It was real estate developer Arthur Rubloff who first called it the Magnificent Mile in the 1940s but it was architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham who envisioned North Michigan Avenue as a “grand avenue” back in 1909. It wasn’t even Michigan Avenue at the time; it was Pine Street and the only people going there were factory workers and warehousemen heading to their jobs. 

Burnham saw a link between the town’s business hub in the Loop and the residential area of the Gold Coast that had recently established itself as Chicago’s toniest address, but not any ordinary throroughfare. Burnham wrote in his Plan for Chicago: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble and logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with growing intensity. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be ‘order’ and your beacon ‘beauty.’”

The North Central Business District Association (today the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association) was organized in 1912 to provide a unifying vision of the development of Michigan Avenue in 1912. And there was much to be done. The street would need to be much wider to be transformed into a major commercial boulevard. And Lake Michigan, then only a block away, would need to be filled in and tamed. Eventually 125 acres of landfill were created to stabilize the shoreline and control flooding.

But before the Magnificent Mile could become one of the world’s premier urban communities with over 50 hotels, 250 restaurants, 400 retailers and some of the choicest office space on the planet the most important thing to do was to build a bridge. When all the great plans for North Michigan Avenue were being hatched prior to 1920 the only way to breech the Chicago River was with swing bridges. The movable bridges could be open to ship traffic for half the day and a more practical solution was needed to carry traffic from the core of downtown onto North Michigan Avenue. And the solution to that problem is where we will begin our figure-8 walking tour of the Magnificent Mile...

Michigan Avenue Bridge
Chicago River

Technically, the Michigan Avenue Bridge is a double-deck, double-leaf trunnion bascule bridge, the first of its kind ever built. Specifically, a bascule bridge is a drawbridge hinged with a counterweight that continuously balances the leaf throughout the entire upward swing in providing clearance for boat traffic. When it opened in 1920 it was considered a mechanical marvel and remains so today. Artistically, the walls of the four Beaux Arts bridgehouses are decorated with bas relief sculptures depicting important moments from Chicago history. Originally the bridge was staffed 24 hours a day, and opened up to 3000 times a year to allow ships through, but since the 1970s bridge lifting has been scheduled in the spring and autumn, when the bridge is raised twice weekly to allow sailboats to pass between Lake Michigan and inland boat yards where they are stored for the winter.


The Wrigley Building
400-410 North Michigan Avenue

No one knows how William Wrigley became interested in chewing gum. Wrigley was the eldest of eight children born to a Philadelphia soapmaker in 1861. He had $32 and one carload of soap when he established William Wrigley Jr. and Company in Chicago in 1890. He ordered his first batch of gum in September 1892 as an inducement to buy his baking powder, which he had just added to his product line. Jobbers found they could sell the free gum better than the baking powder so Wrigley decided to sell chewing gum. His first product was the long-forgotten “Wrigley’s Vassar.” The gum was mixed like dough, rolled, cut into sticks and packed by hand. Wrigley changed the product by making chicle, a juicy extract from tropical trees, his main ingredient. Growth was slow. He began advertising with trademark arrows and elves and gradually his gum gained acceptance. On two occasions he collected the names of every telephone subscriber in Chicago and sent each a package of chewing gum. In 1902 Wrigley came to New York with $100,000 to attempt a large-scale advertising campaign, but failed. Another attempt failed until in 1907, despite a general economic recession, he broke through with a $250,000 national campaign. His name and products became firmly established in American culture. Chewing gum factories were established in London, Berlin, Toronto, and Sydney as well as Brooklyn. Wrigley gum packages eventually bore wording in 37 languages as output reached 40,000,000 sticks a day, always selling for five cents a pack. Wrigley went looking for a statement location for his new headquarters in 1920 and selected this triangular lot on the north side of the Chicago River that became the pioneering building for the North Michigan Avenue business district and the anchor for the Magnificent Mile. The Wrigley Building is patterned after the Seville Cathedral’s Giralda Tower in Spain with French Renaissance ornamentation provided by lead designer Charles Beersman. The 454,000 square-foot tower consists of two sections connected by an open walkway at street level and two enclosed walkways. The exterior is clad in some 250,000 individual glazed terra cotta tiles, the most extensive use of terra cotta in the world during the time of construction. Each tile is uniquely identified in a computer database that enables consistent tracking and maintenance of each and every tile located on the building.


NBC Tower
200 East Illinois Street

NBC’s presence in Chicago, in this 37-story building from 1989, is considered one of the finest reproductions of the Art Deco style in town and mimics the broadcaster’s headquarters in New York’s Rockefeller Center. Crafted of limestone piers and sporting a dark green motif in marble and concrete, the tower rises 617 feet in setbacks that harken back two generations. The familiar NBC peacock logo is illuminated at night. 

Tribune Tower
435 North Michigan Avenue

James Kelly, John E. Wheeler and Joseph K.C. Frost put out the first edition of the Chicago Tribune on June 10, 1847 but it was under the 20th century editorship of Colonel Robert R. McCormick that the Tribune became the self-styled “World’s Greatest Newspaper.” In 1922 McCormick hosted a $100,000 international design competition for “the most beautiful and eye-catching office building in the world.” Mostly a publicity stunt, the competition attracted 260 entries and indeed produced a memorable building from the $50,000 first prize winners Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells of New York. Their French Gothic skyscraper is a flurry of flying buttresses, spires, and grotesques. But the creation was an interpretation of the past; the most influential design would turn out to be the simplified tower with setbacks that anticipated the future submitted by runner-up Eliel Saarinen of Finland, who pocketed $20,000 for his efforts. Even before construction of the 462-foot tower began McCormick was instructing his Tribune correspondents to brick back stones and bricks from historically important sites from around the world. Today more than 150 such artifacts are incorporated into the base of the tower from places such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt, India’s Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Alamo in San Antonio and Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware.

Medinah Athletic Club
505 North Michigan Avenue

There is a lot going on with this landmark tower from 1929, commissioned by members of the Masonic order. Walter W. Ahlschlager, an architect with numerous big projects on his resume including the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, was hired with instructions to combine many architectural styles entwined with the heritage of the Shriners. Look up to see a frieze of carved bas relief figures that depict the ancient construction of a building. On the roof is a Moorish-inspired gold dome that was intended as a mooring dock for lighter-than air dirigibles, the most famous of which was the German airship Hindenburg which exploded and burned in Lakewood, New Jersey in 1937. In the tower beneath the grand dome was a full miniature golf course complete with real water hazards. The club’s 3,500 members had use of a shooting and archery range, miniature golf course, running track, billiards room, bowling alley, two-story boxing arena, ballrooms and 440 guest rooms. The Medinah Athletic Club was most renowned, however, for its Olympic-sized swimming pool on the 14th floor, one of the highest indoor pools in the world and an engineering marvel. After gold-medalist and future movie Tarzan Johnny Weismuller trained in the pool, it was named for him. The Shriners, unfortunately, only enjoyed its marvelous club for four years before losing the building in the Great Depression. In the 1940s it began a run as a hotel and since 1988 has been the InterContinental Chicago, along with the 25-story 1961 tower next door. 

McGraw-Hill Building
520 North Michigan Avenue

“A rare survivor of the type of building constructed during the early period of this street’s development” reads the plaque designating this elegant limestone and pink granite Art Deco tower from 1929 as a Chicago landmark. A rare survivor indeed. In 1999 the building was dismantled and carved into 4,000 carefully labeled pieces and stored in a warehouse while an entirely new structure was built and the original exterior was stitched back together. The McGraw-Hill Building was constructed as the venerable publisher’s Midwest headquarters and features the work of one of America’s first woman sculptors, Chicago-born Gwen Lux. 

Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank
601 North Michigan Avenue

The North Central Business District Association was founded in 1912 with a mission to create a grand boulevard that would connect the Gold Coast residential community with the central city, as envisioned by architect and planner Daniel Burnham. Their bank was the Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank which opened in this Neoclassical vault in 1922. Benjamin Marshall and Charles Fox, who had been partners since 1905 and became go-to architects along North Michigan Avenue, provided the design that called for full-height Corinthian columns, crafted of Indiana limestone, rising to the top of the four-story building. The squarish building served several banking masters before being redeveloped as retail space.

Woman’s Athletic Club
626 North Michigan Avenue

Philip Brooks Maher was a busy architect here in the 1920s, designing six major buildings close by on North Michigan Avenue within four years. This ten-story confection, created for the Woman’s Athletic Club of Chicago in 1928, is the only one to travel through the decades intact. Maher adapted the French Second Empire style, popular fifty years prior, for the classically ornamented limestone structure. The Woman’s Athletic Club is America’s oldest such organization, considered revolutionary when it was founded by Belle Ogden Armour and Paulina Harriette Lyon in 1898 for women who sought a “retreat where health, grace and vigor can be restored.” Patronizing men scoffed but the enterprise thrived and women traveled to Chicago from around the country to learn how to start their own clubs.

The Allerton Hotel
701 North Michigan Avenue

This Northern Italian Renaissance tower opened in 1924 as one of the first high-rise towers on North Michigan Avenue.  The Allerton House started as a residential club hotel for single professionals; men and women lived on separate floors. Fourteen floors were reserved for men and six floors for women and the mens’ floors and womens' floor were serviced by different elevators. By the 1940s the mixing of the sexes was taking place in a swanky lounge on the top floor called the “Tip Top Tap.” The lounge closed in 1961, but the room lives on in the illuminated sign on the facade. In 1963 Don McNeill brought his long-running morning variety show, “The Breakfast Club,” to the Cloud Room in the Allerton. The hotel is a designated Chicago landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it picked up a $60 million facelift in 1998.

777 North Michigan Avenue

It is easy to walk past this angular 400-foot without notice but it was a pioneering structure in the canyonization of North Michigan Avenue when it was constructed a half-century ago in 1964. 

Park Tower
800 North Michigan Avenue

At 844 feet this is the eleventh tallest building in Chicago and the 35th tallest in the United States. But it is one of the tallest buildings in the world to be constructed without a steel frame - it is formed with cast-in-place yellow concrete. Completed in 2000, the building pays homage to its predecessors on this location. In 1907 the Perkins, Fellows & Hamilton Office and Studio was constructed here and Park Tower was built 40 feet back to preserve the century-old facade. In 1960 the 16-story Park Hyatt hotel stood here; it occupies 15 floors of the current building. 

Old Chicago Water Tower
806 North Michigan Avenue

This is the only public building to have survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1971 and it looks like the last remaining piece from a giant medieval game of chess. In 1855 the Chicago Board of Sewerage Commission was created to come up with an answer to the young city’s problems with waste disposal and drainage. The solution was a two-mile tunnel beneath Lake Michigan to bring uncontaminated water into the city. The tunnel was finished in 1866 and that same year construction began on the Pumping Station across the street and the Water Tower, to plans drawn by William W. Boyington. Boyington surrounded the 138-foot high standpipe with Gothic-styled turrets rising from every corner on every level of every section. The rough-faced limestone for the tower, that has served as a tourist information center since the 1970s, was quarried in Joliet.  

Chicago Avenue Pumping Station
821 North Michigan Avenue

Across Michigan Avenue is the pumping station that was completed in tandem with the Water Tower in 1869. Despite several modernizations the pumping station still serves serves its original purpose to monitor to fluctuations in water pressure and still looks like it did a century-and-a-half ago.

Loyola University Chicago Lewis Towers
820 North Michigan Avenue

This slender, Gothic-flavored 17-story high-rise rendered in brick began life as the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club when it was raised in 1927. Just about everything in the building was planned for women, including shops, studios and offices. The club was the brainchild of Mrs. William Severin, an owner of the Women’s Federal Oil Company, in 1918 and rapidly became the most prestigious women’s club in Chicago. After meeting in rented space for several years monies were available for their own clubhouse. Plans were drawn by Richard E. Schmidt, who had been in practice in Chicago since 1887, and HughM.G. Garden. The final price tag of $3,500,000 far exceeded the cost estimate of$1,250,000. Today the building is one of the six campuses of the Loyola University Chicago, founded by the Society of Jesus in 1870 as St. Ignatius College and the largest Jesuit university in the United States.

Water Tower Place
835 North Michigan Avenue

When it opened in 1975 Water Tower Place and its block-long atrium-style shopping mall marked the return of Chicago to retail prominence, bringing middle-class shops to what had been a street dominated by luxury retailers, tony hotels, and expensive apartments. It shifted downtown Chicago’s retail center of gravity north from State Street to North Michigan Avenue. The 74-story tower, the eight tallest in Chicago, contains the award-winning Ritz-Carlton Hotel, luxury condominiums (Oprah Winfrey is a resident) and office space. When it was constructed the 859-foot Water Tower Place, faced with gray marble, was the tallest reinforced concrete building in the world.

Fourth Presbyterian Church
125 East Chestnut Street at Michigan Avenue 

The Fourth Presbyterian Church was founded in February of 1871 when the congregations of Westminster Presbyterian Church and North Presbyterian Church merged. On October 8 the new congregation celebrated the dedication of its new sanctuary. That night the entire city of Chicago burned. It would be another three years before a new facility was ready. The current Gothic-flavored church building was constructed in 1914 on plans drawn by Ralph Adams Cram; it was familiar design territory for Cram who created the world’s largest Gothic cathedral, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Prominent architect Howard Van Doren Shaw contributed the Tudor Revival parish buildings around the courtyard. Save for the Water Tower, the Fourth Presbyterian Church is the oldest surviving structure on Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River.

The John Hancock Center
875 North Michigan Avenue

Many would argue this is the best tall tower in Chicago. When the building topped out at 1,127 feet (the antennas rise almost another 400 feet) on May 6, 1968, it was the tallest building in the world outside New York City. It is currently the fourth-tallest building in Chicago and the sixth-tallest in the United States. The tower’s signature cross braces that climb the building as it tapers to the top are each 18 stories tall. The John Hancock Center was erected on the site of the city’s first cemetery and later Cap Streeter’s 19th century steamboat shanty. The area is called Streeterville after him, and consists of landfill reclaimed from the lake. There is a public observation deck on the 94th floor, 1000 feet above Michigan Avenue that is accessed by walking below the entrance. When the skies are clear you can see the states of Indiana, Wisconsin and across the lake to Michigan. Barack and Michelle Obama had their first date in the restaurant on the 95th floor and, in a less happy note, comedian Chris Farley died in his apartment on the 60th floor in 1997. 

Bloomingdale’s Building
900 North Michigan Avenue

Architects Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates deviated from the standard glass box for this 66-story skyscraper in 1989. At the end of its 871-foot run to the sky the building is topped with a quartet of pyramidal towers. 

The Palmolive Building
919 North Michigan Avenue

Although it is now somewhat obscured in a skyscraper phalanx, this was a pioneering high-rise when it was constructed in 1929 as the headquarters for the newly created Colgate-Palmolive-Peet Company. The building itself is a testament to the power of soap - William Colgate began making soap by hand on the streets of New York City in 1806 and B.J. Johnson crafted the world’s best selling soap in 1898 from palm and olive oil and called it Palmolive. Johnson merged his company with the Peet Brothers, Missouri-based soap-makers, and they purchased the Colgate Company in 1928. The architectural firm of Holabird & Root created one of the town’s most celebrated Art Deco buildings with setbacks marching all the way to the tower’s crown. Colgate-Palmolive would stay only a few years before shifting its base of operations to New York City, although the building retained the name. That changed in 1965 when Playboy magazine set up shop here, a happenstance announced by the installation of nine-foot tall illuminated letters. The first Playboy Club was located here. Playboy Enterprises would remain here for a quarter-century before moving on in 1989. Soon after the Palmolive Building was finished two aircraft beacons were installed on the roof. One rotated to guide aircraft into Chicago and the other marked the route to Chicago Municipal Airport, today’s Midway. The beacons claimed to be the most powerful in the world, which became an annoyance to residents of the taller skyscrapers that grew up around the Palmolive Building until the lone remaining beacon, that had been named for Charles Lindbergh, was turned off in 1981. The Lindbergh Beacon was turned back on in 2007 but now only shines out into Lake Michigan.

Drake Hotel
140 East Walton Place at Michigan Avenue

Anchoring the north end of the Magnificent Mile, overlooking Lake Michigan with its iconic script sign and serving as a gateway to the Gold Coast, the Drake Hotel has set the standard of luxury in Chicago since 1920. Celebrities from Winston Churchill to Princess Diana to Frank Sinatra to Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe have signed the guest register and the Drake has starred in a score of Hollywood movies. The hotel was the inspiration of brothers Tracy and John Drake, sons of 19th century hotel mogul John Drake. The elder Drake is famous for buying a hotel property at the height of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 when its owner offered to sell at any price. Drake had noticed a subtle shift in the winds and the building indeed survived the conflagration. The hotel, designed by Benjamin Howard Marshall, boasts 537 guest rooms and 74 suites. The Drake was the first hotel in Chicago to provide air conditioning in every room and the first to have color televisions in all guest rooms. Not every modern convenience was so eagerly embraced - the Drake spurned the advent of ice machines until the quality of the ice became comparable to handmade cubes. 


200 East Pearson
200 East Person Street at North Mies van der Rohe Way 

Architectural legend Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a master of Modern architecture and a major player in the re-shaping of the skylines of America’s major cities in the mid-20th century. Several of his sleek, glassy residential buildings grace this neighborhood. But for most of his life Mies, who abandoned his native Germany in 1937, chose to live in this traditional ornate Renaissance-flavored building that was built in 1916. The six-story brown brick building contains only ten apartments. The street out front was renamed in his honor.   

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Avenue at North Mies van der Rohe Way

The museum opened in 1967 in a small space on Ontario Street that had been designed as a bakery and once served as office space for Playboy Enterprises. In 1996 the collection moved into this space that was once the site of a National Guard Armory. Over 200 proposed designs were reviewed until a conception by German architect Josef Paul Kleihaus was selected. Kleihaus’s signature was a hickory-leaf shaped interior staircase in an glass-walled atrium that serves up views of the city and Lake Michigan across Lake Shore Park.


Chicago Fire Station 98
202 East Chicago Avenue

Horses were still pulling the fire apparatus when this was Host Company Number Two and its station was constructed in 1902. Architect Charles F. Hermann borrowed the castellated style of its water-control neighbors down the street for this building down to the use of limestone from the same Joliet quarry. It is still an active fire company, responding to an average of ten calls a day, the firefighters still sliding down the original brass poles.    


Hotel Saint Benedict Flats
801 North Wabash Avenue at Chicago Avenue

James J. Egan was born in Cork, Ireland in 1839 and sailed to New York where he apprenticed in some of the leading architectural shops of the city. He arrived in Chicago in the age of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 where he busied himself in reconstruction, eventually developing a working relationship with the Roman Catholic church. Among the structures he designed was this four-story Victorian structure in 1882-83. The Flats were designated a Chicago Landmark but the church-owned land underneath is vastly more valuable today then the historic building so its future is tentative.


Samuel Nickerson House
40 East Erie Street at Wabash Avenue

Samuel Mayo Nickerson, founder of the First National Bank, watched several of his properties go up in flames in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and he was determined not to re-live that experience. When he hired Edward Burling, one of the city’s first professional architects and designer of his bank building, for this house Nickerson directed that it be constructed to be fireproof.  The exterior was completely Ohio stone and granite and inside the floors were laid on iron beams, between which brick arches, covered in cement, were created. The surfaces were all tine and stone - unless they were marble. Eighteen different types of marble were used in the Nickerson house, so much that it was known as the Marble Palace. Not that there wasn’t any wood to be found; each room had some hand-carved decoration in the finest woods available. When completed in 1879 it was the most extravagant house built in Chicago to that date. In recent years the grand mansion was purchased by Richard Driehaus and restored as a museum for his decorative arts collection.


John B. Murphy Memorial Building
50 East Erie Street

When Richard Driehaus sought to purchase the Nickerson House the deal was contingent on his restoring the Murphy auditorium for the College of Surgeons. The building was constructed following the death in 1916 of John B. Murphy, one of the more prominent founders of the American College of Surgeons. Architects Benjamin Henry Marshall and Charles Eli Fox used the Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Consolation in Paris as their model for this splendid French Renaissance confection, both inside and out. Dedication took place in 1926 with the $600,000 price tag being picked up by donations from more than 2,000 individuals and organizations in Dr. Murphy’s memory. 


Ransom R. Cable House
25 East Erie Street at Wabash Street

Ransom R. Cable came from a wealthy family but he began his working life in the 1850s as a railroad conductor and worked his way up to become president of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad and an important investor in several other roads. His house from 1886 was designed by Henry Ives Cobb and Charles S. Frost in an adaptation of the Romanesque style of Boston architect Henry Hobson Richardson. it displays such hallmarks of the form as a powerful arched corner entrance, corner tower, variations of rough-faced stone and multi-patterned triangular gables. In 1902 Cable moved on and sold the house to Robert Hall McCormick of the McCormick reaper fortune. It was never more than a stop-over home for Ransom Cable anyway - his primary residence in Rock Island made this Chicago mansion seem like a carriage home.


Medinah Temple
600 North Wabash Street

Architects Harris W. Huehl and Richard Gustav Schmid, fellow Shriners, brought exotic Moorish Revival architecture to the Chicago streetscape in 1912 for this ornate auditorium. It originally seated more than 4,000 and its fine acoustics made the Medinah Temple a favorite spot for recording, even used by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The exterior is festooned with pointed domes and an abundance of colorful tiles. After nearly a century the grand building was vacant and awaiting a date with the wrecking ball when it was purchased for retail space by Bloomingdales.

Pizzeria Uno
29 East Ohio Street at Wabash Street

Ike Sewell, a one-time football star at the University of Texas, was looking to bring southwest cuisine to Chicago in 1943 with a Mexican restaurant. Instead, he wound up here with partner Rick Ricardo serving up the firstChicago Deep Dish pizza. The brick building with mansard roof has held its own against the onslaught of surrounding high-rises since 1905.


Lambert Tree Studios
603-621 State Street at Ohio Street

Lambert Tree was a circuit court judge who ran for the United States Senate in 1882 and lost by a single vote. he consoled himself with an appointment from President Grover Cleveland as ambassador to Belgium. An enthusiastic patron of the arts, Judge Tree and his wife constructed this building to provide low-cost housing and space for artists as a way to keep out-of-town talent in Chicago after the Columbian Exposition in 1893. The eclectic Arts & Craft design withstood additions in 1912 and 1913 . After a restoration at the beginning of this century it once again houses artist studios.


Billy Goat Tavern
430 North Michigan Ave at Lower Level

The Billy Goat Tavern worked its way into popular Chicago lore during the 1945 World Series when the Cubs were battling the Tigers. The story goes that when bar owner William “Billy Goat” Sianis showed up for Game 4 with his pet goat, Murphy, in tow as a good luck charm, he was denied entry to Wrigley Field - even though he had purchased a seat for Murphy. Sianis supposedly placed a curse on the Cubs that very moment. Despite leading the Series two game to one, the Cubs went on to lose four games to three and have never been back to the World Series since. Sianis, a Greek immigrant, started the tavern in the 1930s with a bounced check he covered from the opening weekend’s proceeds. The bar moved to its current location under Michigan Avenue in 1964.