Saturday, June 20, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 33 - Chicago and Architecture Galore

I'd only been to Chicago once before and that was over fifteen years ago, but what stuck in my mind was the amazing architecture, especially the Wrigley Building and the Chicago Tribune.

Wrigley Building
Chicago Tribune Building

    Even then these magnificent buildings were surrounded by towering skyscrapers of, in my opinion, non-descript design, but I guess I should have been prepared for how many more of these glass and concrete monoliths had been erected since. 

a hazy view of the skyline from Navy Pier

Fortunately, a stroll along Michigan Avenue still provides plenty of opportunity to find the gems of yesterday even if the purpose for which they are used today has changed. One such find was the Cultural Center, formerly the Chicago Public Library. 

The inside is exquisite with a stunning lobby and stairway.

Some of the decorative panels set into the walls contain quotes about the love of books:

while others list the names of famous authors:

In what I assume was the original reading room on the top floor there is a Tiffany stained-glass dome, the largest in the world: 

Walking around, I felt a little sad that the builiding was no longer a library. I could imagine it being an inspirational place to work, but at least it is still being put to good public use with art exhibits, concerts and foreign films plus a visitor's center. 

We visited some of the exhibitions. My favorite was a graphic design exhibit of adverts for Valmor Products, a local company which between the 1920's and 1980's produced beauty products aimed at minorities and used bold labels describing the benefits of using the products. 

It's a fascinating insight into how products were promoted years ago. I'm not sure some of the sentiments in the adverts would go down too well today!


Other interesting exhibitions included paintings by Archibald Motley: Jazz Age Modernist, an artist of bold contemporary works, and Stand Up for Landmarks: Protests, Posters and Pictures, a depiction of attempts to stop the demolition of various city landmarks over the years. 

Across the road from the Cultural Center is Grant Park which is perhaps best known for its Buckingham Fountain which shoots water high into the air. 

Impressive, but personally, I preferred the Crown Fountain in Millenium Park. At regular intervals water would spurt out of the mouth reflected on the glass towers (one at each end of the reflecting pool), much to the waiting children's delight. 

The fountain was the work of Jaume Plensa who also has some of his sculptures in the park. If the picture looks familar from an earlier blog post it's because he was also the creator of my favorite piece on display in the Olympic Sculpture Garden in Seattle.

From Grant park there is a lake-side walk to Navy Pier, one of Chicago's most visited attractions. On my previous visit I quite enjoyed my visit to the pier and was looking forward to going back there but, disappointingly, found it had become commercialised to the extent that it had lost its individuality and just become another gimmicky tourist attraction. 

We rounded off the day with a Chicago Architecture Foundation twilight cruise on the Chicago river. It was a good way to relax after having been on our feet all day and a chance to see the city architecture from a different viewpoint. A well-informed docent was aboard the boat and gave detailed explanations about both the buildings we passed and the history of the development along the riverside. Until the 1980's the river was not considered a selling point for development as people didn't want to live near it, but now there is a huge demand for riverside accommodation and the city has introduced regulations to ensure that whatever is built along the waterfront also includes a pedestrian riverwalk open to the general public. As a result many old warehouses have now been turned into luxury apartment buildings.

Other buildings which line the waterfront include the largest building in Chicago (the Merchandise Mart)  and, surprise, surprise, a Trump Tower.

As darkness fell, the city came alive with lights:

the skyline
and even the Navy Pier looked attractive:

Verdict: A wonderful day in a fantastic city. So much to see and do. Thankfully we have another two days to enjoy it. 

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