Chicago First Lady Tour: A boat's eye look at Chicago architecture

Chicago First Lady Tour: A boat's eye look at Chicago architecture
Georgia Goldberg provides a lively commentary on a First Lady Tour. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) First Lady Tour shows off Chicago’s world renown architecture via boats that wind down the Chicago River along the newly created Riverwalk; the North Branch; River City; Navy Pier and more accompanied by lively commentary covering over 50 buildings, their architects and Chicago history along the way.

On a perfect blue sky July day–all be it a little on the cool side–we boarded Chicago’s First Lady, docked on the Chicago River just east of the Michigan Avenue bridge, for a 90-minute tour.

firstladyboatdock

We were not alone. On our tour, were people from around the globe including: Sweden, Japan, Korea, Australia, France, South Carolina, California and the nearby neighboring states of Michigan and Wisconsin–enough out-of-town visitors to put a smile on Mayor Emanuel’s tourism initiative to transform Chicago into “North America’s city of lights.”

Our tour was led by the personable and knowledge Georgia Goldberg, a highly-trained volunteer docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

As the boat left the dock, we sat back and let let Georgia “Show us Chicago.” She did not disappoint.

Wrigley Building, Trump Tower. Photo: Adam Alexander

Wrigley Building, Trump Tower. Photo: Adam Alexander

Heading west toward the Michigan Avenue Bridge we could see the neo-Gothic designed Tribune Tower (1922) by John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood; the Wrigley Building with its glazed terra cotta exterior reflecting the sunlight; and the much newer Trump International Hotel and Tower designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 2009.

Next we saw the Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s (1971) shiny black AMA Plaza at 330 North Wabash (formerly IBM Plaza) making its own architectural statement–standing broad and strong next to the Trump Tower.

Chicago Riverwalk offers many spots to sit and take in the views. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Chicago Riverwalk offers many spots to sit and take in the views. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

From there we look to the south side of the river where we see folks enjoying the city’s latest architectural accomplishment, the Riverwalk.

Towering above the Riverwalk are many buildings, both old and new, that reflect the river.

Aqua Tower. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Aqua Tower. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

One of the newer and more fascinating ones is Aqua Tower, designed by Chicago’s world-class architect Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang Architects, and completed in 2010.

The 82-story, 1.9 million square foot building towers gracefully above the city creating a wave effect over the river as can be seen in the picture above.

Harry Weese's Cottages. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Harry Weese’s Cottages. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

As the river veers to the right we cruise along the North Branch–an area that began as a warehouse district but is becoming a popular, pricey and trendy residential area known as River North.

Harry Weese was an early visionary for using the riverfront as a residential area. He designed his 6-level, 4 townhouses (now known as cottages) back in 1988–30 years after returning from a trip along the Danube River where he saw similar structures that stuck in his head and were the inspiration for this project.

The cottages, beloved by many, and considered an eyesore by others sit on the West Bank of the North Branch of the river just south of the Kinzie St. bridge.

If you want one, you’re in luck. One of the cottages is currently listed for sale at $2.3. Click here to take a look.

Kinzie Street Bridge. Photo: Steve Crandall

Kinzie Street Bridge. Photo: Steve Crandall

Chicago is known for its bridges–especially its bascule (moveable) ones–of which the Windy City houses more than any other city in the world.

The Kinzie Street bridge, pictured above, has remained in this open position for over ten years–showcasing the workings of the bascule bridge.

East Bank Club. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

East Bank Club. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Just north of the bridge is the East Bank Club where the who’s who of Chicago–dating all the way back to the days of Michael Jordan and Oprah– socialize and sweat.

Montgomery Ward building. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Montgomery Ward building. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

The Montgomery Ward complex, home to the original mail order catalog, has found new life as a mixed-use community featuring office and retail space along with pricy loft-style condos.

Pictured here is the original 8-story building completed in 1929, that is part of the 3-building complex.

  • Civic Opera House. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

    Civic Opera House. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Heading back south we pass Chicago’s Lyric Opera House. For as many times as I have seen this imposing structure, I failed to notice two things:

  • One, that it is shaped like a chair.
  • And, two, those theatrical masks that are embossed on the building are singing.
River City. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

River City. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Continuing south we pass the Boeing Buildings, Riverside Plaza and Chicago’s tallest building the 1974 Willis Tower designed by Bruce Graham, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (previously the Sears Tower) before reaching River City.

River City, designed by Bertrand Goldberg (also, Marina City) and completed in 1986 was originally planned as a  “city within a city”–incorporating six 72 story mixed-use buildings capable of housing 20,000 people.

Although that plan didn’t come to fruition, River City is still an important piece of architecture. The S-shaped structure that hugs the Chicago River houses a 70 slip marina, indoor parking, commercial space and condos.

Merchandise Mart. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Merchandise Mart. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Heading into the home stretch, we pass Chicago’s Merchandise Mart–once the world’s largest building–designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and completed in 1931.

Navy Pier. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Navy Pier. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

As we continue eastward toward Lake Michigan we see the magnificent Lake Point Tower (1968 by John Heinrich and George Schipporei); the Aon Building (Chicago’s third tallest skyscraper) and historic Navy Pier with its giant Ferris Wheel.

As many times as I have been on this cruise, I always learn something new. It is a delightful way to spend a summer day or evening–and one of the first things that I suggest for anyone visiting the Windy City.

For more information and to buy tickets, click here.

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