Touring the towns: Unusual themes and informative guides peel away the predictable and offer a less-traveled view of three great American cities Chicago: Cruise : On a river excursion, you can see the Windy City's most famous buildings.

September 07, 1997|By Jane Wingle | Jane Wingle,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"Make no little plans."

Daniel H. Burnham, noted architect and city planner, took his words literally and grandly exemplified them in his famous Chicago Plan of 1909.

The Windy City continues to reap the benefits of his vision. Visitors and natives alike experience his foresight and architectural inventiveness, along with scores of other magnificent towering structures, on a sightseeing cruise aboard Chicago's First Lady.

Sponsored by the city's Architecture Foundation, the excursion is led by well-informed docents, as the boat, displaying the flair of a 1920s presidential yacht, meanders the Chicago River.

The cruise begins at East Wacker Drive and North Michigan Avenue, where old Fort Dearborn stood from 1803 to 1812. A relief sculpture on the Michigan Avenue Bridge portrays the outpost, established by President Thomas Jefferson.

One of the first highlighted buildings is the Wrigley (as in chewing gum) Building. This stalwart of the Chicago skyline flaunts its baroque splendor, even at night, when flooded with powerful lights.

Across the river, the 1923 former London Guarantee Building is topped with a replica of a Greek temple.

Another landmark building -- the Tribune Tower -- features flying buttresses in its Greek revival style. In 1922, Hood and Howells of New York won the international design competition sponsored by Tribune publisher Robert Rutherford McCormick. Embedded in its stone base are small pieces of several other world-famous structures -- the Taj Mahal, Rome's Colosseum, Notre Dame Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and the Great Wall of China.

Built 60 years later, the nearby NBC Tower, replete with peacock, sports decorative squared buttresses in its art deco design.

Turning from Lake Michigan back into the Chicago River allows glimpses of the city's tallest structures -- Sears Tower, with its world's fastest elevator (110 floors in 39 seconds); the John Hancock Building, whose top may sway up to 15 inches in blustery winds; and the Amoco Building, known for having its entire marble exterior replaced.

Also, there is the Illinois Center, constructed over the Illinois Central railroad yards. Its athletic complex boasts the city's tallest indoor climbing wall at 116 feet and a nine-hole golf and driving range, the first downtown golf facility in the nation.

The 52-story IBM Building is the largest and last commission work completed by world-renowned Mies van der Rohe, who made Chicago his home for more than 30 years. A bust of this master of steel and glass adorns the travertine marble lobby.

Bertrand Goldberg's urban idealism is portrayed in the pie-shaped residences and cantilevered balconies of his Marina

City development as well as at the newer S-curved River City. As he sees it, "The original American vision of the city is one of synergy, growth, and community."

Other striking residences along the way are the River Cottages of Harry Weese, who also designed the triangular Swiss Grand Hotel and helped restore Orchestra Hall and the Auditorium Theatre.

Two of the four luxurious "cottages" (really townhouses) are 4,400 square feet of space spread across six levels, and the others are 2,200 on five levels. They all face the river and have individual elevators.

Farther down the west bank, cascading layers of blue and gray mirrored glass inspired by the famous 20th Century Limited train make up the Northwestern Atrium, a 40-story commuter terminal and office complex. In front of it is the contrasting Riverside Plaza Building, considered an excellent example of a 1920s skyscraper.

On the other side of the river is the largest reinforced concrete structure in the world. The tower at 311 S. Wacker is flanked by wings going up 51 of its 65 stories.

In the heart of the financial district, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange is identified by twin 40-story, granite-and-glass office towers divided by a carnelian granite conduit.

A combination of art deco, modernism and revivalism embody the "temple to the telephone" that is the AT&T Corporation Center. This sole Chicago project of Philip Johnson and John Burgee looks like two buildings in one -- the top 35 stories are made of pink granite, while the bottom five are of red granite.

Heading back to port, we pass what some consider an architectural tour de force. Curving on one side to respond to the twist in the river and becoming angular on the other side to reflect the city's structures, the building at 333 W. Wacker is ever changing given its green glass and its varying responses to the sun and the river.

The massive Merchandise Mart greets us around the turn. A retail hall of fame in its front yard contains busts of F. W. Woolworth, Marshall Field, Edward Filene, A. Montgomery Ward

and John Wanamaker.

The next building, Helene Curtis International, is only 10 stories. Its beautiful facade has been recently redone in what has been jokingly referred to as its face lift.

When you go...

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers walking and bus tours, lectures, events and exhibitions as well as the 90-minute river cruise. Its shop and tour center is at 224 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60604-2507. Phone: 312-922-8687.

River cruise tickets are $18 and can be purchased through TicketMaster (312-902-1500), at the First Lady ticket booth at lower Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue on the south side of the river or at the Architecture Foundation shops. Advance purchase is recommended, although walk-ins are admitted on a space-available basis.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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