After my initial meeting with Chicago, I have spent two days walking around. My swollen feet are proof of my sightseeing. On my first day, I spent nine hours looking around Chinatown, The Loop and the Magnificent Mile as well as had another adrenaline kick from getting up into the Hancock Tower. The second day I spent on a boat ride, where after I visited Old Town and the historical museum.
I think I have become somewhat used to Downtowns and financial districts full of skyscrapers by now, yet what makes Chicago stand out from the earlier cities, is the amount of old and incredibly beautiful skyscrapers. I dare say that I hardly need mention the unbelievable Wrigley Building (yes it is named after the chewing gum) or the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower. In fact, Chicago was home to the first ever steel framed building, later termed a skyscraper; the Home Insurance Building from 1885, though it was sadly demolished in 1931. However, today the city can boast of three of the five tallest skyscraper’s in America: Willis Tower (Sears), Trump Tower and Aon Center.
But returning to the Tribune Tower. Walking around it, I felt a bit appalled. Tribune Tower is most known, not as the old headquarters of the Chicago Tribune, but because of the lower façades myriad of exotic and historic rocks and stones. Here are pieces of stone from the Great Wall, The Giza Pyramid, Elsingor Castle, The Parthenon and Taj Mahal, among others. Some of these buildings, which are important historic landmarks, are already crumpling. The Taj Mahal is fighting against a backdrop of pollution while the Parthenon remains an issue of diplomatic tension between Britain and Greece. How come then that this insignificant place (relative to many of the buildings represented on the wall), the headquarters of a private media company has the audacity to show off stones and rocks from these places. I am sure that governments around have accepted this in past times, yet I think it is horrendous and only a proof that we have not yet passed many of the issues of colonialism and imperialism. As I am sure any teacher would say to a child: What do you suppose happens if everyone wants a piece of the Notre Dame or the Angkor Wat? Would any be left to amaze the generations to come? But off course the tower was build long ago in 1925, in a time when it was much more acceptable to send home ship loads of exotic and historic artefacts from places such as Egypt and Greece. Moreover, except from this museum of stones and rock represented on the lower wall, the Tribune Tower is definitely a marvellous architectural building. Together with the Wrigley Building it establishes a fantastic panorama which is visible from the Chicago Riverwalk on the opposite side of the Chicago River.
But enough about old skyscrapers. There are as mentioned also the newer taller additions to the incredible Chicago skyline. Amongst these is the Hancock Tower at the end of the Magnificent Mile. After my first climb up the old Smith Tower in Seattle , I felt absolutely certain that I was now an experienced skyscraper visitor. That was at least until I was in the elevator. The elevator of the Hancock Tower which takes you to the observation deck, is, which a female voice on the ride kindly informs the passengers, the quickest elevator in North American. The elevator speed is 549m per minute, and it therefore takes 40 seconds to climb the 94 floors according to the lady on the speaker. 40 seconds later, I was at the top among a new crowd of tourists getting on to the observation deck, taking the mandatory bird perspective pictures of Navy Pier, the lake shore and Downtown, while walking around the deck.
After two days of walking around in Chicago, I am impressed. This city is unlike any I have ever seen before. It seems a movie set, an unreal background. So compact and so full of tall old buildings.
However, the fact that Chicago has one of the longest and most astonishing skylines in the world, also means that there are no real green spots in Downtown Chicago. Off course there are the major parks outside the Loop such as Grant Park, but the streets in Downtown are completely demote of anything living, unless it wears a suit and speaks in a mobile phone. All the trees, and there aren’t many, have iron plates surrounding their roots. Perhaps it is this more than anything which makes Chicago feel a bit like La cité des enfants perdus; futuristic and mysterious, foggy and windy. Especially in the evening when the lights are turned on.
Exciting as I have been about seeing Chicago, I think I would go crazy in the long run. I think Rachel, my host, is right when she says that though Chicago is great there is nothing there except the lake and flat land. No sea, no mountains, no places for nature recreation. And as much as I am a city dweller, I like variation, I like the chance to get out and about. So, Chicago my dear. Though you captivated me, and while I hope to return one day again to discover more of you, you and I will stay a brief, yet beautiful romance.