Thursday, November 29, 2007

ChicagoRound: Water Tower

Chicago's iconic Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue was one of a handful of downtown buildings to survive the 1871 Chicago fire. It originally housed a 138-foot standpipe to equalize water pressure coming from Lake Michigan. The tower was connected to a tunnel leading the then-revolutionary length of two miles into the lake to ensure water coming into the city was uncontaminated by sewage and runoff. The standpipe was removed in 1911 when it was rendered obsolete by the installation of rotary pumps.

The soaring Water Tower and the turreted Pumping Station across the street were modeled by architect William W. Boyington on a medieval castle and constructed of Joliet limestone between 1897 and 1869 in what's called the castellated Gothic style. The two buildings have stood for over a century as symbols of Chicago's resilience after the fire. The ornate tower offers a striking counterpoint to the modern consumer architecture around it, and it looks especially stunning at night:

The Pumping Station is still in use today, though it also houses a visitor welcome center, the Lookingglass Theatre and a Hot Tix office. The Water Tower is now home to a rotating gallery of photographs, and it holds court over a small fountained plaza in a manicured park on the west side of Michigan Avenue. In the winter, the city hangs canopies of lights over the walkways in the park. We took a stroll under the canopies last night after our annual pilgrimage to hear the always-spectacular Chanticleer kick off the holiday season in the Gothic splendor of nearby Fourth Presbyterian Church.

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