bought a ticket for a double-decker touring bus so that I could get an overview of the architecture. Chicago is a mix of old style buildings and new ones, and many have interesting stories. Each time I got off the bus, I explored new sights. 

The El loops around Chicago.

Chicago Tribune Tower

I was fascinated as I walked along the perimeter of the Chicago Tribune Tower. The Neo-Gothic structure was erected in the 1920s. As plans for the building went forward, workers for the Chicago Tribune began to collect pieces of historically important structures from across the globe. Each piece is embedded in the exterior of the building with a plaque identifying it. One of the most recent additions is a piece from the World Trade Center that was destroyed on September 11, 2001. Other stones include pieces of the Taj Mahal in India, the Parthenon in Greece, the Berlin Wall in Germany, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, petrified wood from the American Southwest, a chunk of the Great Wall of China and one from Abraham Lincoln’s tomb. In all there are about 120.

This is one of the rocks embedded in the Tribune Tower. Why is this rock historically significant?

Another rock embedded in the tower.
Another interesting building is the Willis Tower, which was originally called the Sears Tower. When it was built in the early 1970s, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world. While it is still the tallest building in the United States, it has fallen to number seven globally. Visitors can go to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor and walk out onto a glass box that extends from the side of the building. Through the floor of the box one can see the street 1,353 feet below. Would you be brave enough to visit the Skydeck and walk out into the glass box?

The Willis Tower, still called the Sears Tower by some
Completed in 1964, the Corncob Towers (below) rise high above the street. The official name is Marina City but the shape of the buildings caused locals to give them the nickname. The complex was designed as a city within a city. If you live there, everything you need is readily available—stores, restaurants, parking garage, theater, gym, swimming pool, bowling alley, and so on.

Do the buildings on the right look like corncobs to you?
Designed by a woman, the Aqua Building (below) combines apartments, condos, and a hotel into one structure. The wavelike forms represent water. But the exterior design is only one facet of this interesting edifice. Created to be sustainable, the building includes rainwater collection systems, energy-efficient lighting and graceful terraces to provide solar shading.

Aqua Building
Last but not least is the John Hancock Center (below). You can purchase a ticket to visit the John Hancock Observatory on the 105th floor. The fastest elevator in the USA whisks you up in only 40 seconds and you exit to a breathtaking view. Surrounded by large glass panels, on a clear day you can see all the way across Lake Michigan or from another direction, all the way to Indiana. The pamphlet I was given brags, “With sweeping views spanning four states.” It was fun to see Chicago stretch out in front of you. I watched boaters on the water so far below they looked like specks. And the beach was covered with sunbathers. 

John Hancock Center

From the Hancock Observation Deck you can see the Navy Pier below.

Here you can see a portion of the beach bordering Lake Michigan as well as Chicago's most famous road, Lake Shore Drive. The closer a building is to Lake Shore Drive the more expensive it is.


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