The Loop, defined by the Chicago River to the west and north, Roosevelt Road to the south and, of course, Lake Michigan to the east, is the city’s commercial hub (roughly only 16,000 of Chicago’s nearly three million residents live here). It is the second largest central business district in the country, housing the world’s biggest commodities market.

The Loop initially took its name from the circuitous route 19th century streetcars took but later became defined by the elevated train tracks that lead here from every part of the city. Business-wise, the South Loop came to be known as Printing House Row where printers and publishers set up their presses and constructed utilitarian warehouses and office buildings. The southern part of the city was the first refuge of Chicago’s wealthiest business barons but the push northward across the Chicago River began in the late 19th century and the South Loop became known for brothels, bars, burlesque theaters and cheap residential hotels.

Today some of those buildings have been reclaimed as residential lofts, many owned by the South Loop’s four colleges: Roosevelt University, Columbia College, Robert Morris University Illinois, and DePaul University. Our walking tour of the heart of the South Loop will dip into these heritage structures but we will start in a treasured open space whose lakefront existence can be attributed to a single man...

1.
Grant Park

Original plans drawn for Chicago called for the area between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan to remain undeveloped; in 1844 the town officially designated its “front yard” as Lake Park. In 1901 it would be renamed for Illinois native, triumphant Civil War general and 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. By that time legal restrictions on building in the park were being routinely ignored and mail order pioneer Aaron Montgomery Ward personally financed four expensive court battles to rid Grant Park of its buildings and prevent the construction of new ones. The last twenty years of his life were spent preserving the Chicago waterfront as a park for the people. He spent over $200,000 of his own monies to defending the public’s right to open space. Ward’s long-time efforts to prevent the erection of buildings along Lake Michigan won him the title of “The Watch Dog of the Lake Front.” At one time there were 46 building projects planned in the park and he fought them all successfully, losing many influential friends along the way. Finally, just before his death in 1913 he won his final legal battle to forever keep the waterfront, as a sign posted here once stated: “Public ground. Forever to remain vacant of buildings.” The Chicago Tribune, no friend of Montgomery Ward, wrote, “We know now that Mr. Ward was right, was farsighted, was public spirited. That he was unjustly criticized as a selfish obstructionist or as a fanatic. Before he died, it is pleasant to think, Mr. Ward knew that the community had swung round to his side and was grateful for the service he had performed in spite of misunderstanding and injustice.” 

START THE TOUR WHERE CONGRESS PARKWAY RUNS INTO GRANT PARK.

2.
Congress Plaza
Grant Park at Congress Avenue

In Daniel’s Burnham and Edward H. Bennett’s 1908 Plan of Chicago they envisioned this as the city’s front door with a magnificent staircase and bodacious plaza leading to the Buckingham Fountain and beyond that the Field Museum of Natural History. When Montgomery Ward successfully got buildings banned from Grant Park, the museum slid to the south, crippling the vision. The plan crumbled completely in the 1950s when the stairway was demolished to make room for the lakeside highways. The two statues standing here are the Bowman and the Spearman by Ivan Mestrovic; the works date to 1928.

TURN LEFT AND WALK THROUGH CONGRESS PLAZA. CONTINUE UNTIL YOU REACH...

3.
Buckingham Fountain
Congress Parkway and Columbus Drive

The Buckingham family was instrumental in building southeastern Ohio around Zanesville in the early 1800s. Ebenezer Buckingham then brought his family to Chicago in the 1850s and became involved in grain and railroads. Son Clarence used lessons learned in the family business to build a fortune in banking and the Northwestern Elevated railroad company. Buckingham was an art enthusiast who took a stint as director of the Art Institute and much of his money, which continued to be dispersed by his sister Kate after his death in 1913, went to building the collection. Kate also put aside a million dollars for this fountain that was modeled after the Latonia fountain of Versailles, France. Edward H. Bennett designed the fountain in Georgia pink marble with four sea horses to symbolize the states that border Lake Michigan. The water jets, currently 193 of them, for one of the largest fountains in the world were turned on for the first time in 1927. Buckingham Fountain is the eastern terminus of America’s most famous highway, Route 66, the Mother Road - 2,451 miles later it ends at the Santa Monica Pier of the Pacific Ocean.

TURN AND WALK BACK TO MICHIGAN AVENUE. TURN LEFT AND STAY ON THE GRANT PARK SIDE OF THE STREET FOR THE BEST VIEWS. WALK SOUTH WITH LAKE MICHIGAN ON YOUR LEFT.

4.
The Congress Hotel
520 South Michigan Avenue at Congress Avenue

Clinton J. Warren carved a reputation in Chicago in a four-year span from 1889 to 1893 when he designed the Congress Hotel, the Leander McCormick Apartments, the Metropole Hotel, the Plaza Hotel, and the Lexington Hotel. Only the Congress still stands. The larger Annex to the south came along in 1958.

5.
Harvester Building
600 South Michigan Avenue

Christian A. Eckstorm began his architectural life in the shop of Henry Ives Cobb, who designed a litany of important Chicago civic buildings in the final years of the 19th century. Eckstorm carved a niche for himself by bringing classic design sensibilities to warehouses and industrial buildings. He created this heritage skyscraper in 1907 using classical Bedford limestone detailing to set off the 15-story brick tower. It was constructed as the headquarters for the International Harvester Company. In 1975 the property was acquired by Columbia College Chicago, the largest landowner in the South Loop, and now does duty as their main administration building.

6.
Blackstone Hotel
636 South Michigan Street

One of Chicago’s most storied hotels, the Blackstone was named for Timothy Bleach Blackstone although he had nothing to do with the project. Blackstone came west from Connecticut after helping construct railroads in New England and made a fortune developing lines around Chicago. He became one of the major players in developing the Union Stock Yards into the biggest meat processing facility in the world. This was the location of the business scion’s mansion and after he died in 1900 it was developed by John and Tracy Drake, sons of a former business partner of Blackstone, hotelier John Drake. Architect Benjamin Marshall blended elements of the Neoclassical and French Second Empire styles and a $1.5 million to create the mansard-roofed tower that opened in 1910. The luxury hotel evolved into a political hangout and came to be known as “The Hotel of Presidents.” Every United States President from Theodore Roosevelt to Jimmy Carter signed the guest register here. A special room was designed for the Chief Executive that was separated from the main hotel by hollowed out walls in which the Secret Service could operate. In 1920 when a deal to nominate Warren G. Harding was hammered out by Republican operatives in the Blackstone it was reported that the delegates had emerged from “a smoke filled room.” The phrase is now the standard to describe any political decision hashed out away from public eyes. By 2000 the Blackstone was crumbling inside and out. More than $100 million was poured into a restoration and only two original guest rooms survived intact - the ninth floor “smoke-filled room” and the tenth-floor presidential suite. 

7.
The Stevens Hotel (Hilton Chicago)
720 South Michigan Avenue

This was the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1927 with 3,000 guest rooms in the segmented towers of the Beaux Arts complex. Developer James Stevens made his money with the Illinois Life Insurance Company but is timing was bad here. The Great Depression two years later sunk the Stevens family and the grand hotel, like four out of every five American hotels in the 1930s, went bankrupt. In 1942 the U.S Army purchased the property for $6 million (Stevens had spent $30 to build it) for use as barracks and classrooms for the Army Air Force during WWII. The Stevens housed over 10,000 air cadets during this time, who utilized the Grand Ballroom as their mess hall. Hotel mogul Conrad Hilton rescued the Stevens in 1945 and turned it into his Chicago flagship; in 1984 when renovations were required, $185 million was spent on the facelift - the most money ever spent on a hotel makeover. 

8.
Crane Company Building
836 South Michigan Avenue 

Richard Teller Crane left New Jersey at the age of 23 in 1855 for Chicago where his uncle Martin Ryerson was an influential lumber baron. It wasn’t wood but brass where Crane would make his fortune, however. In time the Crane name would be recognized in bathrooms across the country but the business began with pipe and steam-heating equipment in large public buildings. When skyscrapers began rising on every corner of the Loop the pipes used were most often Crane Company pipes. Richard T. Crane’s own classically-inspired skyscraper came courtesy of high-rise masters Holabird & Roche, although the founder died before it was completed in 1913. Several rungs down Richard Crane’s family tree is his great-great grandson, Chevy Chase.

9.
Columbia College Chicago Music Center
1016 South Michigan Avenue

This Parisian-flavored red brick and terra cotta building has held this corner since it was constructed in 1912 by Christian A. Eckstorm. Developed as a speculative commercial property, its first decades saw a shingle distributor, a lumber company and an electrical parts manufacturer pass through. In 1941, the building was rehabilitated for the Sherwood Conservatory of Music, founded in 1895 by William H. Sherwood, a piano virtuoso, teacher and composer. Since 1997 the music department of the Columbia College Chicago has resided here.

TURN LEFT AT 11TH STREET AND FOLLOW THE PATH BACK INTO GRANT PARK.

10.
Montgomery Ward Bust
Grant Park Path opposite 11th Street

The plaque reads “Grant Park is his legacy to the city he loved… his gift to the future.” This bust recognizes the work done by Montgomery Ward in preserving this open space. Carved by Russian-American sculptor Milton Horn, it is a scaled-down version of Ward’s bust at the Merchandise Mart Hall of Fame of important Chicago businessmen. 

11.
Illinois Central Yards
Grant Park

The Illinois Central was officially chartered by the illinois General Assembly on February 10, 1851 with two of its backers being Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln. Its first tracks here were actually laid on a causeway offshore in Lake Michigan in the days before landfill brought the line inland. The first stretch of rail from Cairo at the southern tip of the state to Galena in the northwest corner was the longest railroad in the world when the first trains chugged along in 1856. Eventually the Illinois Central evolved into the main road from New Orleans to Chicago. In 1893, in anticipation of the World’s Columbian Exposition, the Illinois Central Railroad constructed one of the most impressive Victorian buildings Chicago ever saw here. New York architect Bradford Gilbert created a grand Romanesque structure around a 225-foot high clock tower. The 600-foot train shed was an engineering marvel that would handle 19 long-distance passenger trains in the heyday of train travel. Passengers waited for legendary trains such as the Panama Limited and the City of New Orleans in a luxurious three-story marble waiting room looking out on Lake Michigan. The last passenger station pulled out from Central Station at 6:30 p.m. on March 5, 1972. By that time Chicagoans were more enamored of their views of Lake Michigan than Victorian anachronisms, no matter how grand, and the depot was soon reduced to a gravel parking lot. 

FOLLOW THE PATH INTO MUSEUM CAMPUS, CROSSING COLUMBUS DRIVE AND LAKE SHORE DRIVE. WHEN YOU EMERGE FROM THE TUNNEL, BEAR LEFT.

12.
Shedd Aquarium
1200 South Lake Shore Drive

John Graves Shedd left his family’s New Hampshire farm for Chicago in 1871 at the age of 21 to work as a stock clerk for Marshall Field. When Field died in 1906, Shedd became the second president of the largest wholesale and dry goods company in the world. As Shedd’s career wound down in the 1920s he provided three million dollars to build an aquarium as a complement to the Field Museum. Shedd’s plans were audacious. Not only was the aquarium planned as the world’s largest but it was going to be a saltwater aquarium a thousand miles from the sea. The commission for the building went to Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the largest architectural firm under one roof in the country with a lengthy resume of iconic Chicago landmarks. The firm delivered a trademark Beaux-Arts inspired design executed around a central octagonal aquarium. More than one million gallons of saltwater were transported from Key West, Florida to Chicago to fill the exhibits for a May 30, 1930 opening. It took 20 specially made railroad tank cars eight round trips to create an artificial ocean environment in Chicago. Today the Shedd Aquarium attracts more than two million visitors; one who never saw it was John Shedd who died before construction was completed.

FOLLOW LAKESHORE TRAIL AROUND THE BACK OF THE AQUARIUM. WHEN YOU REACH SOLIDARITY DRIVE, TURN LEFT.

13.
Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum
1300 South Lake Shore Drive

Max Adler began his working life as a concert violinist before marrying the sister of Julius Rosenfeld, president of Sears Roebuck & Company. Adler became a vice-president of the retail giant and retired in 1928 to start giving his money away. The planetarium he funded was the first in the Western Hemisphere when it opened in 1930.  For its design, architect Ernest A. Grunsfeld, Jr. was awarded the gold medal of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

FOLLOW SOLIDARITY DRIVE BACK AND FOLLOW AS IT BEARS LEFT AND THEN TURN RIGHT, HEADING BACK TOWARDS THE CITY. ON YOUR LEFT IS...

14.
Soldier Field
1410 South Museum Campus Drive

In the 1920s this municipal stadium was constructed with a configuration capable of seating more than 100,000 spectators and became an icon during the “Golden Age of Sports.” Architectural firm Holibird and Roche won an architectural competition to build the stadium and designed the arena in a classical tradition with Doric columns rising above the stands. Intended as a memorial to American soldiers who had died in wars during the previous 150 years, the stadium opened in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium but was renamed a year later as Soldier Field. For much of its early life Soldier Field was the venue of choice for big college and high school football games, boxing matches, and special events. It also hosted rodeos, stock car races and even a skiing/toboggan event. The Chicago Bears, who today are most associated with Soldier Field, did not make this their home facility until 1971, playing mostly at Wrigley Field until then. To up the comfort level for the Bears the plank boards fans had sat on for 50 years were replaced by seats in and capacity was sliced into the 57,000-range. In 2003 Soldier Field underwent a 20-month modernization with an entirenew stadium bowl constructed inside the familiar Greek colonnade. As a result, Soldier Field lost its designation as a National Historic Landmark.

ON YOUR RIGHT, ACROSS FROM SOLDIER FIELD IS...

15.
Field Museum of Natural History
1400 South Lake Shore Drive

Today the steward of over 21,000,000 specimens, the Field Museum of Natural History began as the Columbian Museum of Chicago at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. In 1905 the collection picked up the name of retailer Marshall Field who was the museum’s first major benefactor. In 1921 the museum relocated here into one of the world’s largest museum buildings, so large that the Neoclassical temple has never needed to be expanded.

AT THE END OF THE ROAD, TURN RIGHT AND MOVE ALONG THE FIELD MUSEUM TO YOUR RIGHT.

16.
Brachiosaurus
northwest corner of Field Museum

Elmer Samuel Riggs, a paleontologist working under the auspices of the Field Museum, unearthed the first known skeleton of a giant sauropod dinosaur that came to be familiarly known as the Brachiosaurus on the high mesas of Colorado in 1900. The original specimens were not seen until 1994 when a skeletal mount was constructed inside the museum’s main Stanley Field Hall. A few years alter a second bronze cast was constructed here.

CONTINUE DOWN THE SHORT HILL. AT THE TUNNEL ON YOUR LEFT, RE-ENTER AND WHEN YOU REACH A SIGN POINT TOWARDS ROOSEVELT ROAD, FOLLOW THE PATH TO THE LEFT. 

17.
Christopher Columbus Monument
Grant Park opposite Roosevelt Road

Christopher Columbus never made it to the American mainland but this likeness of the Genoese explorer made it to Chicago in time for the city’s centennial anniversary in 1933 and the Century of Progress World’s Fair. The monument is sited at the location of the fair. Italian born and trained sculptor Carl Brioschi, who settled in Minnesota, created the bronze Beaux Arts depiction of Columbus scanning the horizon with map in hand. The Art Deco pedestal is adorned with a passel of symbolic images including Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria, the city seal of Genoa, a nod to Amerigo Vespucci for whom America’ was named and allegorical busts representing Faith, Courage, Freedom, and Strength.

CONTINUE TO ROOSEVELT ROAD.

18.
The Columbian
1160 South Michigan Avenue at Roosevelt Road

This 517-foot residential skyscraper from 2008 is the tallest brick-clad building, and 76th tallest building, in Chicago.

CROSS MICHIGAN AVENUE AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO WABASH AVENUE.

19.
The Union Bus Depot
1157 South Wabash Avenue at Roosevelt Road

David Saul Klafter designed this two-story, white terra cotta building as a station for Greyhound Lines and other inter-city bus lines in 1928. The terra cotta not only looked good but it was easy to clean the soot from exhaust fumes. The second floor was used as Greyhound’s Chicago office headquarters as the line grew to become the nation’s dominant bus company. Greyhound moved into a modern terminal in 1953 and by the 1970s the depot was abandoned. It dodged the wrecking ball, however, and has recently been redeveloped for retail use

20.
The Hotel Somerset
1152 South Wabash Avenue at Roosevelt Road

This was prime guest house real estate when the Hotel Somerset opened in 1893 to greet visitors to the Chicago Columbian Exposition. One block away was the Illinois Central Railroad Station and the South Side elevated train ran right past the front door. Architect Jules De Horvath designed the Romanesque brick building with curved bay windows to catch the breezes off Lake Michigan. The hotel’s fortunes withered with the decline of the South Loop and under the moniker Hotel Roosevelt it deteriorated into a transient hotel. A place on the National Register of Historic Places helped trigger a renovation of the Roosevelt in recent years.

TURN RIGHT ON WABASH STREET.

21.
Ludington Building
1104 South Wabash Avenue

Skyscraper pioneer William Le Baron Jenney made this the first high-rise clad entirely in terra cotta when it was constructed in 1891. At the time this was the heart of “Printing House Row” when Chicago was the national center for the publishing industry. This eight-story building was built for the American Book Company to house its offices, printing presses, packaging and shipping operations. The Ludington Building has been owned by the Columbia College Chicago since 1999.    

22.
Fairbanks Lofts
900 Wabash Street (behind parking lot)

Thaddeus Fairbanks began unleashing his inventive mind in St. Johnsbury, Vermont in 1823 when he started an ironworks to manufacture cast iron plow and heating stoves of his own design. But it was his invention of the platform scale that launched one of the great American enterprises. Marine and railway shippers charged by the pound and the platform scale was critical to their operations. As a result the Fairbanks scale became the first truly international product, used even in Imperial China. A Fairbanks employee, Charles Hosmer Morse established the Chicago branch of the company and by the timeChristian A. Eckstorm designed this loft building for the Fairbanks-Morse Company in 1907 the company catalog ran to 800 pages and included typewriters, hand trucks, railway velocipedes, pumps, tractors and a variety of warehouse and bulk shipping tools and would come to include diesel engines and locomotives.

23.
Buddy Guy’s Legends
700 South Wabash Avenue at Balbo Street

Louisiana-born Buddy Guy has shelved six Grammy Awards and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame statue in his 50 years in the music business and defined the electric Chicago blues scene in the process. The blues club opened in 1989 and Guy performs shows here every January. Historically, this was the location of the grand Gettysburg Panorama. Before there were motion pictures people came to look at stationary pictures - in this case as 400-foot by 45-foot painting in the round of a scene from the Battle of Gettysburg painted by Parisian artist Paul Philppoteaux. The Gettysburg Panorama opened in a 16-sided polygon building sited here in 1883. Although it cost $110,000 visitors were so enthralled the seed money was made back within months. In short order another panorama - depicting the Battle of Missionary Ridge at Gettysburg - opened across the street and another one was created on Michigan Avenue for the Battle of Shiloh in 1885. The arrival of moving pictures did indeed end the craze of moving people in front of a still picture, regardless of how dramatic it was painted, and the Gettysburg Panorama shuttered in 1895. The building was razed in 1921 and replaced by a Masonic lodge, into which Buddy Guy’s Legends is incorporated.

TURN RIGHT ON BALBO STREET AND WALK A FEW STEPS DOWN.

24.
Blackstone Theatre
60 East Balbo Drive

The Blackstone Theatre was created at the same time as the iconic hotel, also by developers Tracy and John Drake and also designed by the firm of Benjamin Marshall. When it opened in 1910 management claimed the 1,400-seat auditorium in the French Renaissance building could be cleared in three minutes in the event of fire as theater operators were still reeling from a fire that claimed 605 lives in the Iroquois Theatre on Randolph Street in 1903 - the deadliest single-building fire in United States history. A century later, through a multi-cast of owners, the stage is still hosting major productions, currently under the auspices of DePaul University.

RETURN TO WABASH STREET AND TURN RIGHT, CONTINUING NORTH ON WABASH STREET.

25.
Studebaker Building
623 South Wabash Avenue

This Chicago School heritage skyscraper was built for the Studebaker Brothers of Fort Wayne Indiana in 1895, when the future car company was still making buggies. It was soon acquired by the Brunswick Company which was manufacturing built-in wood furniture for libraries and other government institutions but would become more famous for its pool tables and bowling alleys. The building was designed by Solon S. Beman, best known for his work with the Pullman Palace Car Company, including planning the industrial town of Pullman. Beman apprenticed in the shop of Richard Upjohn, America’s foremost cheerleader for the Gothic Revival style and you can see traces of it here on the terra cotta detailing on the vertical piers.

26.
South Side Elevated Line
Congress and Wabash streets

The world’s first elevated railroad ran for a half-mile in New York City in 1868. Chicago’s more celebrated elevated railroad was planned in 1888 and began operating on June 6, 1892 in advance of the opening of the 1893 World’s Fair in Jackson Park. The first track began here at Congress Street and ran through an alley east of State Street down to 39th Street. The Loop would be constructed in 1897. In 1992, the South Side Elevated,  today’s Green Line, was closed for modernization after 100 years but some of the original steel pillars are still in place.

AT CONGRESS PARKWAY TURN RIGHT AND RETURN TO GRANT PARK AT MICHIGAN AVENUE AND THE TOUR STARTING POINT.