Thursday, September 19, 2019

Chicago River Tour

I have been dreading writing this page ever since I looked at my camera's picture counter and noticed I'd taken 220 pictures and most of them on the river during last Sunday in Chicago. When I made reservations to visit Webb Chiles in his home near Chicago he pondered a suitable day out and hit the nail on the head with a River Boat Tour. His wife Carol was telling me about the tour when I rudely interrupted her and asked the pressing question a  man who lives to sail would ask: How does the tour boat go to weather? Aside from the sailor's joke, and going into the wind would not be something I'd like to do on the tub that cruises through Chicago, the tour is astonishing. It really is.
Let's get one thing straight: I'm not an architect and though I was busy with my camera I took no notes and I can only hope to get the outlines right. Our guide Siobhan a docent since 2015  was full of anecdotes and stories about the dozens of buildings we sailed past. a tour de force performance.
Our boat was right there, just arrived with a load of happy visitors. Chicago downtown looks like this, with neat  flowerbeds, lean sidewalks and polite people. I was quite surprised to find since my last tourist visit  with my wife's cousin who lives nearby, Chicago is still the most approachable of big cities. San Francisco has gone downhill, New York is still nice enough for a mega metropolis, but Chicago retains a small town feel. At least in the tourist bits.
I was entranced enough I got left behind as Webb and Carol marched forward. You can't keep a sailor from a boat, not even a stink pot like the tour boat. Which comes fully equipped with ice cold drinks, delicious, at  a bar  in the saloon. We sat on deck in brilliant afternoon sunshine.
I suppose the tower on the Wrigley building is where one should start, the iconic building apparently purchased by the chewing gum magnate who then added a second building:
You can see the second building on the right, connected to the first by a bridge. The tour brought home to us the many styles of building created in Chicago over the years since the skyscraper was first invented here.
Trump Tower manages to dominate the entrance to the river though I am told the President no longer has an interest in the building. The tour was strictly non political; nothing to be gained there for an organization dedicated to the appreciation of architecture.
 Siobhan was keen we should know why the city flag has four stars and I think I learned that lesson. One for Fort Dearborn, the original settlement (whose boundaries are marked ion the sidewalk in bronze which I failed to photograph in the press of people), one for the great fire of 1871, and one each for the great expositions of the 20th century.  Chicago was an industrial powerhouse in the 19th century, slaughtering cattle, creating construction materials and using them and shipping catalogues and products around the country 
 Lots of people want to see it all:
 The corncob building known more prosaically as Marina City with car parking in the lower sections:
They have the parking lot as the location for spectacular movie scenes launching cars into the river. This classic beauty looked to be for rent I think:
Carol pointed out this machine, below, noting "Key West is everywhere." And so it is. When I boarded the tour boat they asked the passengers where they were from and among the high proportion of locals when I said "Key West" (Cudjoe Key seems a bit too specific under the circumstances) she said "No wonder you are so laid back."  Not at all I thought to myself, it's because I am being totally taken care of. Usually I get a knowing smirk as though residents live on a permanent binge like visitors, constantly inebriated. 
Kayaks were popular. I though the business of paddling a  river among so much traffic was intimidating.
 Yay! Tour boat! Clearly a table of people from Key West.

Once upon a time the river was a polluted industrial mess, when there was industry, and now they tell us the only sign of it is up one branch of the river almost out of sight:
 The city's mayor visited San Antonio the story goes and was so impressed by the River Walk he wanted one here. Wen you are mayor you get to make your dreams come true and he ordered that any new construction along the river must include  a public walk way. So be it. A winery with no staggeringly drunk people. Weird.
 Young people partying. 
 Tour boats are clearly objects of fascination.
And judging by all the stuff yu can see from the river they should be. Check it out:





 Details on the facade:
I forget he details of this building except the windows are designed to be small to keep the interiors quiet. My kind of apartment.
Harry Weese river side cottages. Designed to look like cottages seen in Budapest with nautically themed triangular elements, like sails, a cottage came on the market for the first time in 25  years and sold for nearly three million dollars. Originally they were viewed with some suspicion. Now they are highly desirable.
The tour lasts ninety minutes, a twenty five dollar bargain and is full of details. It would take more than you could stand to read to go that deep. You have to trust me that this tour is worth taking and if you never go to Chicago be glad I took the time to take the pictures for my diary and my memory. 
 This green building  is a fitness center of some sort. The river used to be in such polluted disrepair the idea of putting windows in to overlook the mess was laughable.
 As a measure of the clean up progress you can see a row of windows looking out in the water these days.
This long building on the left hand side was built in 1908 as the Montgomery Ward warehouse. Monkey Ward started the catalogue business despite the fact Seas Roebuck is better known for it. What makes all this history interesting is how the wheel is now spinning.
Groupon has bought the building, and what used to be the catalogue capital of the world is now adapting and trying to attract the new digital economy. Catalogues have given way to Amazon and all the rest but the concept remains the same. The old post office is huge and is being transformed into housing. Everything was geared to shipping stuff. Chicago was at the forefront of innovation.
They planned to bring paper to the giant printing presses at the Tribune building by boat but the docks were found unsuitable and stirred up toxic muck when the barges docked so they used trains instead. Their heart was in the right place though: boats forever!
  A survivor? A water tank for the upper middle classes?
This thing is the base of the 150 North Riverside Building. The whole building comes down to a very narrow base anchored a hundred feet into the bed rock. Winds are apparently a problem for sky scrapers so they use giant water tanks, 200,000 gallon capacity, to absorb the vibrations from winds blowing by.
But this bizarre pointy base allows a building to be built on a  tiny strip of land. Stare and be astonished.
The civic opera where Maria Calls gave her American debut in 1954 and returned earlier this month, just 42 years after her death. 
The Chicago Sun Times:
“It’s fascinating to watch audiences adjust,” says Wadsworth. “She’s weirdly alive. The first 10 or 15 minutes for people are definitely strange. You can see them cocking their heads side to side, like a Labrador Retriever holding a pose, like ‘What’s going on?’ Because it’s a complex equation — Is this historically apropos? Is it ethical? Is it ‘real’ or is this fake? Is it tacky or fantastic? The best way to think of it is that it’s an evening spent in contemplation of Callas.”
Yes, they brought Maria Callas back to life by hologram and she performed here on the seventh. I thought the billboard was a piece of nostalgia, but thanks to the Internet I discovered how wrong I was. Even the dead aren't dead!
This version of Callas is a lovingly crafted hologram, created from a body double whose face was digitally shape-shifted. She will be surrounded by the Lyric Opera Orchestra in the flesh, kept in sync by Irish conductor EĆ­mear Noone.
Callas’ body double spent months under the tutelage of opera and theater director Stephen Wadsworth to develop a gestural language that was spot-on. Then this revivified “Maria” was filmed while singing, from different angles, so that her image, when projected on a transparent screen, would look like the real thing. The sound of the voice is Callas’ own, extracted (again digitally) from her recordings.
I was entranced by posters around town extolling the 250th anniversary celebrations of Beethoven's birthday. If you lived in Chicago you could hear the actual symphony orchestra in concert in its own home town. How cool.
We passed by the spot where the great fire of 1871  started, though it was not caused by Mrs O'Leary's cow kicking over a lamp, a story she never lived down. Though it was at her place that the fire started. Over there among the pipes which mask the spot was her farm. The actual place is the building barely visible which is now, ironically a fire department training center.
The fire set the river ablaze as the waters were so greasy and oily they were flammable. The fire killed three hundred, made 100,000 homeless and torched three miles of the city. All of which made much misery but also opened up the city to new and innovative industrial construction. Hence the boom that followed.
A building described to us as a beehive as I recall, but of which I recall nothing else. shame on me. It was the turn around point of the inland portion of the tour. 
The Sears Tower, once the tallest building in the world. But it's neither. The person who leased the tower in an excess of hubris would't buy the lease without a name change but nobody calls it by its new name so it's just the Sears Tower. 
I found  al ist of the tallest towers in Chicago led by this one:
Willis Tower 1,451 ft. Trump International Tower 1,389. Vista Tower. 1,191.
And the Willis/Sears Tower still has ghastly little boxes for you to step out onto the void:
Then there is the building that wanted to be put on the map so they put themselves on a map they built up one wall. The red box marks "You Are Here."
Marshall Field built the Merchandise Mart in the 1930's and this massive building covers two and a half city blocks. It's getting a  40 million dollar renovation to turn it into offices, retail spaces and showrooms for events.  As the developers themselves put it:
"theMART is home to hundreds of tenants including manufacturers’ showrooms displaying everything from the finest home and outdoor furniture to luxury kitchen and baths to inventive office furniture solutions. In addition, theMART is home to corporate offices of innovative technology firms, creative advertising firms and education institutions."

Apple's modest but innovative showroom along the river with a roof designed to resemble one of their products:
More renovations for residential apartments:
Including the old NBC building which will become apartments:

Chicago's Third Tallest Tower is called Vista and is scheduled to open next year. It will have around 400 condos already sold and two hundred hotel rooms along with the offices.  Jeanne Gang designed the building and I noted on her web page she is proud to be  a leader in pay equity at her company. So yes it is notable this building was designed by a woman.  

To deal with windage this condo, which slipped through a city code loophole to build on the lake shore directly, was designed with the curves to reduce windage aloft. How about that?
The locks at the lake, Chicago Harbor Lock, were closed and we spun around and went back to the dock. A perfect tour imperfectly recorded.