Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is quite magnificent. The stretch of Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Lake Shore Drive is one of the greatest streets in America. The entire street is lined with some of the finest shopping in the country, restaurants, hotels, and much more.
Originally known as Pine Street, North Michigan Avenue wasn’t connected with the rest of Michigan Avenue until the Michigan Avenue Bridge was completed in the 1920s. As Pine Street, it was lined with factories and warehouses, but once the bridge was built, a new commercial district sprung up quickly.
While most people flock to Michigan Avenue for the shopping, many miss out on some of the historical buildings that line the street. In this entry, I won’t talk much about shopping opportunities. Instead, I’ll explain some of the interesting features of the street from south to north starting at the Chicago River.
First, near the Michigan Avenue Bridge at Pioneer Court, there is a bust of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable. The bust marks the spot of the DuSable Homestead, which was the first permanent non-Native American settlement in what is now Chicago. DuSable, an African-Haitian, is credited with being the founder of Chicago, opening a trading post on the site in the 1770s. The site is a National Historic Landmark.
Pioneer Court is an open space that sometimes features public art, including Forever Marilyn, which stood there in 2011-12. A monument to legendary Chicago sportscaster Jack Brickhouse permanently features.
Across the street is the Wrigley Building. It was built in two stages in 1920 and 1924 and was designed after the Giralda in Sevilla, Spain. It was the first major office building north of the Chicago River and was built to house the headquarters for the Wrigley Company. The building is on the same spot Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet made their first portage west of the Great Lakes and Robert de La Salle planted the French flag.
The other historic skyscraper, the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower, sits on Pioneer Court and was built in 1922 for the Chicago Tribune. It’s also the home of Tribune Media and WGN Radio, who have a studio on the ground level with windows for passers by to peer in. The main entrance features a statue of Nathan Hale.
The most interesting feature of the building are the nearly 150 pieces and fragments of famous buildings and landmarks from all over the world embedded in the exterior. They are labeled with their original location and come from sites such as the Taj Mahal, Parthenon, Berlin Wall, Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China, Hagia Sophia, and many more.
At Chicago Avenue, you’ll find the oldest remaining structures on Michigan Avenue, both surviving the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. The Water Tower and Pumping Station were built in 1869 and 1866 respectively.
The Water Tower is the second oldest of its kind in America. It stands 154ft tall and was originally used to draw water up from Lake Michigan. It now houses a small art gallery for the Chicago Office of Tourism. The architectural design of the tower has inspired the logo for the White Castle chain. It’s said to be haunted.
Water Tower Place, one of Mag Mile’s premier shopping malls, is located across the street from the Pumping Station. It features over 100 shops and restaurants on eight levels.
Next to it is the famed John Hancock Center with its signature x-braces. Built in 1969, this 100 story building is home to offices, restaurants, and private residences. There’s an observatory on the 94th floor and a restaurant and lounge on the 95th and 96th floors. There are different elevators for both.
The observatory, 360 Chicago, costs US$19 for ages 12 and up and US$13 for children 3-11. In my opinion (and many others), it has the best views of the city.
The restaurant and lounge, The Signature Room, offers gourmet food and drinks with spectacular views. If you want to avoid the tourists and have a few (not cheap) drinks, head up to the always crowded Signature Room.
Across the street is the Fourth Presbyterian Church, built in 1914. The original church burned down the same day it was dedicated, on the day the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 started. When the church was built, this part of the city was largely undeveloped.
At the corner of Delaware Street is 900 N. Michigan, another premium shopping mall featuring 70 luxury shops.