Being in Chicago downtown could make you feel as though you’re leafing through a magazine on the world’s most stunning skyscrapers. Such is the charm of the skyscrapers in the windy city — as Chicago is also known — that tourists, young or old, are always caught looking up with joy at the tall buildings.
However, for a deeper introduction to the high rises, I once took its famed River Architecture Tour — a must like the Eiffel in Paris. Buying the nearly USD 50 ticket from a little window along the river named after the city, I boarded the large ferry called the First lady, where our middle-aged guide, more like an ardent teacher was busy announcing, “Ladies and gentlemen, this will be your 90 minutes architecture class on the water, a class that you may remember forever, a class that will have hundreds of live examples…,” which simply ballooned my excitement.
I first took note of these tours during my walks along the river which originates from Lake Michigan that sits minutes away. As the eloquent commentary of guides would pour into my ears — all about buildings around, it kept galvanising me to take the same tour. Thanks to the river and its branches that snake around the best marvels, we got to hear intriguing stories.
Take the Gothic-styled built Chicago Tribune Tower, for instance, which was readied by 1925. It holds more than 150 stones or bricks of prominent attractions from across the world — be it from the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal, Egyptian Pyramids and even the Berlin Wall. Right opposite is the very modern Trump Tower, the glass structure holding 98 floors packed with hotel and office spaces. Owned by Donald Trump, his face was an obvious flash before the eyes.
As our guide directed us to the other side, Spanish Colonial Revival from the 1920s — the Wrigley building dazzled us, especially considering its clock tower. Similarly, as we pulled ahead, we kept meeting old and new beauties, many rubbing shoulders with each other, while many are also known for having lived through various phases. Montgomery Ward Warehouse — the former headquarters of America’s old mail firm is one of them. After its bankruptcy in 2001, it was converted into condominiums and later several restaurants also came up.
I admired how our ferry arrived in front of the Boeing headquarters. Made of glass like the Trump Tower, Boeing moved its administration offices here in 2001 from Seattle but I adored how trains were running under it. “A large part of the
building’s base is suspended in the air to make way for the passing trains. The architects used special steel structures for it,” commented our guide.
Facing the Willis Tower was even more scintillating as it is one of the most powerful tourist attractions at 1,353 feet above the ground. The twelfth tallest building in the world, it opened its doors in 1973 as headquarters of a popular department store company called Sears but today it’s home to offices of various organisations.
On the return leg of the tour, the guide introduced us to many more wonders which were far away from the riverside, pointing to their top, all because of their rare stories.
But did you know all these amazing skyscrapers here are a result of a tragedy? It was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which burnt the entire town killing along nearly 300 locals and leaving thousands homeless. Though there are many stories behind the fire’s reason, the town and its officials rather than giving up, invited the best architects of the world and got Chicago rebuilt like never before.
Interestingly, the traditions to have the best buildings continues even today as every few years, Chicago’s skyline gets new gems.