Navy Pier in Chicago

Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of Navy Pier in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation

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Navy Pier
Formerly:Municipal Pier #2

600 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, Near North Side 60611
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Text by Wayne Lorentz

After a century of various uses, Chicago's Navy Pier has finally settled down and found itself the focal point of the city's tourism industry, drawing millions of visitors each year looking for good, clean fun by the lakeside.

The tradition of spending summers at a seaside amusement pier started in Blackpool, England in the 1860's but quickly came to America in the form of such Eastern destinations as Atlantic City, Coney Island, and Asbury Park. But the idea of an amusement pier remained foreign to Chicagoans who preferred Riverview, and later Six Flags.

Not surprisingly, it was Chicago's visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham who came up with the idea for Navy Pier. It was supposed to be the second of two city-owned piers extending into the lake to serve fright and passenger vessels. The first pier was never constructed, but Navy Pier did go into service in 1916 as Municipal Pier Number Two. It quickly became a hub of the city's marine shipping industry and welcomes lakers and salties from around the world. At one time the city published a guide to identifying the various ships that would call at Navy Pier by the markings painted on their smoke stacks.

During the first World War the Red Cross and the American military used the pier for training and operations. A decade later it was renamed "Navy Pier" in honor of those who worked, trained, and deployed from the pier.

During the second World War the city of Chicago leased the pier to the Navy. It as used as a training base for tens of thousands of sailors and pilots.

After the war many of those and other servicemen took advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrolled in higher education and vocational training. The University of Illinois set up shop at Navy Pier to handle the influx of new students eager to start new lives. To many it was jokingly called "Harvard on the Rocks." Eventually, the university outgrew its Navy Pier location and moved to its current location southwest of Chicago's Loop district.

With the university and its students gone, and shipping traffic largely relegated to trucks following the post-war transportation boom Navy Pier had a hard time finding a purpose and was mothballed.

By 1975 the pier was in an advanced state of disrepair at a time when American cities were starting to learn that there are benefits to maintaining a good public image. With the enthusiasm brought on by the nation's pending bicentennial celebrations, the city of Chicago spend $7,200,000 rehabilitating the rotting eyesore in the middle of downtown. The easternmost buildings were opened as exhibition halls and public spaces for festivals.

But after the celebrations -- then what? That debate raged for decades as various groups their agendas and visions for a new Navy Pier. All that energy would turn out to be wasted when in 1989 Mayor Richard M. Daley took things into his own hands and with the help of the governor created the Metropolitan Pier Exposition Authority (known these days as "McPier" because it also runs the McCormick Place convention center) to take over, rehabilitate, and run Navy Pier largely under his direction. The move stunned everyone, but turned out to be a bit of foreshadowing. The mayor is now known for taking infrastructure debates out of the public realm and shaping the city as he wants it, even if it means rolling out bulldozers in the middle of the night. Technically, the Authority is governed by a 13 member board, but six of those members are appointed by the mayor and the remainder are chosen by the governor.

The first order of business at McPier was renovating the pier. A $150 million bond was floated to pay for the renovation with the money being paid back by increased taxes on smokers. It wasn't the last tax imposed by McPier on the people and visitors of Chicago. To this day, all restaurants in downtown Chicago are required to add a McPier tax onto diners' checks. It is one of the reasons that Chicago has the highest sales tax in the nation, and why many visitors get sticker shock when they find out that the tax on items such as soda pop purchased in the wrong zone will cost them more in sales tax than even the notoriously high V.A.T. levied in some European nations.

With the money, McPier set about an ambitious plan. It transformed the pier from an underutilized industrial relic into a welcoming place where millions of tourists and residents flock for fun year-round.

Today, Navy Pier offers dozens of different distractions. From amusement park rides and lake cruises to dining, dancing, and even the city's Shakespeare theater. In a little over ten years Navy Pier has grown to become the most visited tourist attraction in Chicago, Illinois, and the entire Midwest region.

But Navy Pier doesn't stand still. It is embarking on yet another expansion, though the details are still being hammered out. In 2006 a $2,000,000,000 plan was made public that would add a floating hotel, a roller coaster, and many other attractions to the facility. The Chicago Children's Museum efforts to leave its space on Navy Pier are expected to help.

Quick Facts
  • Construction start: 1914
  • Construction finish: 1916
  • Designed by: Charles Sumner Frost
  • Cost: $4,500,000
  • Renovated: 1959: the pier is widened 100 feet on its south side.
  • Renovated: 1976: by Jerome R. Butler, Junior at a cost of $7,200,000 million
  • Renovated: 1992: by Benjamin Thompson and Vickery/Ovresat/Awsumb at a cost of $150,000,000
  • Type: Entertainment Venue
  • Maximum Length: 3,000 feet
Timeline
  • 1914: Construction began.
  • 1916: Construction was completed.
  • 1917: The pier is used by the military and the Red Cross during the first World War.
  • 1927: Municipal Pier is renamed Navy Pier.
  • 1942: The U.S. Navy begins using Navy Pier for training operations.
  • July,1946: The U.S. Navy closes its operations at Navy Pier.
  • 1946: The University of Illinois Navy Pier opens at this location.
  • 1965: The university moves to its current location on the city's southwest side and becomes known as the University of Illinois Chicago Circle.
  • 1976: The disintegrating pier is renovated to mark the nation's 200th birthday.
  • 1977: Navy Pier is named a Chicago landmark.
  • September 13, 1979: Added to the National Register of Historic Places
  • 1999: The Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens at Navy Pier.
  • 2000: The Smith Museum of Stained Glass open at Navy Pier.
  • *2007: The Chicago Children's Museum declares its intention to leave Navy Pier due to space constraints.
Notes
  • Architect: Charles Sumner Frost
  • Structural engineer: Edward Clapp Shankland
  • There are more than 200 U.S. Navy planes at the bottom of Lake Michigan from failed training missions conducted from Navy Pier.
  • 15,000 Naval airmen passed their training at Navy Pier during World War II.
  • The Navy trained a total of 60,000 people at Navy Pier.
Did You Know?
  • President George H.W. Bush trained at Navy Pier when he was a Navy pilot.
Look For
  • The studios of WBEZ radio which moved here from the Loop. If a live broadcast is going on you can sometimes see the people talking on the air.
Rate This Entertainment Venue
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Your Thoughts

There are three comments.

  I like this Pier and it is so full of Shops, Lakewalk, and Amusements. I especially like the Waveswinger, which I have ridden on before. The views of the skyline are great.

Brent Kampert - Sunday, February 8th, 2009 @ 6:38pm  

  Great facility. I just wish they'd do more with it. It's greatest asset, other than being located near the lake, is the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

David Shmuel - Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 @ 5:25pm  

  I like The Navy Pier because When you are driving on Lake Shore Drive at night, I love seeing the ferris wheel in the distance illuminating the water. It's a good tourist attraction and It gives Lake Michigan purpose.

Dave - Monday, December 31st, 2007 @ 2:16pm