Written by the Warrior

 

Chicago O’Hare, Chicago O’Hare, how many ways have I been stuck in thy fair international airport?

Let me count the ways…

There was that windstorm, the snowstorm, the freezing rain, them mechanical delays…

Over the years, the only thing I knew of the Windy City, was, the airport.

No city can be fairly judged by its airport, so, a few weekends ago, while transiting again through Chicago O’Hare, I decided to stay for once, and see this American mid-western city myself.

The first thing that struck me was the gorgeous gorgeous architecture and the beautiful art incorporated into public spaces.

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Wanting to get some better insight, I hit the streets of downtown Chicago on a beautiful sunny Sunday with Chicago Architecture Foundation‘s “Historic Treasures of Culture and Commerce” walking tour.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is located at 224 S Michigan Ave (basically across the street from the south garden of The Art Institute of Chicago). 

fullsizeoutput_88f3According to its website, “The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) was founded in 1966 to save the historic Glessner House.” It is a not-for-profit organization and offers a myriad of different tours (walking tours, busing tours, boating tours, etc…), led by volunteer tour guides. Their mission is “to inspire people to discover why design matters.”

My tour took me along the main arteries of Michigan and State Avenues, looking at how Chicago was planned. For example, the beaux-arts style of architecture that influenced its early days, with its distinct triangular roof and classical lines. 

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The gothic influence of its tall buildings, because in the late 1800’s, the only tall buildings examples were found in churches. 

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The Chicago school of architecture’s style of steel beam columns and oversized windows that paved the way for modern skyscrapers. 

fullsizeoutput_88d1And all the secrets that lie between the broad avenues. 

Like, the rise of the public library – The Great Chicago fire of 1871, devastated the city and left approximately 100,000 people homeless. Upon hearing the news, Britain donated 8000 books to help replace its public library. The only problem was that Chicago didn’t have a public library at this time. So, for the next 20 years, the city of Chicago bickered over the location to build and raised funds to build this gorgeous facility. To this day, all Chicago residents still pay a library tax. Even though the building is no longer used as a public library, the Chicago Cultural Centre still belongs to the people. It is free to visit, and is breathtakingly beautiful, both on the outside and inside. Apparently, no expense was spared in the building of this exquisite space and you can still see all the intricate care within the carvings, the marble walls and stairways, and Tiffany Company designed stained glass mosaics.

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The public library has since moved to State Street and Congress Parkway, into this ultra cool building! Evidence that public libraries never go out of style in the city of Chicago.

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And, the false advertising – The Art Institute of Chicago was built in 1893, ambitiously as part of the Chicago world fair. Ambitious, in that they decided to inscribe the names of famous art masters, thinking that they would acquire their works later.

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While today, it is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the US, with an incredible collection of Impressionist art and famous American art, none of the art from art masters whose names gracing its facade can be found inside.

Also, oh the secret view – Cindy’s bar located on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel on 12 S Michigan Avenue provides lovely views of the harbour. The view is free, the drinks if you choose have some, are totally not free.

Here’s the glimpse into the past – The buildings that currently house Macy’s, Target and Palmer House Hilton Hotel, have been restored to their former glory and gives us a view of what life was like at the turn-of-the-century.

Finally the protectionism. Chicago vigorously protects its historical buildings, skyline and public spaces. For example, buildings over 20 stories high along its main avenues, need to get narrower as it gets taller. No exceptions, not even for the Trump Tower.

The result is the strikingly beautiful city, that is more than its windy reputation, and much much more than its airport.