Chicago in Pictures

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Here are some more photographs, shot from my cellphone camera, of our Chicago trip. As you might expect, the elevated featured prominently for me. :-)

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As most of the festivities were downtown, we left our cars in Oak Park and boarded the Green Line. We were in for a lot of walking, but it was still cheaper and less of a hassle finding parking downtown.

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Getting off at the Loop, we head north on State Street and park ourselves by the Chicago River near Wacker, where I encounter these famous towers: Marina City, by architect Bertrand Goldberg. The concrete exterior and the hefty parking garage at its base betrays its sixties origins, but it is still a beautiful building. Even if these are called “the corn cobs” by the locals.

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Disappointed that we weren’t able to see the river turn green (apparently temperature issues scrubbed the project), we walked down to Chicago’s Millennium Park, which did an excellent job serving the crowds of people out for a stroll. A popular attraction was the Cloud Gate — a bean-shaped chrome sculpture that reflects everything and is almost impossible to walk past without stopping and staring. Not surprisingly, the locals call this sculpture, “the Bean”.

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Beyond the Bean, this impressive amphitheatre could host thousands, both in seats and along a stretch of green. The mesh of wires above suggest a canopy can be pulled over the audience to protect them from the elements. Excellent sight lines.

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Michigan Avenue was a mess of people, and all of the museums in the area had long lineups (including here at the Chicago Art Institute — note the trademark lions)

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Some of the crowds enroute.


El Tour

On Sunday, I took some time to myself to ride the El. Erin was most gracious in allowing me to go, but reserved the right to snicker.

But I can’t help it. When I see the great cities of the world, I will be paying a visit to their Metro/Subway/El/LRT systems. I find travelling these systems to be interesting in their own right. You get a cheap tour of the place — you see different people, different surroundings — without having to pay attention to traffic. And Chicago’s El offered me quite a cross-section.

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I again started my journey at Oak Park, and took the Green line down to the Loop, where all the lines intersect. Oak Park is a wonderful community, with excellent transportation connections. I’d live there, if I could afford the cost.

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At the Loop, I transferred onto the Orange Line, the second youngest line in the network, and the one with the newest track. Built in the 1980s, it served southwestern Chicago and the Midway Airport. Plans are still afoot to take the line further south to the Ford City Mall, if the rollsigns are anything to go by.

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Chicago is really roaring ahead economically, but it had been battered about the head through the sixties and the seventies. Not to the level of Detroit, but large sections of the city surrounding the downtown fell apart due to deindustrialization. The Orange line travels through some of that. On the plus side, it does offer good views of the Chicago skyline.

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Orange line yards near Midway Airport.

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At the end of the Orange line, I transferred to the Cicero bus, which took me north through working class homes and some shaky industries, but the vehicle was clean and pleasant. At Cermak, I transferred to the Pink Line, the last three stations of which offer grade crossings — something this Torontonian can’t fathom. I mean, what about the third rail?

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The Pink line is the newest line on the Chicago network, operating on some of the oldest track (over 100 years old in places). As part of a bid to improve service, some out-of-service traffic connecting a branch of the Blue line to the loop was upgraded to provide direct service. Pink line trains run every ten minutes, even on Sundays.

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The Pink line travels through a multi-block section (centred around Paulina and 14th) of Chicago that has been completely razed to the ground, leaving only the roads and the sidewalk. From this, I was expecting to be travelling through a pretty derelict part of the city, but this proved to be the exception rather than the rule. A well-kept school abutted this scene of desolation.

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This was more common, around Kedzie: old stone buildings in a pretty good state of repair. Also, around the Green Line and near the United Centre, condominium townhomes are going up. Chicago expects to add about a million new people in the once-derelict areas surrounding its downtown.

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Finally, I return to the Loop and leave the subway at Randolph station to meet up with my fellow travellers.

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A shot of a Green line train pulling into Randolph station.


Architecture River Tour

Before we headed back home, the grandparents took care of Vivian while สัตว์ใต้ท้องทะเลErin and I took an architectural boat tour up the Chicago River. Nowhere has Chicago’s renaissance more visible than here, with major new condominiums and office towers going up around the old skyscrapers going back decades. A lot of work has been done to improve the Chicago River, turning the areas beside it into valuable property. Formerly the sewer of the city, Chicago’s efforts have been rewarded with an upgrade of the river by the EPA from “toxic” to merely “polluted”. That’s still quite an accomplishment.

Our boat tour took us under several bridges and pointed out several towers from several different periods on architectural history, and this leads me to conclude that while Chicago and Toronto are very alike in character and diversity, Chicago has it all over its Canadian counterpart when it comes to celebrating its architectural heritage. Then again, any city able to boast the homes of Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan and no less than three schools (theories) of architecture, is going to have it all over just about anybody.

The boat had a series of metal struts (perhaps to hold a transparent canopy) that got in the way of many of our shots, but they were vital in telling us how much clearance we had, because those things often passed less than six inches below the lower struts of the bridges we ducked under.

The total cost of this one hour tour was $48 ($24 each), but it was worth every penny. So much architecture, from an angle rarely seen on the streets of Chicago.

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Our tour guide, as we pass beneath the struts of Lake Shore Drive.

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The Corn Cob towers (Marina City), built in the early sixties by a student of Mies Van De Roch, who completely rejected his mentor’s teachings.

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An example of the Prairie School of design.

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Merchandise Mart, said to be the largest building in America by volume until the construction of the Pentagon.

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One of the post-modern towers that has gone up this past decade. The architect updated the Greek Parthenon and stretched it over fifty stories tall.

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The Lincoln Tower (not its real name), so named because it was so tall and thin. It held the title of being Chicago’s tallest tower for all of one week.

The highlight of the tour was an up-close view of the Sears Tower. The guide was also full of stories about local history, including the truth behind Mrs. O’Leary’s cow (it was framed).

All told, a wonderful visit.

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