[Navy Pier (1916) Charles S. Frost, architect; (1976) City of Chicago, Jerome Butler, city architect; (1995) Benjamin Thompson & Associates, architects; VOA Associates, associate architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
In 1905 Fred B. McLean was given permission to erect a 4,000-foot-long recreational pier at the foot of 31st Street on Chicago's south side. In 1906 the Commercial Club of Chicago hired Daniel Burnham to come up with a cohesive regional plan for Chicago and its lakefront. In 1907 James A. Pugh began working on plans for a multi-pier development extending 3,000 feet out into the lake from the foot of Illinois and Indiana Streets (now Grand Avenue) - just north of the mouth of the Chicago River. In July 1909, Burnham and cohort Edward Bennett's massive plan was revealed to the public, and in August of that year the Chicago Tribune published a series of illustrations depicting Mr. Pugh's plan for a three pier enterprise providing docking areas for cargo boats and passenger ferries, warehouse space and recreational activities. Mr. McLean - after several extensions - was given until September 6, 1911 to begin construction on his project, or his permits would be pulled.
[Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
McLean's version of lakefront fun never even made it to the drawing table. Burnham's plan contained a stunning drawing illustrating the great city planner's idea of a water front harbor centered on Grant Park wrapped in two sweeping arcs of arms created by a pair of piers. The northern arm extended out from Chicago Avenue while the southern arm brought 22nd Street into the lake. Neither was ever built. Pugh's three piers didn't get built either, but one made the cut, although by the time it was built, James Pugh was no longer in the picture.
[Navy Pier - Municipal Pier No. 2 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
James A. Pugh was interested in Chicago's burgeoning furniture manufacturing market, and its real estate. He came to the city in 1889, got involved in the construction of furniture warehouses and showrooms, and by 1905 saw opportunity at the eastern end of a 45-acre swath of land owned and operated by the Chicago Dock and Canal Company, which sat at the junction of the city's two main waterways - the mouth of the Chicago River and the lake. The site was also linked to the vast rail network of the Chicago & Northwestern and Illinois Central railroads by a series of spur lines connecting the Dock & Canal property to every nook and cranny of the nation. It was the perfect place to build a cargo shipping and warehouse operation, and since he was already involved in the furniture business, why not focus on the movement of goods and services related to the furniture industry. He wanted to build a large shipping and warehouse facility - with the Company's backing - that would bring in the raw materials used to make furniture and then ship the finished goods out around the country. He didn't stop there. The plan grew to provide enough additional space for showrooms and conventions. Then he added recreation to the scheme. One pier would be dedicated to public fun, providing city dwellers and visitors with Henry McLean's 1905 pier proposal - but a thousand feet shorter. Pugh had a set of illustrations drawn-up by his friend and business associate engineer Henry Ericsson, and then gave them to the Chicago Tribune to publish. James A. Pugh saw this as an economic gold mine.
[Municipal Pier No. 2 /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The drawings that appeared on the Tribune's pages focused on the recreational portion of the development, showing a large auditorium for concerts, a grand esplanade, a massive convention hall, a bathing pavilion and a set of tracks running the entire length for street cars to move people from one end to the other. Pugh offered the city a franchise fee to be payable 20 years after the piers were opened for business, but the city wanted money upfront and more of it. Pugh went directly to the Feds and got the Army Department, who oversaw the maintenance of the nation's waterways, to give their okay, and got his federal permit. The city still wasn't having any of it. The State finally stepped in and said that although the Trust had been given permission by an act of the legislature to own any landfill created by a breakwater the Canal trust had erected along the lake front north of the river in 1858, the state still owned the land under the water beyond the land created by the legislative mandate. It was the government's trump card, and Pugh threw in the towel. However, the city still saw a municipal pier in that location as a stunningly brilliant idea.
[Navy Pier /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The only problem was that the city needed access to the water site, and to get there, it had to purchase a narrow strip of land owned by the Trust for the tidy sum of $300,000. In 1914, the city began construction on the recreational portion of Pugh's triple-piered plan, which the city council dubbed Municipal Pier No. 2. And, architect Charles Frost must have found inspiration in Henry Ericcson's original illustrations since Frost's Head House, Terminal Building and Auditorium ended-up looking an awful lot like Ericcson's 1907 drawings. The Pier added the name Navy in 1928, in tribute to the men and women who had served in the First World War. The 2,000 foot tin-roofed sheds that dominated the mile long structure, housed warehouse goods, servicemen in World War II, and finally students attending the University of Illinois' Chicago campus from 1946 to 1965. After years of rusting away while the mortar, concrete and brick crumbled, the Auditorium was renovated in 1976, and in 1978, Mayor Michael Bilandic hosted the first ChicagoFest, a late-70s version of Lollapalooza. After the last Fest was held in 1982, the Pier sat idle until 1994, before being transformed into the recreational pier it is today, the State - and the City's - most popular public attraction.