Your resource for things to see and do in the Chicago Loop.
Like most of Chicago’s civic landscape, the Loop first emerged as a center of architectural greatness and public celebration during the huge building boom that redesigned the city following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as we mentioned before. The 1880s became the first great decade of Chicago architecture and civic design, with historically significant buildings by the likes of Burnham, Sullivan, Adler, Root, Atwood, and the many other greats who made up the first Chicago School of Architecture. However, it took a century until the grand theaters of the North Loop had fallen into disrepair. The Cadillac Palace had been turned into a banquet hall and then a rock venue. Most of the Loop movie theaters – which are what major venues like the Oriental had become – were still showing first-run films until the 1970s, and then first runs moved to the suburbs.
In the ’80s, for the first time in the century, there were almost no lit marquees in the Loop. Fortunately, early redevelopment plans for the North Loop that focused on tearing down most of the historic venues gave way to a place-based vision for a Theatre District. Chicago’s entrance into contemporary public art began in 1967 when Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated the first of the city’s monumental modern works, known simply as “The Chicago Picasso.” The Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) reaffirmed Chicago’s worldwide reputation for architecture when it opened in 1973. In 1974, Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” brought the bright splash of red whimsy to the Federal Center Plaza on Dearborn and Adams. In 1978, Chicago became the largest city in the United States – as well as one of the first – to pass a percent for art ordinance, making it possible to fund additional iconic public art.
A major breakthrough in reshaping the Loop as an interconnected cultural zone came when Illinois Central no longer needed its huge century-old train yards along Michigan Avenue. In 1998, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley announced that the City had reached an agreement with Illinois Central by which it would redevelop the yards into something then called Lakefront Gardens, a green space and family entertainment area that would extend Grant Park’s footprint north on top of a multi-story parking garage that would be constructed on the rail yard site. It would be something that Chicago could use, Daley said, “to usher in the new millennium.” It would, of course, go on to become Millennium Park.
While the Theatre District was evolving and Millennium Park was in development, the Auditorium Theatre received a $13 million grant from the State of Illinois for interior upgrades. By 2005 the Theatre District began to exceed even the most optimistic expectation for success. The North Loop Theatre District had become its own destination, featuring the Shubert (now the CIBC), Oriental and Cadillac Palace theaters – all operated by Broadway In Chicago. The Goodman Theatre re-opened at 170 N. Dearborn St. in 2000. And the Gene Siskel Film Center, along with the restored Chicago Theatre, both opened on State Street. Suddenly, there were more than 1.5 million visitors per year to the district, leading to a rapid expansion of restaurant, retail, hotel and residential development. In short order, the Theatre District became a model of public-private partnership that generated substantive economic activity and tax revenue for the city.
Cover Picture by Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash