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Chicago's Magnificent Mile®
An Historical Perspective

1867-1869: Chicago’s Historic Water Tower and Pumping Station were built by William Boyington at Michigan Avenue (Pine Street at that time) and Chicago Avenue. “Because it was one of the only buildings to survive the Great Fire of 1871, the Water Tower has become synonymous with Chicago’s rebirth and regeneration after the fire. Throughout the years, the various groups have tried to tear it down in hopes of remodeling a more modern image for the city. Because it has endured, the Water Tower has become known as a symbol of Midwestern strength and resilience, for which all of Chicago has become known,” notes Dominic Pacyga, Chicago historian.

1909: The ‘Chicago Plan’ was devised by local planners to transform Michigan Avenue from an Indian trading post into a major commercial boulevard. After widening the streets and constructing a bridge, the developers envisioned the Avenue similar to the Champs Elysees in Paris which seemingly stretched to infinity. The Lake Michigan shoreline, originally located just a block away from what is now Michigan Avenue, would undergo a series of landfills amounting to 125 acres to stabilize the shoreline and avoid flooding.

1912: The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, originally the North Central Business District Association, was founded to plan and promote the development and beautification of Michigan Avenue. Because of its commitment, The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association has helped transform the boulevard into its present image of commercial sophistication.

1913: After much political debate, the idea of the Michigan Avenue Bridge was born, connecting the “old” South with the “new” North and creating a gateway to the city’s new commercial district.

1920-1929: With the opening of the double-decked Michigan Avenue Bridge, a building boom began. London has Big Ben, New York has the Empire State Building and Chicago has the Wrigley Building. Emblematic of the spirit of Chicago, the Wrigley Building was built with the purpose of drawing shoppers and businesses over the new bridge to the north side of the Chicago River. The north section of the building is equivalent to 21 stories and the south section, including a tower and a two-story clock, totals 30 stories. The architectural shape of the building is patterned after the Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower in Spain. Architect Charles Beersman specified six shades of tiles for Wrigley’s exterior, from off-white tiles at the bottom to blue-white at the top, so that the brightness of the building would increase as it rises.

One of Michigan Avenue’s first skyscrapers, the Chicago Tribune Building was commissioned during this time period with due pomp and circumstance. “An architectural contest was held by the owners of the Tribune to create a monument that would commemorate 75 years of achievement and become an inspiration to further building,” recounts Chicago historian Ellen Skerrett. John Meade Howells and Raymond Hood won the international contest with their Gothic tower construction modeled after the Tour deBuerre in Rouen, France. Embedded in the façade of the building are stones from famous sites around the world including the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal and the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The stones were all gifts to the Tribune’s publisher, Colonel Robert McCormick.

Additional buildings constructed during this time period include what are now three hotels, The Allerton Crowne Plaza at 701 N. Michigan Avenue, Hotel Inter-Continental at 505 N. Michigan Avenue and the famous Drake Hotel located at 140 E. Walton Place. Other well-known buildings include the Women’s Athletic Club and the beautiful Fourth Presbyterian Church.

1929: The Great Stock Market Crash ended the extraordinary expansion of Michigan Avenue. The Depression hit Chicago hard, bringing hopes and dreams of a great Avenue to a halt.

1947: As a leader of The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association, Chicago developer Arthur Rubloff launched an extensive promotional plan involving the construction of new buildings, the renovation of old ones and the addition of several parks and landscaping projects in an effort to entirely revitalize the area. The end result of this extensive promotional campaign was deemed ‘The Magnificent Mile’ as the boulevard was transformed into the world-renowned center of retail, restaurants and culture it is today.

1970: The John Hancock Center opened on Michigan Avenue and at 100 stories was the tallest building in the world. The John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company invested $100 million to construct this multi-use building, which contained residential units built on top of commercial space.

1975: The construction of Water Tower Place, led by Phillip M. Klutznick, initiated a trend in modern Michigan Avenue architectural philosophies as the first multi-purpose building where people reside, work and shop harmoniously in the same structure. In an attempt to avoid a canyon-like affect, this monumental structure was built with graduated setbacks that allow light to peek over the building tops and preserve the flowers and trees on the Avenue.

1988-2001: This thirteen-year span marked the commencement of a 2nd great building boom on Michigan Avenue with the completion of the 900 N. Michigan Avenue building, Chicago Place, Crate & Barrel, 676 N. Michigan Avenue and the 600 N. Michigan Avenue building. Supporting properties on the Avenue were extensively renovated and upgraded to meet the design demands of modern urban environments.

1997: Vision 2012, a plan providing policies to guide new development and evolution for the future success of Michigan Avenue, was created. Vision 2012 was the culmination of two years of community consensus building on the future of Michigan Avenue and its environs. The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association and corporate citizens worked together to ensure that The Magnificent Mile retained its character as a beautiful, vibrant, architecturally significant, economically thriving and diverse community through the year 2012 and beyond. Initiated by The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association’s Planning, Preservation and Urban Design Committee (PPUD), chaired by Jacqueline Hayes, president of Jacqueline C. Hayes and Associates, the project was chaired by Ralph Weber, vice president of planning for Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

2000: Following on the heels of the 2nd great building boom was the construction of a 9-block mixed-use entertainment project named The North Bridge District, which included a four level upscale shopping center with Michigan Avenue’s first Nordstrom.

2001: The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association secures registered trademark rights for The Magnificent Mile name, brand and marks. Successful marketing campaigns and event initiatives, such as The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, Light Nights on The Magnificent Mile and Gardens of The Magnificent Mile provide exceptional experiences for millions of consumers annually. Transformed over the course of its history into one of the world’s premier shopping districts, Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is internationally recognized as a world-renown destination.

2006: The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association unveils “Feel Magnificent,” the first branding campaign for The Magnificent Mile district. Branding The Magnificent Mile as one of the great avenues of the world, the campaign’s initial roll-out showcases the district’s major industries – dining, hotels, retail shopping and tourism – by presenting glamorous, inspirational photography, fashion forward wardrobe styling, and the newest trend in colors. The objective is to present our product – The Magnificent Mile and its surrounding neighborhoods – as an exciting experience based destination for shoppers and travelers, differentiating North Michigan Avenue from other destinations and shopping centers vying for our consumers’ awareness.

Contact: Lisa Cooling -
Phone: 312-642-3570
E-Mail: lcooling@gnmaa.com

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GNMAA is a private, non-profit membership organization with a mission of preserving, promoting and enhancing one of Chicago's most unique neighborhoods. Members include real estate properties, retailers, hotel, entertainment establishments and institutional and residential properties.