Thousands of people cross the Michigan Avenue Bridge (renamed the DuSable Bridge in honor of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable in 2010) every day. They are headed to work, to their condo homes in Streeterville, or they are tourists off to a boat tour or a shopping excursion. Take a moment to pause on this bridge and you will discover that the bridge itself can be a destination in Chicago.
On the north side of the river you will see two landmark buildings: The Wrigley Building and the Chicago Tribune Building. The Wrigley Building, of course connected to the candy empire of Wrigley gum, is the asymmetrical building, designed in 1920s to align with the street. Its almost glowing white exterior and ornamentation makes it like a delicious, giant wedding cake. Look closely to discover how the terracotta facade actually has six different shades, making the building more brilliant and bright at the top.
The Neo-Gothic Tribune Building to the east of the Wrigley was the winning design for an architectural competition, again in the 1920s. The competition, and the building of the structure, was a super smart ploy by the Chicago Tribune to generate excitement around the brand of this nationally distributed newspaper. It continues to garner excited glances and craned necks from visitors who love architecture. Beyond the building itself, the architectural pieces from famous, and some not-so-famous, buildings from around the world are pasted into the facade.
On the Southeast corner of the bridge you will see the stark black One Illinois Center buildings of Mies Van Der Rohe next to 333 N. Michigan Ave., another 1920s tower. Inspired by the second-place entry to the Tribune competition, this limestone building tells the story of Chicago's early history in the reliefs at its base.
On the Southwest corner, the 1920s London Guarantee and Accident Building made it no accident to design along the shape of the river. You'll notice it with its columns on the top, in full neo-Classical effect, a style partly made popular from Chicago's 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. By now you can tell that terracotta, ornamentation, and towers were common among skyscrapers of the 1920s, so guess when the slender tower just to the West was built?!
The reason for all the 1920's architecture around here comes along with the bridge and Michigan Avenue. The area was developed with the aid of Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan for Chicago. Cars were clogging cities that were never designed to handle such traffic, so Michigan Avenue was extended north as a main thoroughfare.
And the bridge itself is a site to see. The large pylons on all its four corners depict stories of Chicago history in addition to being functional houses for the bridge operators. At the base of the bridge you will find the docks for many of the architectural river cruises. Below you will also find entrance to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum, a very manageable museum that tells the story of the role of the Chicago river in the city's history, and also allows you an up-close look at the mechanics of this bascule bridge, meaning that it opens and closes with two leaves on either side. It's quite fascinating to imagine how such a solid structure can be lifted open. But of course Chicago's architecture never ceases to amaze.
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