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No ordinary transit system, the Elevated Lines (or L) is rated by the locals as one of the Seven Wonders of Chicago, greater even than the Willis Tower. It's historic, distinctive, and downright noisy. The trains of the L clatter their way along the lines a little above head height, and the entire wrought iron structure that supports them rattles and clanks with it.
The Loop is the oldest and most famous part of the system, and gives the title to the centre of the city which it encloses. The trains make their way from one rickety old station to the next, and give passengers great views from its elevated position of the busy streets of Chicago and the amazing modern architecture within the Loop. It's definitely worth the few dollars to be able to spend some time just sitting on the Loop and taking in the experience.
And for me the system epitomised Chicago's friendliness, when the driver of the train took time out to open her window and ask the two confused tourists at the station if they needed any help.
Chicago Loop Alliance FREE tours
Chicago Loop Alliance offers free 3 audio tours:
- Theatre (10 theatres),
- Art (17 art structures)
- and Landmark (23 landmarks).
You can experince them online or download the audio to your MP3 player, print out the pdf. map and you are ready to begin.
The MP3 tours are pretty big, so make sure you have enough memory left on your player to upload them:
- Theatre tour is 21.3 Mb,
- Art tour is 31.4 Mb,
- Landmark tour is 46.4 Mb.
NOTE: Tours are not available in other than English language.
We went on a Landmark Tour the other day. Spent 2 hours and have not even finished it. It was OK, learnt some interesting facts. Like: Macy`s department store is 2nd largest in the world and Harold Washington Library was the largest library in the world when it opened in 1991.
- Theater Travel
- Arts and Culture
- Budget Travel
The Chicago Theatre is one of Chicago's true landmarks. The famous vertical "CHICAGO" sign on State St. is one of the most recognizable symbols of the city.
It opened in 1921 and played host to some of the biggest names in live and film entertainment for almost 50 years. The theatre began to fall behind in popularity and fell into disrepair, finally closing in 1985. It was then rescued from demolition with help from the city and reopoened a year later with a performance by Frank Sinatra.
The architecture is incredible. It was built for $4 million in the French Baroque style and every little detail is beautiful. The 3,600 seat theatre, the sign, and the 29-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ is now a National Historic Landmark.
If you don't have time for a show, there are tours available every Thursday at noon for $5. Between May 1 and September 30, Tuesday tours at noon are also available. Some Saturday tours are also scheduled if you look at the website, and group tours are available through special booking. Tours run 45 min. to an hour.
Check the website for a schedule of events and more info. The box office is open Monday - Friday from noon to 6pm, or try Ticketmaster.
- Theater Travel
- Historical Travel
The Famous Loop
Chicago is mostly known for the Loop which is the name of the old " L" Subway looping around the downtown and the central businees area and the various architectural wonders of the downtown area. the famous loop is bounded by the Chicago River to the north and west, Harrison Street to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east. The Loop abounds in shopping opportunities, including the Loop Retail Historic District, although it competes with the more upscale Magnificent Mile area to the north, and with suburban shopping malls. It includes Chicago's former Marshall Field's department store location in the Marshall Field and Company Building; the original Sullivan Center Carson Pirie Scott store location (closed February 21, 2007); and Sears on State. Chicago's Downtown Theatre District is also found within this area, along with numerous restaurants and hotels (like the Travelodge Downtown where I stayed) and is the home of the beautifully spaced and magnificent chicago high rises like the Willis Tower, Hancock Building, AT & T Building, Aon Center to name a few.
- Road Trip
- Historical Travel
before the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue there was State street! this was the old shopping area of chicago before it was eclipsed by the nearby magnificent Mile. It begins on the Near North Side at North Avenue. For much of its course, it lies between Wabash Avenue on the east and Dearborn Street/Lafayette Avenue on the west. It runs through the heart of Downtown Chicago and ends at the southern city limits, intersecting 127th Street along the bank of the Little Calumet River. State Street became a shopping destination during the 1900s and for a little tidbit info: is referred to in the song "Chicago," sung by Frank Sinatra where Frank refers it to "State Street, that great street. Today, the only two main department store chains that remain are Macy's (formerly Marshall Field's) and Sears on State but there are other architecutal landmarks as well. Best of all, it is just 2 blocks from my hotel so I stroll around the area during my chicago stay.
- Road Trip
- Historical Travel
The Loop around Oldest Inner Chicago City
I highly recommend taking the elevated train platforms (Purple and Brown lines?) because they circle completely around the most interesting areas of Chicago's, with one of the stops just 20 paces away from the historical 'Chicago' Broadway sign ( camera died before I got that money shot), as well as many other important sites inside and near the Loop (wikipidia the loop to learn more about the loop!)
i.e. Chicago Stock Exchange - A Gothic city like building.
MORE HUGE TOWERS TOO
One of the most interesting "Art Installations" in Chicago is "The El," in the heart of the downtown business area. It's an enormous "loop" occupying numerous city blocks, constructed of iron and steel,and dramatically placed ABOVE THE STREET LEVEL so that it practically blots out light, making even midday dark as night. "The El" has an antique, worn, almost 19th century look, making it an ironic contrast to some of the soaring contemporary skyscrapers which surround it. Surely the artist is making a wry comment on the way in which nothing "dates" so quickly as yesterday's technology!
As part of "The El," "cars" carrying "passengers" ride on the "Elevated Tracks" which give this project its name. It's charming how the "passengers" can peer into second story windows to see the activity within. The "cars" rattle, clatter, and shriek, and occasionally bright sparks fly from the track, making for a dramatic show of sound and fury. All in all, "The El" represents the edge of discomfort which is never far away from urban life, while at the same time it creates a new beauty which is distinctly Chicago's own. Four Stars.
- Arts and Culture
The Blue Chicago Nightclubs
In the first half of 1999 I was fortunate enough to live for 5 months in downtown Chicago and must confess I did really spend quite a few hours of my life watching the live performances at the Blue Chicago Nightclubs. LOL.
All Blue Chicago clubs are located on Clark Street, Chicago's downtown.
Officially announced there's only two clubs but on reality there's also (there was in 1999) a 3rd club right on the basement of the Blue Chicago Store.
The one located on the basement is not being publicized that much for liquor drinks are not licensed to be sold and for it's pretty much used for performances to younger visitors.
Back then, in 1999, the $7 dollar cover charge allowed free-entrance into the 3 clubs.
For general reference my personal 3-top must-visit "landmarks" in Chicago are Sam's Wines for Wine, Goose Island Brewery for Beer and Blue Chicago's 3 nightclubs for Music.
Besides those 5 months of 1999, I've also visited the city of Chicago in 2001, 2002, and twice in 2004. Every time I go to Chicago those 3 places referred above are the ones I never want to miss :)...
- Arts and Culture
Architecture-Palmer House Hilton lobby
I always make a point of taking visitors inside to see the lobby of this grand old hotel if we happen to be in the south loop, it is the most impressive hotel lobby in Chicago and one of the most impressive interiors in the loop. Check out the candelabras, the crystal chandeliers and the beautiful painted ceiling depicting Greek mythological figures, painted at the turn of the 19th century by Louis Pierre Rigal.
The Palmer House was built by wealthy businessman Potter Palmer, who was largely responsible for developing the State Street district, as a wedding gift for his wife Berthe. They were among the most prominent and wealthy Chicagoans of their era, Berthe had a hand in bringing all the wonderful impressionist paintings to the Art Institute and they lived in a gorgeous castle that has since been razed.
The original Palmer House was finished just 13 days before the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 and like many other buildings in Chicago, it burnt to the ground. It was quickly reconstructed and billed as the world's only fire proof hotel. It's final renovation came in the 1920s when it was rebuilt on the same site.
Architecture-City Hall/County Building
When I used to work in downtown Chicago, I would pass through this building quite frequently as it was the end of the pedway, an underground walkway that passes below Randolph Street across the loop. I didn't really give it much thought as a place to visit but does have a lovely stately interior with access to everyone. The west side is City Hall which houses the city government offices including the Mayor and the east side is the County Building which houses the Cook County government offices (Chicago is a city inside of Cook County).
The current building takes up a whole city block and dates to 1911, inside you will find marble stairways/arches and bronze tablets honoring the past city halls of Chicago from 1837 to the present. On the exterior there are four granite panels representing four principal concerns of city government: playgrounds, schools, parks, and water supply.
Something I would love to see is the roof garden, installed in 2001. This is not open to the public but on occasion a guided tour will go up there.
City Hall is featured in the movie Blues Brothers which was filmed in Chicago, they break into the building towards the end of the film in order to pay the taxes.
Bus tour around Chicago
This is the free bus trolly which will take you to all the famous sites around Chicago and all for nothing. Most of the stops are well sign posted but be careful, it can get crowed in the Holiday season and the Summer time. Tipping the driver is optional.
A Chicago icon familiar to many ...
This is the Marshall Fields clock on the corner of department store at Washington and State Sts. In addition to standing for the store, its image appears on every box of Frango Mints. The candy was made at the State Street store until very recently when the corporate powers made the usual cost-saving vs. tradition decisions that coporate powers are good at making.
Marshall Field's is shortly to be "rebranded" as a Macy's.
Chicago Picasso at Daley Plaza
A Pablo Picasso sculpture was unveiled in Chicago on August 15, 1967 at Daley Plaza (then Civic Center Plaza). It is 50 ft. high and weighs 162 tons. The sculpture is made of steel fabricated by the US Steel Corp. in Gary, Indiana, and was assembled in Gary, disassembled, and reassembled at its present location.
Picasso was approached by Chicago architect William Hartmann in 1963 to produce a sculpture that would fit in with the Civic Center building. When a scale model was agreed upon, 3 charitable foundations paid for the fabrication. Hartmann took a check for $100,000 to Picasso who immediately refused it, saying, "This is my gift to the people of Chicago." Picasso never saw his finished sculpture in person.
The sculpture, which has no official name, was once controversial, but has become a well-known city landmark.
- Arts and Culture
Marshall Fields Building
The Marshall Field's Building is home to one of the world's most famous and innovative department stores and Chicago's most famous store, Marshall Field's. It is a 13 story building completed in 1914 by Burnham & Co. The building is full of beautiful architecture inside and out, including fountains and mosaics. It was named a National Historic Monument in 1978.
A popular feature of the exterior are the clocks on the State St. corners of the building. They are made of steel and full of very elaborate details.
See my shopping tips for details on the actual Marshall Field's store.
The center of the Windy City is called the Loop because of the elevated railway (the L) that makes a loop around it. It is in the Loop that you’ll find most of the working offices, theatres, movies, hotels and restaurants and malls, on Michigan Avenue, along the Magnifiscent Mile for example.
This picture was taken from John Hancock Center's Observatory.
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