Below: The Merchandise
Mart, built in 1930, was
once the largest building
in the world. Opposite:
Willis Tower, formerly
ON A RECENT trip to Chicago, I was excited to check off a wish list of attractions I wanted to explore. In the distant past I’d known Chicago for its stockyards (go Bulls!), first- rate entertainment (Mister Kelly’s, the
House of Blues) and bombastic politicians (the nickname
“Windy City” doesn’t refer just to Lake Michigan’s chilling
gusts). It had been too long; I was eager to see what today’s
Chicago is like.
“Chicago is the greatest city in the world,” announced
Brad, narrator of the 90-minute Shoreline Sightseeing
architecture tour, which cruises the Chicago River. Several
different boat tours leave regularly from the corner of
Michigan Avenue and Upper Wacker Drive to showcase
the city’s beautifully designed riverside structures, most
of them built recently, although several date back to the
1920s and ’30s.
The 34-story high-rise at 333 North Michigan Avenue,
erected in 1928 and completely renovated in 2015, “is an
excellent example of the art deco style,” noted Brad; “the
limestone-clad tower’s strong vertical lines enhance its slen-
der height.” Another intriguing example is the Merchandise
Mart, built in 1930 to warehouse Marshall Field and
Company’s merchandise and, at four million square feet, for
a while the largest building in the world. “Now it has to settle
for having its very own ZIP code,” Brad said.
As for contemporary additions, much as I wanted to,
it was impossible to miss the Trump International Tower
and Hotel, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and
completed in 2009. It is, surprise, the tour’s only building with its name front and center in big bold lettering.
Soaring 1,389 feet in the air, it’s Chicago’s second tallest
structure (the tallest, also visible on the tour, is 1,450-foot-
high Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, designed by SOM
back in 1973).
In all, the tour covers more than 65 structures, most of
them sleek, gleaming, handsome towers rising hundreds
and hundreds of feet into Chicago’s skyline. My absolute
favorite was an out-of-place four-unit condominium
building named River Cottages, designed by Harry Weese
to reflect his worldly travels. It’s a 30-year-old angular
building, overgrown with blossoming pink geraniums and
bordered by rusting pilings — yet each condo has its own
deck with an unobstructed river and city view.
“OK,” Brad said when asked to explain why Chicago is
the greatest city in the world, and with his fingers began
ticking off reasons: “For the past half century, we’ve been
one of the largest economies in the world; unlike other
Destinations / GO