As I work through my Chicago travel guide (coming soon), I keep reviewing the photos I took of the incredible architecture. It seems that on every corner of the city there are towering examples of sleek modernity next to stately edifices that could house the likes of Jay Gatsby. Gilded bronze, steel, granite and marble adorn entryways, spiral staircases, clocks, and towers.
After experiencing Chicago’s architectural grandeur aboard Chicago’s First Lady (more on that in my upcoming Eat+Stay+Play guide), I couldn’t wait to wander the streets and see it up close and personal on foot. These photos don’t need much commentary but I did provide a few tidbits of history and interesting facts. Also, all photos are taken by me unless I’m in them, and then my husband and a sweet friend stepped in to help. Even though there are a lot of photos in this post, these are just some of my favorite buildings I discovered over the course of a couple days. You could certainly spend much more time, a lifetime perhaps, studying the skyline of the Windy City. It’s just so beautiful.
The Rookery Building
My favorite building is The Rookery. This is where the plans for the White City were created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. I first became interested in this building’s history while reading The Devil in The White City (also one of my spooky book recs for October). It was built in 1888 and in 1905 Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to remodel the interior court. The bronze chandeliers he added still hang there today. It’s stunning both inside and out.
The Carbide & Carbon Building
This might be my second favorite building because of what it’s designed to look like. Does it remind you of anything? It is thought that the shape and colors were inspired by a champagne bottle. It’s shapely dark green exterior and its spire and upper levels coated in actual gold leaf resemble the green glass and foil covered top of a bottle of bubbly. It was completed in 1929 and is in the Art Deco style.
The Chicago Theatre
I love old theaters. The Chicago Theatre had just celebrated its 96th birthday while we were visiting. Thanks to its marquee, I was able to get a rather timeless and significant photo. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and made me feel like I’d stepped back in time every time I passed it. It’s a beautiful sight lit up at night.
The Wrigley Building
Known affectionately as the building that chewing gum built, it towers over the corner of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River. It was fully completed in 1924 and was the first air conditioned office building in the city. Its tower has four clocks, one on each side, to provide the time to the people of Chicago from every angle. Photos do not do the splendor of this building justice.
Harold Washington Library Center – Chicago Public Library
I like to visit the public library of any big city. It inspires me when our greatest cities still value the importance of free access to knowledge for all. The Harold Washington Library Center is a beautiful space with floors dedicated to different collections. Atop the building are five incredibly large owls that peer down at you. On the corners the owls sit 12-feet high and are ornamented with leaves and seed pods, which represent growth and wisdom. Owls are of course the symbol of knowledge. One foot clutches loose papers while the other is ready to strike.
Chicago Board of Trade
It’s Art Deco, 45 stories tall, and resides in Chicago’s financial district. The world’s oldest futures and options exchange calls it home. Flanking the impressive clock are a Mesopotamian farmer holding grain and a Native American holding corn. At the very top is Ceres, the goddess of agriculture, standing proudly and protectively.
Chicago Water Tower
This interesting castle-like structure is the second oldest water tower in the U.S. Built in 1869, it was built to conceal a large pumping mechanism that drew water from Lake Michigan. It’s like a little bit of Game of Thrones in downtown Chicago. I loved it immediately, of course.
Chicago Cultural Center
So many of the buildings in downtown Chicago are sights to behold inside and out. The Chicago Cultural Center is no exception. The Tiffany glass dome is absolutely stunning. There’s really nothing like it I’ve ever seen. The glass is shaped like fish scales and at the center are the signs of the zodiac. It’s original to the building which opened in 1897 as the first Chicago Public Library. It’s also enormous, spanning over 1,000 square feet. When I visited there was a couple taking wedding photos inside.
The Art Institute of Chicago
Before heading inside to view more than 300,000 works of art, take a minute to visit with the two bronze lions guarding the main entrance. Each weighs more than two tons. Perhaps they know Patience and Fortitude? The building was constructed in 1893 for the World’s Columbian Exposition and has been expanded several times to accommodate an ever increasing collection. It is second in the U.S. in size only to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Drake Hotel
Another building with a spectacular interior. Popping into historic hotels is a great way to escape the cold for a bit but then take in the ambiance as well. The opulence of the Drake Hotel’s lobby is truly breathtaking. Since opening in 1920 The Drake Hotel has had a long list of notable visitors including Winston Churchill, Judy Garland, and Walt Disney among many others.
It’s difficult for me to choose between Art Deco and Gothic Revival, if I were to have to pick a favorite. When I see something like the Tribune Tower, I can’t help but just stare. Its Gothic Revival style reminds me of so many buildings we’ve seen throughout Europe. Maybe that’s why I love it so much. At the ground level you’ll see many stones and building fragments from famous places around the world that have been incorporated into the facade. There are stones from the Parthenon, The Great Wall of China, the Great Pyramid, and even The Alamo. Each piece was collected by correspondents from the Chicago Tribune.
Those corn cobb-like twin structures are a mixed use residential and commercial property finished in 1968 known as Marina City. The towers are some of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen and they certainly add to the character and diversity of Chicago’s skyline. It was a cold day but the views of the river and its many bridges were too good to pass up.
John Hancock Center
This is a bit of a hazy photograph but the John Hancock Center is worth a stop. When it was finished in 1968 it was actually the second tallest building in the world. There is an observatory deck at the top with 360 degree views. When we first came to Chicago several years ago we enjoyed a cocktail in the lounge of the 96th floor. On a clear day you can see for miles.
Millennium Park is a huge attraction so be ready for the crowds. Most people converge at the Cloud Gate sculpture, also referred to as “The Bean.” What I love is that every surface of the sculpture reflects the buildings, park, and people around it. It was actually modeled after liquid mercury. You can also visit the Millennium Monument in Wrigley Square, with its impressive Greek columns. It replicates an original structure that once stood in the park.
Doors, Clocks, and Other Structures
I’m a sucker when it comes to beautiful entryways. I love old doors with intricate carvings or strange features. I found a few along my walk. Here is a pair of doors at the Tribune Tower.
The doors to the Chicago Water Works building.
Even the doors to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago are interestingly ornate.
The famous Peacock Doors in the Palmer House Hotel were designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany (same designer of the Tiffany dome mentioned earlier) for the C.D. Peacock jewelry store. The store is no longer in business but the doors remain a fixture of the hotel.
There was also a coordinating peacock clock placed on the exterior of the building.
Known as “The Great Clock” this clock has hung on a corner of the original Marshall Field & Company department store since 1897. The building is now inhabited by Macy’s but the original Marshall Field’s insignia remains.
Here is a closer look at the clock gracing the Chicago Board of Trade.
Even the subway entrances are grand and quite welcoming. Rather than merely descending a stairwell into darkness, Chicago’s subway system beckons you with a large rectangular archway. Some see these as an eyesore but I thought they were interesting.
You may have seen this giant steel structure on my Instagram. This is the “Flamingo” designed by artist Alexander Calder. It has sat in the Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago for over 40 years.
The Federal Plaza a great spot for photos because of its large open space. You can really see the buildings around you. It’s also a great spot to relax with a coffee.
I hope that you found this architectural tour of Chicago as interesting as I did. I’ll be posting my Eat+Stay+Play travel guide to Chicago soon so stay tuned! As always, thank you so much for reading.
An Architectural Tour of Chicago appeared first on Cathedrals and Cafes. All photos my own.