Navy Pier, a family friendly attraction and gathering place, is due east of Chicago's Magnificent Mile (shopping district). (Photo above from http://www.navypier.com/). Construction of the pier, which was called the Municipal Pier in those days, began in 1914, with the intention of utilization as a cargo facility for lake freighters and a port for travelers. It also contained a few public gathering spots and became known as a popular place for young lovers. The mass production of cars and trucks began to take a toll on the pier's capacity as a shipping hub and it proved far more useful as a public gathering space.
In the 1930s the pier contained various recreational facilities such as picnicking areas, dining pavilions, a dance hall, auditorium, and children's playground. Then during World War II the city leased the pier to the US Navy and it was used for training manuvers. Because of this, the pier's name was changed to Navy Pier.
After the war, Navy Pier was leased by the University of Illinois for a two-year undergraduate program to educate returning veterans. During this time, Navy Pier was the site of various public events including the International Exhibitions of the early 1960s which drew attractions from around the world. In 1965, the University moved to the Chicago Circle campus, leaving the pier an unused eyesore.
In 1989, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority took control over the pier and decided to return the pier to it's status as a family friendly attraction. (photo below from wikiepedia)
At the start (which is the bit connected to the mainland in the picture) is a mall-like area with shops, random live entertainment events, a food court and several sit-down restaurants. It also contains an IMAX with two screens. Typically it shows current family friendly movies. Towards the back there is a green house area called the Crystal Gardens with lush plants and water arches (photo to the right, from navypier.com). It's a great place to relax for a minute! My nieces enjoyed standing under the arches and trying to grab the water. Actually, I remember visiting Chicago back in college and doing the same thing :).
Inside this first building is also the Chicago Children's Muesum. This was actually started by the Junior League, but then was turned over to the community and eventually moved here to Navy Pier. It's a nice little place with some activities and learning for the kiddos.
Between the Crystal Gardens and the Pepsi Skyline Stage (mentioned below) is Pier Park, a landscaped area with various attractions including a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel, a musical carousel, an old-fashioned swing ride, and an 18-hole putt-putt course. Of all these attractions the only one that I have been on is the Ferris wheel. While it's $6 per person, it's a great view of the city. In an effort to do more of the "touristy" things around the city, we decided to give the wheel a try a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it was on a hazy day, but it was still nice. Beautiful view and all around fun :)
Also, there is a 4000 square foot fun house maze, a stained glass muesum and various exhibition halls. Once when we went with some friends to the Pier we decided to check out the exhibition halls and ran across a Turkish culture festival. Total surprize and a extra nice afternoon.
Every Saturday and Wednesday night you can view fireworks from the Pier. There's also a beer garden with live music and a theater called the Pepsi Skyline Stage. Right now you can see Cirque Shanghai and during the summer Shakespeare plays can be seen.
And if you continue past all of this and walk all the way to the end, you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.
Visit the 3-d google earth model for a virtual experience of Navy Pier.
The Pier does have so much to offer. Much of it I've looked at, but not had time to go to. I think that I'll have to make another trip to the Pier and change that!
My Town Monday is the brain child of Travis Erwin. For other locations to visit please go to Travis' site here.