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Jul 8 2011

Downtown Chicago Trip

Landon hadn't been feeling well this week and wasn't up for a long day of travel and sightseeing so he stayed home with Mama while Drew, Will, Aunt Donelda, Miss Sue and I continued with our fifth day of vacation. We'd been closely watching the weather and had planned on going downtown on the clearest day so as to maximize our view pleasure of and from Chicago's tall buildings. Today turned out to be the perfect day weather wise.


We started our trip off with a commuter train ride, the same one my father took to and from work every day during the 70s. It really is incredibly convenient. You can even take your bike along so that suburbanites can enjoy a ride along Chicago's Lake Shore Drive.


Will and Drew, two of the three most handsome boys I know, looking forward to their day in Chicago.


North Western Station, everybody off and let the crowds begin.


Metra train station in the Citigroup Center formally know as the Ogilvie Transportation Center but better known as the North Western Station. Warning don't take a picture inside lest the owners get their terrorists-have-already-won panties in a wad. Seriously, there simply is no logical, rational, reasonable reason not to allow people to take photographs in 99.9% of the places that restrict it. The Ogilvie Transportation Center gets away with the prohibition because it is within a privately owned building (Citigroup Center) and isn't exclusively public (at least that's what Paul Blart told us after Donelda asked). I have no doubt a Chicago/Illinois court would uphold such idiotic reasoning since they can claim with a straight face the Second Amendment doesn't exist. Don't get me started.

After the jump, a ridiculous number of photos documenting our incredible day in downtown Chicago...and with surprisingly little political commentary!


Will and Drew pose on the Adams Street bridge on our walk from the train station to our first stop, the Sears Tower. A separate blog post is entirely devoted to our trip to the Sears Tower or, if you must, the Willis Tower.


Who said Chicago doesn't have wildlife. I caught this Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) as I was looking down at the Chicago River. While common world-wide, it is technically endangered in Illinois.


After we visited the Sears/Willis Tower observation deck officially called the Skydeck and we ventured out on the glass Ledges, it was time for lunch. And, a trip home to Chicago wouldn't be complete without some authentic Chicago pan pizza. This time we got our fix at Giordano's.


Now that's a cheese pizza! (This is what happens when Mama doesn't come with us...Daddy sets a bad example.)


After our awesome lunch, we took a little waking tour of Chicago as we headed to our next destination. This is one of Chicago's famous elevated train tracks.


The same elevated train track looking down the middle of the road/track.


Another elevated train track.


And, again, looking down the middle of the elevated train track/road.


The Chicago public library Harold Washington Library Center features an acroteria angularia on each corner containing an owl (the Greek symbol of knowledge) perched in foliage.


A Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) articulated bus. I can't even imagine driving one of these around the city...I'd just go straight and never turn.


At one point I almost had Drew convinced that pigeons in Chicago will go running if they hear you say "orange sauce." He was hesitant to accept my assertion and tried it out but with no discernible results. He soon declared, "I don't believe you." While Drew got to put a little hypothesis-experiment-conclusion into practice...I was briefly amused while Drew chased pigeons yelling "orange sauce."


Our destination was the Sante Fe Building which is the home of the Chicago Architecture Foundation and its current exhibit the Chicago Model City, a 320-square-foot model of downtown Chicago. The model city is really incredible and the only up to date scale model of all of downtown Chicago in existence.


Looking east toward the Sears Tower with the person in the background, you get an an idea of the size and attention to detail that went into creating the models.


Thanks to Donelda's friend since high school, we had access to the roof of the Santa Fe Building and its incredible views of the Chicago lake front. This is my favorite photo of all I took today (other than ones of my boys).

The 83 story Aon Center, completed in 1973, is where my father worked during the 1970s. It was originally the Standard Oil Building and later changed to the Amoco Building in 1985 when the company changed its name before becoming the Aon Center at the end of 1999.

For about a year, it was the tallest building in Chicago until the Sears Tower was completed in 1974. It remained behind only the Sears Tower and the World Trade Centers as the world's tallest building when measured in height to the roof until the late 1990s. Until 2007, it was the tallest building in the world without any major antennae or spires. Finally, it remains the world's tallest regular "box-shaped" building.

Go ahead, ask me how much I hate that stupid antenna thing sitting on top of it. It was only recently installed in 2009 and is the most vile piece of visual trash ever to sit atop a building.

The building was originally clad in 43,000 slabs of Italian Carrara marble (same as used by Michelangelo in his sculptures) cut thinner than previously attempted in cladding a building. In 1974, just a year after construction, Chicago's harsh winters caused significant cracks and bowing culminating in one of the massive marble slabs falling off and penetrating the roof of the neighboring Prudential Center. Stainless steel straps were added to the panels in an attempt to fix the problem but between 1990 to 1992 all 43,000 one-and-a-half-inch think marble panels were replaced by two-inch-thick Mt. Airy granite panels at a cost of about $80 million...2/3rds of the original $120 million cost of the entire building!


Millennium Park is a 24.5 acre public park in the northwest section of Grant Park and is behind only Navy Pier as Chicago's number two tourist attraction. On the far left edge you can see the Millennium Monument a limestone peristyle tribute to the individual, corporate and foundation benefactors of Millennium Park. At bottom left is the Crown Fountain with a reflecting pool between two 50 foot translucent towers which intermittently cascade and spout water while playing videos using light-emitting diodes behind the bricks. Just above the fountains is the Cloud Gate ("The Bean") by artist Anish Kapoor consisting of 168 stainless steel plates welded together and polished so as to eliminate any visible seams. The sculpture is three-stories tall and has a 12 foot high archway underneath.

Finally, on the right is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and Great Lawn. The bandshell stage is framed by large curving plates of stainless steel 130 feet high and is connected to a trellis of interlocking crisscrossing steel pipes that support the sound system which is designed to mimic the acoustics of an indoor concert hall. Interestingly, to me, is that even prior to Chicago being incorporated as a city, Grant Park has been protected by legislation that has been affirmed by four Illinois Supreme Court rulings declaring that the park shall be "forever open, clear and free." (This is the reason that all of the concerts in the park are free and the rehearsals are open to the public.) The park has been declared, "public ground forever to remain vacant of buildings." Protectors of the park have successfully sued the city forcing it to remove buildings and structures over the years and preventing it from building new ones. The Crown Fountain and Pritzker Pavilion are in violation of the height restrictions. "How can that be," you ask? The city just calls them "works of art" and exempts them, of course. Remember boys and girls, we are not a nation of laws. The only thing that matters is who you know.


If you click on this image a large panorama will pop up of the view from the Santa Fe Building looking east out over Grant Park, Monroe Street Harbor and Lake Michigan. Monroe Harbor is the part of Lake Michigan where I've swam in about a half-dozen Chicago Triathlons.


I leaned out as far as I could over the roof ledge to get a picture of the Santa Fe Building sign.


On the way down from the roof of the Santa Fe Building we had to take a flight of stairs before we could catch the elevator. Miss Sue pointed out the awesome view down the stairwell.


From the Santa Fe Building we hoofed it down Michigan Avenue to the Riverside Gardens on Chicago's Riverwalk to catch our boat for a Chicago River Architectural tour. Along the way we passed the Trump International Hotel and Tower, or Trump Tower Chicago or just plain old Trump Tower. The 98 story skyscraper, completed in 2009, tops out at 1,170 feet to the tip of its spire. It was originally designed to be the tallest building in the world but after the 9/11 attacks it was sadly scaled back to avoid making it a target. Meanwhile Arab nations build taller and taller buildings without fear of any idiots flying into them...hmmm.


The ornate buttresses surrounding the peak of the 36 floor neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, completed in 1925, and home to the Chicago Tribune newspaper and WGN radio station.


I love this photo of the Wrigley Building with the Michigan Avenue bridge in the foreground. Located at the southern-most point of Chicago's Magnificient Mile and known as the Jewel of the Mile, the Wrigley Building is actually two towers connected by an open walkway at street level and two enclosed walkways at the 3rd and 14th floors. The towers were completed in 1921 and 1924 and were Chicago's first air-conditioned office building.


The Wrigley Building clock tower features four dials, each 19 feet, 7 inches in diameter. The hour hands measures 6 feet, 4 inches long and the minute hands are 9 feet, 2 inches long.


The start of our Chicago Architecture Foundation, docent-led architecture cruise on the Chicago River looking west toward the Michigan Avenue bridge and the Trump Tower. Our docent volunteer was absolutely awesome in her knowledge, enthusiasm and presentation.

Unfortunately, Drew and Will were not up for a 90 minute Chicago River boat ride and lecture about the finer points of Chicago architecture. Will said screw it early on and took a nap leaning against Aunt Donelda. Drew who hadn't been feeling very well was in physical and mental pain. So agonizing was the boat ride that he said it was worse than buying pants and, at our house, there's nothing worse than that...until today! For what it's worth...I loved the tour.


Formally 35 East Wacker Drive but originally known as the Jewelers' Building, completed in 1927 when it was considered the tallest building outside of New York City. It originally had parking on the lower 23 floors with a car lift that facilitated safe transfers for jewelry merchants back in the time of Al Capone. The building has been featured in Batman Begins (2005) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011).

The four turrets at the corners of the building weren't originally just for decoration. They were part of the original fire suppression system. Each held a cast iron tank filled with water that would have been used in case of a fire. Now decommissioned, the space at the base of each is used as conference rooms.


Beneath the top dome of the Jewelers' Building was originally a restaurant called the Stratosphere Lounge. Supposedly, during prohibition it was run by Al Capone as a speakeasy. Today, the space is a showroom for the architect Helmut Jahn.


Marina City consisting of the two iconic 65 story corncob towers with the lower 19 floors having an exposed spiral parking ramp (valet only) with 896 parking spaces each. Appearing in many television shows and movies, the most famous of which was the movie Hunter (1980) in which Steve McQueen chased a suspect through the parking garage who looses control and drives off the edge into the river.


A raised bridge along the Chicago River with the Sears Tower in the background. The bridge is actually broken and either stuck or locked up for repairs.


Another picture of the raised bridge along the Chicago River with the Sears Tower in the background.


A little Chicago River skyline.


333 Wacker Drive, of course known as the building where Ferris Bueller's father worked in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986).


The red brick and vine covered 180 North Wacker in the background stands in contrast to the tall steel, glass and granite that surrounds it.


The art deco Merchandise Mart opened in 1930 when it was the largest building in the world with 4,000,000 square feet of floor space (surpassed by the Pentagon in 1943) and even had its own zip code until 2008.


The "Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame" is a collection of eight bronze heads on pillars (two seen here) representing "America's outstanding merchants" who stand guard watching over the Merchandise Mart. David Letterman once described them as the "Pez Head Hall of Fame." The heads are of Marshall Field, Edward A. Filene, Julius Rosenwald, George Huntington Hartford, Aaron Montgomery Ward, John Wanamaker, General Robert E. Wood and Frank Winfield Woolworth.


311 South Wacker Drive is the 7th tallest building in Chicago and the 16th tallest in the United States. Interestingly, it is the tallest building in the world in one category...buildings known by their street address. The 65 story skyscraper was completed in 1990 and is one of the most recognizable buildings in Chicago at night as its crown of a 105-foot tall translucent cylinder and four smaller surrounding cylinders are lit up by 1,852 fluorescent tubes.


Sometimes I can be a little ADD...oh, look a seagull.


The Sears/Willis Tower and 311 South Wacker. As you will see in the next image, despite the illusion, they are not similar in size. 311 South Wacker is much closer to the camera in this picture.


The Sears/Willis Tower and its sister building 311 South Wacker taken from the south looking north.


Looking east down the Chicago River.


Legend has it that the 37 floor (503 foot tall) Carbide & Carbon Building, completed in 1929, was designed to resemble a dark green champagne bottle with gold foil. Since 2004 it has been the home of the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. The building was featured in the movie Wanted (2008) in the scene where Mr. X jumps from one building to another killing everyone in sight only to be killed himself.


A was lucky enough to catch a seagull diving down for a snack. Exactly what he'd want to eat out of the Chicago River remains undetermined.


The 70 story Lake Point Tower residential high-rise, completed in 1968, is the only residence and only skyscraper in downtown Chicago east of Lake Shore Drive due to a zoning loophole which was exploited by its developer but quickly closed thereafter.

The original plan for the building was to be a four-armed design but was later changed to a three-armed design (120° apart) with the outer walls strategically curved to ensure that the various residents could not see into the other condominiums.

My parents' former neighbor Mr. Penn used to live in the tower and once told us the story of he and his girlfriend who were...umm...taking advantage of the privacy afforded by the building's design and the fact that his high-up condo looked out over Lake Michigan. Not thinking anything of it, his window coverings were wide open. Next thing you know...they were interrupted by a window washer.


The unique 86 story mixed-use residential skyscraper, Aqua, was completed in 2009 and is the tallest building in the world designed by a woman, Jeanne Gang.


At the time of completion the 64 story (995 feet tall) Two Prudential Plaza was the world's tallest reinforced concrete building. Its distinctive shape features stacked chevron setbacks on the north and south sides, a pyramidal peak rotated 45°, and an 80 foot spire. The building took inspiration from New York's Chrysler Building and, in my opinion, succeeded in making a gorgeous modern skyscraper to which my picture doesn't do justice.


Finally, after a long and exhausting day, it's time to go home.

Posted by Don |


  1. #1
    Susan said on December 31, 2016 | Reply

    I love these photos!

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