Everybody knows Chicago has a bungalow-belted South Side, a cosmopolitan North Side and a vast, industrialized West Side, all radiating from a commercial center called the Loop. But does Chicago have an East Side? And if so, wouldn’t it be underwater? Well, it used to be. In fact, it never existed at all till the rest of the town burned down! The Streeterville neighborhood is a dynamic lakeside community east of Michigan Avenue and north of the Chicago River, a once-derelict landfill that evolved into the one of the most exclusive, upscale parts of town. Its name honors the memory of “Cap’n” George Streeter, a 19th-century con man who ran his boat aground on a sandbar one day and then decided, what the heck, he’d just stay put and call the place home. After the Great Fire of 1871, Streeter started selling off portions of lake bottom between his sandbar and the shore to developers as a dumping site for rubble as the city rebuilt itself. A lawless lakefront community soon sprang up on the landfill, and for years Streeter resisted the state’s jurisdiction over his “District of Lake Michigan.” But you can’t fight City Hall for long. In the end, the city ousted Cap’n Streeter and his fellow squatters, losing a scrappy folk hero but gaining a handsome parcel of wide-open lakefront property.
Today, literally built upon the charred remnants of old Chicago, the Streeterville neighborhood is home to the city’s most prestigious stores and posh hotels, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the cutting-edge Lookinngglass Theatre, a host of glamorous residential high-rises, major university satellite campuses, the single most popular tourist destination in the Midwest, and some of the most stunning examples of modern urban architecture in the world. Pretty good for a crusty old sandbar!
Among its myriad architectural gems is the neo-Gothic headquarters of the Chicago Tribune. All around its base, the exterior wall is studded with bricks and stones from the world’s most historic sites—136 in all—each identified by a nearby plaque: a chunk of the Parthenon, a piece of the Taj Mahal, even a splinter of twisted steel from the World Trade Center. A walk around the Tribune Tower is like an irresistible, tactile trip around the world.
Just across the street is another gem from the 1920s, the gleaming Wrigley Building, providing a flamboyant contrast to the Tribune Tower’s stately grace. Perched at an obtuse angle overlooking the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the Wrigley has a way of shouldering itself past the surrounding metropolis to gaze contentedly toward the lake. While newer, taller construction nearby like the monolithic Trump Tower may have stolen some of its thunder these days, the giant clockfaces atop the Wrigley Building still keep time, and that glazed terra cotta façade still basks in the blaze of a thousand floodlights at night. There will always be taller towers, but few will ever recapture the Wrigley’s effervescent spirit.
One of those taller towers is among Chicago’s most recognizable landmarks: the 100-story John Hancock Center, an engineering marvel. The crossed beams that create a distinctive series of huge X’s on its exterior are not only essential to its structural integrity, but the support they provide on the outer walls allows for more open, usable floor space inside. One’s eye is always drawn to the top of the Hancock, where a crown of bright rectangular lights change color with the season—red and green at Christmas, orange at Halloween, or the colors of Chicago sports teams whenever they’re doing particularly well. (Yes, that does happen once in a while!)
Looking over the shoreline from the Hancock’s 94th floor observatory, the one thing you can’t overlook is Navy Pier, three thousand feet of fun jutting out into the harbor off Grand Avenue. Offering phenomenal views of the city and lake from its promenade—not to mention from its 150-foot Ferris Wheel—its indoor attractions are equally delightful, including an IMAX theatre, a miniature golf course, a 32,000-square-foot botanical garden, the Smith Museum of Stained Glass and the Chicago Children's Museum. Dining choices range from fast-food delectables in a lively food court setting, to the relaxed environs of a neighborhood pub like Charlie’s Ale House or the Billy Goat Tavern, to the signature seafood and steak creations at Phil Stefani’s stylish Riva. Add to all this the 1,500-seat outdoor Skyline Stage, weekly fireworks displays all summer, the Elizabethan-style home of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, multiple dinner and sightseeing cruise ships, including a ravishing, four-masted schooner, and it’s no wonder that Navy Pier is the most visited tourist attraction in the Midwest. In a way, it’s easier to say what isn’t here than what is!
While there are over 40 specialty shops and kiosks at Navy Pier, Chicago’s real shopping mecca is on Streeterville’s western border, a glittering stretch of Michigan Avenue known as the Magnificent Mile. Here you’ll find the world’s most fashionable retailers—Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Burberry, Nordstrom, Macy’s—along with chic boutiques like Armani, Chanel, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Cartier. Many of the specialty stores are so dazzling and fun to explore, like Niketown, American Girl Place and the Disney Store, that they draw as many mere sightseers as dedicated shoppers.
And as if there weren’t enough shopping options already, at the midpoint of the Magnificent Mile is Water Tower Place, America’s first vertical shopping mall, housing eight floors of over 100 stores, all served by glass tube elevators scaling the side of a dizzying, terraced atrium.
The real heart of the Mile, however, and of the Streeterville neighborhood itself, is the mall’s namesake across the street. Set on a grassy island amid busy intersections, the old Water Tower resembles a miniature medieval castle, forgotten by time and dwarted by its modern surroundings. Yet, as one of the few structures in the area to survive the Great Fire of 1871, it still stands tall in the hearts of Chicagoans, and shall ever remain as a monument to the city’s indomitable spirit.
Bold skyscrapers, stunning vistas of city and lake, the bright lights and flash of an electric urban atmosphere, the exhilarating sounds of a bustling 21st-century city harmonizing with the clip-clop of quaint horse-drawn carriages as they thread their way through traffic—all this and more make Streeterville one of the most vibrant communities in Chicago.
Ted Guarnero, REALTOR® is a full-time real estate agent with over 1000 homes sold and $400 million in sales. Working with Compass real estate offering professional and effective real estate services to help you succeed in the local real estate market. Visit www.seeChicagorealestate.com for information on downtown Chicago real estate and to get in touch with an expert in the Chicago real estate market. Before you hire your next Realtor call Ted Guarnero 855-See-Chicago, it's on the House !