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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'Eventually, I think Chicago will be the most beautiful great city left in the world.'

Before COVID happened to the world, there were tours of Chicago that included some of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes. These tours do not appear to be available any more, which is a shame because I really want to see the houses he designed.

My hotel is located on E 11th Street between South Michigan Avenue and South Wabash Avenue near Grant Park and although I have no tours booked yet, I decide to first take a walk along South Michigan Avenue. It is a warm, sunny day with no wind. You heard it from me! The 'Windy City' is not windy.

I have some choices on activities to do and decide to take a walk along Michigan Avenue then make up my mind later. I'll do the hop-on-hop-off tour when I return at the end of October just before taking the train back to Los Angeles.

Michigan Avenue is very long and because of the number of construction sites along the street, where large hotel chains are refurbishing old heritage buildings, I decide to walk down Wabash Avenue instead. Here, I find the 'L', the elevated railway. Built of steel, the oldest parts of the rapid transport system were built in 1892, twenty years after the Great Fire of Chicago. Unlike the elevated railways in Melbourne, this one has real traffic lanes below, so trains and cars are using the same space. Later on in the day, a cab drives me down the road below the 'L', which I think is fun.

By the time I arrive at Macy's, I decide to take a pit stop as American department stores are so very well known for having the best restrooms in the universe. Unfortunately I not only pick the one that doesn't but half of them are closed due to renovations and preparations for Christmas. They also have a door code to prevent people like me coming off the street to use the facilities! It is whilst I'm waiting for a lift that I meet a couple that were on the train from California. They abandon what they are doing to kindly show me the ceiling in the centre of the Macy's store, which is magnificent.

Built in 1907 out of 1.6 million pieces of favrile (hand-made) iridescent glass, the domed ceiling of the old Marshall Fields building covers 6,000 square feet. The dome took eighteen months to complete with over 50 artisans working on it. There is a spot on the ground that provides the best position for taking a photo of the ceiling. This is not the only Tiffany dome in Chicago. There is another one in the Chicago Cultural Center, which I shall endeavour to see during my return visit to Chicago. Upstairs on the seventh floor, the Walnut Room is as equally famous as the ceiling. The first restaurant to ever be opened inside a department store, the Circassian walnut panelling was imported from Russia and the chandeliers from Austria. Each November, the historic 'Great Tree' is erected and lit for the holiday season. When I visit the seventh floor, much of the retail space is blocked off as staff start preparing the Christmas shop.

As I walk towards Navy pier, I cross Millennium Park, where the Cloud Gate sculpture is located. Better known as the Chicago Bean, the highly polished steel mirror bends the Chicago sky and skyline around its surface. It's not so crowded today and I'm easily able to take some photos of this iconic sculpture. Until recently, I didn't know that I can also walk into the centre of the bean and take a photo from the inside, which provides a completely different view. The stadium behind is like a modern day Myer Music Bowl and I hope that Chicagoans enjoy live concerts in the city centre as much as we do in Melbourne.

My map doesn't indicate how far Navy Wharf is on foot and I almost freak when I see a sign that says that it is still a fifteen minute walk after I thought I had arrived. What I thought was the wharf was only a yacht club - not happy Jan. By the time I reach the wharf, I am hot, bothered, and have walked 7.5 kilometres on a dodgy knee. But there is a reason I am here.

purchase my ticket for the Shoreline Architecture River Tour and the guide is very entertaining as he weaves Chicago's history with facts about the iconic buildings along the shoreline. I find out that Mrs O'Leary's cow did not cause the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871; rather it was caused by a thief that tried to cover his arse. At that time, Chicago's buildings, were primarily built of timber. The fire is the reason Chicago has become the architectural capital of the world. New codes were developed, which encouraged buildings to be built of stone, bricks, and terra cotta. Twenty years after the fire, Chicago's first skyscraper, a ten storey steel-framed building was constructed. As the boat slowly makes its way down the river, building after building is pointed out. Our guide mentions not only the architects, but the architectural style - too many for me to remember. The strong winds in Chicago presents challenges to architects designing skyscrapers. Vista Tower, designed by Jeanne Gang, has an empty space on the 83rd floor so the wind can blow through, thus reducing movement. This design enhancement has been applied in tall slender towers in New York and Dubai and will probably be used across the world. The impossibly balanced 150 North Riverside looks as though it comes to a point at its base. The large number of Art Deco and neoclassical designs intermingle beautifully with the ugly 1960s and 1970s rectangles. It is impossible to pick up everything that our guide discussed during the 75 minutes I am on the tour, but I enjoy sitting in the Chicago sun watching and listening as the guide points out the iconic buildings in the skyline. Sometime during the tour, I snap a photo of a building; the clouds in the sky mirrored on it's glass façade, making it probably the best photo of the holiday.

Tomorrow I fly to Boston from Chicago Midway airport.

Quote: Frank Lloyd Wright


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