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Chicago's architecture is worth the visit

The Windy City is filled with architectural jewels, ranging from the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower to the sleek, curved office building at 333 Wacker Drive, which was featured in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off."

Then there's the massive, Art-Deco Merchandise Mart and the honeycomb, twin towers of Marina City, designed by Bertrand Goldberg. He once worked for architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who designed the sleek, black IBM Building at 330 N. Wabash - among many other Chicago structures - and whose name is synonymous with Windy City architecture.



All of these buildings are just steps from the Chicago River. And one of the best ways to view them is to take a boat cruise, says Chicago native and Hotel Palomar concierge Mark Kraemer. "We get questions about those tours all the time," said Kraemer, whose favorite architect is Wisconsin's Frank Lloyd Wright. "In fact, it's our number one request. We're pretty blessed with some remarkable architecture here and people want to see it. "I think it's unsurpassed. And we are the birthplace of the skyscraper," he said proudly. "But there are plenty of new buildings, too. Another of my favorites is the Aqua, designed by Jean Gang and finished in 2009, because it looks like it has puddles of water on its sides."

Kraemer, whose hotel is only a few blocks from the river, said the boat tours he recommends most frequently are those offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. They last 90 minutes and are narrated by docents who know the history of the Windy City and its buildings well. When I hopped on the First Lady last week, my trip was narrated by Jim Bartholomew, a retired high school English teacher who started us off with the pungent history of the Chicago River.

Once a pristine stream, it was turned into a veritable cesspool in the 1800s when the rapidly growing city's inhabitants used it as a sewer to transport waste to Lake Michigan, from which (oops) the municipality drew its drinking water. Fermenting carcasses from the stockyards often floated in the river. Bartholomew said the English writer Rudyard Kipling, who visited Chicago in 1889, wrote this of the Chicago River. "Having seen it, I urgently desire never to see it again."


In 1900, the Sanitary District of Chicago reversed the flow of the river using a series of canal locks, sending water (and sewage) south down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal to the Des Plaines River and ultimately, St. Louis. Residents of that city objected mightily, Bartholomew said, and got their revenge by using the river water to make beer and ship it back to Chicago. As we chugged west away from Lake Michigan, Bartholomew described the many different styles of architecture along the river. He also quoted Carl Sandburg and Walt Whitman, both of whom had better opinions of Chicago.

Though I've never been terribly fond of glass and steel buildings - which strike me as boring - Bartholomew said Mies van der Rohe championed them as a break from his native Germany and the hardship and destruction of World War II. Bartholomew said one of his favorite buildings in the city - along with the Merchandise Mart - is the curved, green-glass high-rise office structure at 333 Wacker Drive. Designed by the architecture firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, it bends with the Chicago River. Bartholomew also championed the work of Goldberg, a Chicago native whose Marina City corncob-like towers helped make living downtown popular again. Though Goldberg worked with Mies van der Rohe for a short time in prewar Germany, their designs have little in common.

Our First Lady tour took us up the north branch of the river past Sears office and warehouse buildings that have been converted into apartments. We also cruised south past the Art Nouveau/Art Deco Civic Opera House on the east bank and the old Chicago Daily News building on the west. Both were opened in 1929, shortly before the stock market crash.

Bartholomew even sang an old drinking song about Mrs. O'Leary's cow and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Though a major disaster that killed hundreds, the rebuilding it sparked stimulated Chicago's redevelopment into one of the country's great cities. A few days later, with my kids in tow, I was back in Chicago on board a big Seadog speed boat that took us up and down the river again. This time, though, the guide was improv comedian Mike Krystosek. His narration was spiced with numerous jokes, which kept the passengers chuckling. But the highlight of the 75-minute trip, which boarded at Navy Pier and entered the river through the lake locks, was a turbocharged, 10-minute ride on the lake toward the Planetarium and back to Navy Pier.



Source : http://www.jsonline.com


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