Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Millennium Park circa 1950

One of my favorite web sites is Found Magazine, a site that collects random objects found by people; photographs, grocery lists, handwritten notes, whatever. It really gets your imagination working to think about the people in the photos, or what on earth was going through a person’s mind when they wrote that cryptic note (some of the items are downright bizarre). I don’t have a collection of such objects of my own (yet), but I do have a few items I've found that are worth sharing:

This photograph comes from a handful of slides found in my mother-in-law’s personal belongings and was probably taken in the early 1950’s, judging from the railroad cars in the photo. The view is looking south towards Michigan Avenue in Chicago at what is now Millennium Park. My guess is the shot was taken from the Randolph Street Bridge near the old Prudential Building. The Art Institute is in the background. As a kid, I remember looking at the trains from my father's office in the tall building in the photo (with the pyramid and beehive beacon on top). This is the equivalent of looking at Central Park from a high rise in New York and seeing locomotive and cattle cars.

It’s hard to believe that for many years Chicago’s “front yard” was a tangled web of freight cars and railroad lines. Visitors and new residents are probably unaware of the industrial history of this site. The railroads were a huge contributor to the growth of Chicago, but this is a case where obscuring our history is probably a good thing. Today, the site contains the newly completed Millennium Park, complete with a Frank Gehry designed bandshell, landscaped promenades, ice rinks and a giant mirror polished kidney bean (see the Cloud Gate photo below). A few rails lines still run below, and a huge parking garage is constructed below the park, but the up on top, the transformation is remarkable. Millennium Park is directly responsible for the recent boom in residential property in the Loop. Here's what the site looks like today:

Polishing the Cloud Gate, 2-21-06. What a difference half a century makes. By the way, my father's office building went condo last year.

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