Sail with us and learn how the devastating Chicago Fire not only jumped a river, but cleared the way for architectural giants of masonry, glass and structural steel such as Jenney, Root and Sullivan (Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor) – a tradition still at work, for example, in Frank Gehry’s pioneering Millennium Park pavilion.
You’ll see how debris from that 1871 inferno, hastily plowed into Lake Michigan, formed the basis of the landscape masterpiece that is Grant Park, where Gehry’s vision took shape, and a 2,800-acre lakefront that today is the envy of cities around the world.
And you’ll learn how our glorious lakefront was preserved during the turn of the century largely through the fanatical efforts of one man – a publicity-shy merchant by the name of Montgomery Ward. Ward waged a 25-year legal campaign against many of his fellow commercial barons who were intent on making the lakefront an industrial center. He fought against colorful politicians with nicknames like “Hinky Dink” and “Bathhouse John.”
If you’re thinking that they should build a monument to Ward – actually they did. His is one of eight large busts that face the colossal (there’s no other word for it) Merchandise Mart. Built as a warehouse for Marshall Field, and once owned by the Kennedy family, the fabled MM is one of the largest structures in the world.
Then, of course, there’s the tale of a down-on-his luck, 22-year old railroad freight agent in a sleepy little Minnesota town … who turned a wayward shipment of watches into a retail empire. A kid named Richard Sears.
And while we’re on the subject of towering ambitions, consider these parallel stories. In the year 1835 a contemptuous young businessman from New York arrived in the “mud hole” that was Chicago to salvage a disastrous land-deal his brother-in-law had made. But when William Butler Ogden began short-selling what he considered worthless lots, he recovered the entire purchase price with only a third of the total property.
Ogden stopped selling, started investing, changed his travel plans … and within two years became the city’s first mayor. His astute financing launched McCormick’s new reaper factory, the Union Pacific railway and scores of other pioneering public and private enterprises.
Today the waterway that is home to Chicago Line Cruises – Ogden Slip – is named for this indispensable figure. One hundred and seventy years later, another New Yorker came to town for a real estate venture, but this time with no misgivings. Along the Chicago River where Jolliet once portaged his canoe, Donald Trump is building a 96-story stainless steel-glass Tower that will stand as the city’s first 21st century landmark.