Dearborn Station, 1976

To the casual traveler, a walk through the Loop or one of the city’s neighborhoods reveals a city that’s full of skyscrapers, streets, commercial buildings, homes, apartment buildings, and other pieces of the built environment. But wait: it wasn’t always that way, so how did it all come to be?

I’ve spent my entire professional life studying such matters and I’d like to offer a grab-bag of books, digital materials, and other ways for you to learn about Chicago was built over the past century and a half. Please enjoy these at your leisure and there’s much more out there for you to discover on your own.


"Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue: Planning and Development, 1900-1930"

Each year, hundreds of thousands of visitors cram Michigan Avenue to shop, people-watch, and more. But how did this Magnificent Mile come to be? In this detailed volume, Professor John W. Stamper looks at key developments, including the construction of the Michigan Avenue bridge, the Wrigley Building, the Chicago Tribune Tower and more.


"At Home in the Loop: How Clout and Community Built Chicago’s Dearborn Park"

In the 1970s, the South Loop was on the ropes. A great deal of industrial firms had moved out and the famous Dearborn train station was in danger of being demolished (pictured partially so in 1976, at top). As Lois Wille, noted journalist, recounts in this book the area was cleaned up and turned into a rather successful urban community that attracted middle class residents and substantial investment. 


“This is Marina City” 

This amazing video shows the construction of these dramatic apartment buildings along the Chicago River in 1965. Today the building is in the process of becoming an official city landmark and some of you might know it from its prominent place on a Wilco album cover.


Chicago Aerial Photographs 

Des Plaines River Forest Preserve, 1929

Would you like to fly above Chicago in the 1930s? Until time travel becomes a reality, this could be a tall order. Fortunately, these remarkable aerial photos from around Chicago and the surrounding hinterlands offer a bit of insight into such matters. It’s rather fun to look around at these digitized images from the University of Illinois and Chicago to see what Pilsen, Hyde Park, and other neighborhoods looked like seventy plus years ago. 


Chicago Architects Oral History Project

Created by the Art Institute of Chicago, this online trove brings together interviews with dozens of Chicago-based architects, including Bertrand Goldberg (he of Marina City and other notable structures), Bruce Graham of SOM, and Walter Netsch, who designed the University of Illinois-Chicago campus. Wandering through their words is a great way to learn about their projects, buildings and inspirations. 



Chicago's Dearborn Station, taken May 1976 by Hedrich-Blessing. Source: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, "Built in America" Collection.

Des Plaines River Forest Preserve, 1929 courtesy of Chicago Aerial Photo Services (CAPS)