State Street & The Loop, Chicago
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.
When this was built in 1985, my first reaction to this Helmut Jahn creation was "The Martians have landed!" Although I'm still not wild about the blue and salmon colored panels on the exterior of the building (or the very ugly white sculpture outside), I think I'm actually starting to like it, at least the view of the south side of the building where it truly does resemble a spaceship that has landed. And be sure to go inside, it's a phenomonal waste of space (government's speciality) as there is very little office space housing the State of Illinois employees but the atrium is quite stunning.
In 1993, the building was renamed the James R. Thompson Center in honor of former Governor James R.Thompson. He's still alive so I think it's a little peculiar to have a building named after him. So I still call it the State of Illinois Building as do many other locals who were here when it was built.
There's a few retail stores on the main level, if you go down the escalators there is a food court with mostly fast food, I will occasionally stop by at Panda Express for their yummy orange chicken.
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.
Harold Washington Library can be visited in the following opening hours:
. Monday - Thursday: 10.30am to 7pm
. Friday: 10.30am to 4.30pm
. Saturday: 9am to 4.30om
. Closes on Sundays
It is situated in 400 South State Street, which is near Michigan Avenue and Grant Park. The Harold Washington Library is the Central Library of Chicago's Public Libraries.
What I enjoyed the most about the Library was the neo-classical building itself - the colour and the roof with the sculpted figures - as it stands out in Chicago architecture. This building was inaugurated in 1991 and it figured in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest public library in the World.
Most people who visit NYC or London make sure to take in a live show. I'd highly recomend doing the same thing in Chicago!
The Goodman Theatre has a long history in the city, providing superb live plays featuring top notch actors.
If you haven't been to the Goodman in several years then you may be surprised to find out that it no longer resides behind the Art Institute. It had to move because refurbishment of the old theatre was just too expensive. So they built a new theatre in the heart of the loop - actually, one building that houses two theatres.
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.
"The Loop" refers to an area in downtown Chicago where all of the El Trains (metro) converge. The geographic area is literally a rectangular "loop" demarcated by the train tracks that are ELevated above street level.
If you're in downtown Chicago and need to get anywhere then you just need to walk to one of the many El Train stations and you can catch a train to most anywhere in the city.
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.
The first 3 weeks of December bring a slice of Alt-Deutschland to the plaza in front of the Daley Center. Booths serving mulled wine, warm pretzels and German specialties provide the fuel for shoppers to check out the displays of handmade tin, wood and glass ornaments. Sample the gingerbread from Nuremberg or the marzipan from Lubeck. Santa and a helper are on hand for photo ops and for taking special requests from good little girls and boys. Spend half an hour or half a day.
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.
Built between 1872-74 (architects Wheelock and Thomas) this Italianate-style building is one of the few Loop structures surviving from the massive rebuilding that followed the Fire of 1871.
For a few moments every morning, I feel like I'm in Paris :-)
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.
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.
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.
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.