Millennium Park: Creating a Chicago Landmark

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At its opening on July 16, 2004, Chicago’s Millennium Park was hailed as one of the most important millennium projects in the world. “Politicians come and go; business leaders come and go,” proclaimed mayor Richard M. Daley, “but artists really define a city.” Part park, part outdoor art museum, part cultural center, and part performance space, Millennium Park is now an unprecedented combination of distinctive architecture, monumental sculpture, and innovative landscaping. Including structures and works by Frank Gehry, Anish Kapoor, Jaume Plensa, and Kathryn Gustafson, the park represents the collaborative efforts of hundreds to turn an unused railroad yard in the heart of the city into a world-class civic space—and, in the process, to create an entirely new kind of cultural philanthropy.
Timothy Gilfoyle here offers a biography of this phenomenal undertaking, beginning before 1850 when the site of the park, the “city’s front yard,” was part of Lake Michigan. Gilfoyle studied the history of downtown; spent years with the planners, artists, and public officials behind Millennium Park; documented it at every stage of its construction; and traced the skeins of financing through municipal government, global corporations, private foundations, and wealthy civic leaders. The result is a thoroughly readable and lavishly illustrated testament to the park, the city, and all those attempting to think and act on a monumental scale. And underlying Gilfoyle’s history is also a revealing study of the globalization of art, the use of culture as an engine of economic expansion, and the nature of political and philanthropic power.

Born out of civic idealism, raised in political controversy, and maturing into a
symbol of the new Chicago, Millennium Park is truly a twenty-first-century
landmark, and it now has the history it deserves.

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Editorial Reviews

“Gilfoyle captures all the soaring architectural drama, petty human squabbling, and commendable leadership behind the city’s newest civic jewel.”
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society - Herbert S. Channick
"Gilfoyle has given us an intelligent and meticulously researched account of this triumphant new centerpiece of the city's downtown. The book is handsomely produced, well-written , full of gorgeous photographs and tells the absorbing story of the Millennium Park site."
Chicago Magazine

“Gilfoyle captures all the soaring architectural drama, petty human squabbling, and commendable leadership behind the city’s newest civic jewel.”—Chicago

Chicago Reader
“[A] high-stakes game of push-and-pull forms the dramatic core of historian Timothy J. Gilfoyle’s absorbing and lavishly illustrated Millennium Park. Gilfoyle frames the park’s gestation as a titanic struggle between public and private interests.”
Chicago Tribune
Millennium Park is fascinating—and gorgeous. Its 474 pages are adorned with color images. They’re worth the $45 sticker price alone. . . . [Gilfoyle] knows how to tell a good story, and he has one here. . . . His research and his interviews uncovered a series of lucky breaks and wily moves that made Millennium Park possible, and then filled it with spectacular works of art.”
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society
Gilfoyle has given us an intelligent and meticulously researched account of this triumphant new centerpiece of the city's downtown. The book is handsomely produced, well-written , full of gorgeous photographs and tells the absorbing story of the Millennium Park site.

— Herbert S. Channick

Michael J. Lewis
Millennium Park is indeed a handsome souvenir of the park, but somewhere between the lines is a cautionary tale of what happens when the fund-raising arm assumes aesthetic control by default.
— The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226293493
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2006
  • Series: Historical Studies of Urban America Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 474
  • Sales rank: 985,827
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy J. Gilfoyle is professor of history at Loyola University Chicago. The author of City of Eros and, most recently, A Pickpocket’s Tale, Gilfoyle also writes a regular column for Chicago History magazine.

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Read an Excerpt

Millennium Park

Creating a Chicago Landmark
By Timothy J. Gilfoyle

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2006 University of Chicago Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-29349-1

Chapter One

Before Grant Park

[Grant Park's] nearest counterpart is the Tuileries, the front yard of Paris, in which the Seine is the lake and the Rue de Rivoli, Michigan Boulevard. Grant Park is the nexus of the region, the "fabulous front yard." -Harry Weese, 1968

By the end of the twentieth century, Grant Park was Chicago's "front yard." More than any other piece of Chicago real estate, the park's 319 acres along Lake Michigan immediately east of the city's Loop embodied the city's civic heart. Here Chicagoans came to witness the public appearances of famous people, celebrate special events, attend major festivals, and patronize leading museums. Traditional neighborhood and recreational activities-softball, ice skating, tennis, even promenading-were daily and seasonal events throughout the park. The completion of Grant Park's final twenty-four acres-Millennium Park-in 2004 reinforced the centrality of the site in the cultural life of the metropolis.

Unlike the canonical events of Chicago history-the Great Fire of 1871, the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago, the race riot of 1919, the Century of Progress International Expositionof 1933-34-Grant Park evolved over the course of an entire century. The park never had one comprehensive plan, nor was it the brainchild of a single architect. Rather, Grant Park developed in a gradual, piecemeal fashion, the combined product of various and sometimes unrelated architects, landscape designers, planners, artists, and business leaders. The creation of Millennium Park was shaped by this 170-year tradition.

The overlapping histories of Grant and Millennium parks constitute more than the simple introduction of "nature" into the urban fabric. While both landscapes reflect the influence of the pastoral ideal and the parks' movement over time, they also embody the transportation innovations that defined the nineteenth- and twentieth-century city-canals, railroads, and automobiles. Equally important, both park spaces exemplify places of civic, public, and artistic activity, and thereby represent changing ideas of culture in Chicago.

Before 1850, most of the future site of Grant Park was water-Lake Michigan. A portion of what became Millennium Park was a sand bar extending from the current entrance of the Chicago River as far south as the future location of Washington Street. In 1836, the Board of Canal Commissioners responsible for raising money to construct a canal between the Mississippi River basin and the Great Lakes organized a public auction to sell Chicago's first city lots. Prominent citizens, fearful of commercial lakefront development, lobbied the commissioners to set aside open space along the lakefront. In response, the commissioners left the land from Randolph Street south to Park Row (11th Street) and east of Michigan Avenue undivided with the notation on the map designated "Public Ground-A Common to Remain Forever Open, Clear and Free of Any Buildings, or Other Obstruction, whatever." No other document proved as influential in shaping the future development of Grant and Millennium parks.

Over the next decade, the lakefront land remained relatively untouched. In 1844, the canal commissioners transferred control of the open, undeveloped space to the City of Chicago; three years later, the narrow strip of land east of Michigan Avenue was designated "Lake Park" (although over the next half century, Chicagoans used both "Lake Park" and "Lake Front Park" to describe the area). The small park proved to be among the most popular public places in the city, "the only breathing-space in the city," wrote one resident. Others compared Lake Park to New York's Battery, Boston's Tremont Street Mall, Philadelphia's Fairmount Park, and Charleston's Battery. Promenading, traditionally an elite custom limited to the upper classes of Chicago, became commonplace, bringing together Chicago's emerging middle classes. Boosters and promoters of Chicago even identified Michigan Avenue and the lakefront as "the Battery of Chicago."

Lake Park and Michigan Avenue, however, were frequently threatened by the fierce winter storms off Lake Michigan. To prevent the park and the upscale street from washing into the lake, the city cut a deal. In 1852, the Illinois Central Railroad agreed to construct a protective breakwater in the lake north of Twelfth Street, thereby protecting Chicago's most expensive residential real estate along Michigan Avenue. In return, the city council granted a right-of-way to the railroad to enter the city along the breakwater. Over the next four years, the Illinois Central, Michigan Central, and Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroads erected the barrier, creating an attractive and peaceful lagoon along Michigan Avenue. The protected and accessible basin of water was soon transformed into a center for recreational and casual boating. The cooperative agreement between the city's public and private sectors was a portent for the future Millennium Park site.

Construction of the breakwater, however, proved to be a Faustian bargain. By 1857, the area north of Randolph Street stretching to the Chicago River was filled with railroad terminals, passenger facilities, warehouses, and other industrial structures. The most impressive of these structures was the Great Central Depot, a four-story, five hundred-foot-long terminus designed by Otto Matz that opened in 1856. Journalists immediately hailed the depot as one of "the finest passenger structures in the United States," and "the finest of the kind in the West." During the 1860s, the future site of Millennium Park filled with railroad tracks. Fearing that Michigan Avenue was becoming a "railroad avenue," well-to-do residents soon moved away from the lakefront. "Wealth and fashion," wrote James Sheahan in 1866, "have gone elsewhere."

For the remainder of the nineteenth century, the Illinois Central Railroad was the key variable in the evolution of Lake Park. During the 1860s, with the expansion of terminal and freight facilities around the Great Central Depot, a switchyard fanned out to the east between Randolph and Adams Streets. In time, the right-of-way grew from two hundred feet at Adams to thirteen hundred feet at Randolph. Needless to say, the grade-level location of the tracks greatly impaired views of Lake Michigan. Only in 1919, when the tracks were finally lowered below street level, did the vista from the Michigan Avenue promenade improve. Eventually four vehicular bridges and four pedestrian bridges were constructed above the tracks.

Equally important were efforts by the Illinois Central to control development along the lakefront. In 1869, the Illinois legislature passed the Lake Front Act over the veto of governor John M. Palmer. The law granted the City of Chicago the full title to land earlier dedicated to the Illinois and Michigan Canal commissioners and confirmed to the Illinois Central the right to use certain submerged lands east of the lakeshore. Critics dubbed the legislation "the lakefront steal" because the Illinois Central, Michigan Central, and Burlington railroads gained the right to erect new stations east of Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Monroe Streets, then referred to as "the three blocks" and today the site of Millennium Park. Only strenuous public opposition discouraged the railroads from developing the land, and in 1873, the state legislature repealed the statute.

These setbacks, however, never dampened the Illinois Central's enthusiasm for acquiring more lakefront real estate. In 1881, the railroad proposed extending the rail lines another one hundred feet into Lake Michigan, creating a three-hundred-foot rail bed parallel to and immediately east of Lake Park. With 170 trains "passing both ways over these tracks daily," argued Benjamin F. Ayer of the Illinois Central, commercial development was a necessity. Opponents like G. J. Lydecker of the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that such proposals would simply turn the lakefront and Lake Park into "a vast railroad yard."

Equally important was the impact of the Great Fire of 1871. In addition to the destruction of Grand Central Depot north of Randolph Street, the area between Michigan Avenue and the railroad breakwater became a landfill site for charred rubble. Over the next twenty years, the lagoon was filled in and, for the first time, land east of the railroad trestle was created. Much to the chagrin of many citizens, however, the site was used primarily for dumping garbage, transforming the lakefront into an unsightly open space.

More significant, in the haste to rebuild Chicago in the aftermath of the fire, a number of structures appeared in Lake Park, directly violating the "open, clear and free" provision. In 1873, the 165-feet-high Inter-State Industrial Exposition Building (1873-91), designed by W. W. Boyington just south of Monroe Street (at the future location of the Art Institute), inaugurated Chicago's first exposition and proclaimed the city's recovery from the fire. At approximately the same time, the Illinois Central built an additional freight depot adjacent to the exposition building. Based on legislation passed in 1869, the railroad was granted "in fee" the land between Randolph and Monroe Streets and Michigan Avenue and the railroad tracks. From 1874 to 1891, the Illinois Central leased the property to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Finally, in 1881, municipal authorities granted the federal government the right to construct two armories in the park.

In addition to providing space for business and industrial purposes, Lake Front Park also hosted professional sports. In 1871, the city leased the northern part of the park to Albert G. Spaulding, owner of the Chicago White Stockings of the National League (forerunners of the Chicago Cubs, not the White Sox). Spaulding promptly built the Union baseball grounds. Situated in the relatively narrow space between Michigan Avenue and the Illinois Central tracks north of Madison Street, the grounds seated seven thousand spectators with the main grandstand behind home plate located along Randolph Street. A few months after the field opened, the entire structure was incinerated by the Great Fire.

Baseball did not rebound as quickly as the rest of Chicago. A professional team did not reappear until 1874, and Spaulding did not rebuild the grounds until 1878. This time, he reconfigured the field, locating home plate near the corner of Madison and Michigan Avenue. The playing area was, by later standards, cramped; the foul lines measured only 180 feet in left field, 196 in right field, shorter than some Little League fields today. Outfield fences were so short that balls hit over them were deemed ground-rule doubles, not home runs, prior to 1884. When such out-of-the-park hits were defined as home runs, Chicago slugger Ned Williamson established the single-season home-run record of twenty-seven. That remained the standard until 1919 when Babe Ruth hit twenty-nine.

The baseball grounds were considerably improved in 1883, doubling the seating capacity to eight thousand. The Chicago Tribune and Harper's Weekly each proclaimed the "palatial" structure to be the best in the country, if not the world. The field's proximity to the retail district of State Street and the team's success (winning three consecutive National League championships from 1880 to 1882) made the site a popular entertainment venue. In 1882, the team averaged three thousand spectators per game, reportedly "made up in good part of the better classes of the community." Reporters believed that attendance at the lakefront field surpassed that of any other city in the United States. Such success, however, proved short-lived. At the end of the 1884 season, Spaulding's squad was forced out. Since the land was given to the city by the federal government with the stipulation that no commercial venture could use it, the team was compelled to move to a new facility on the South Side.

Debates over lakefront development rights entered a new phase after 1890. In 1892, the United States Supreme Court finally ruled that the state of Illinois did not have the authority to grant lakefront water rights or control to the Illinois Central. In fact, such power belonged to the city "in trust for public use." Under this public trust doctrine, as it became known, the municipality owned all the filled land east of Michigan Avenue between Park Row (previously Eleventh Street) and Randolph Street, including the land on which the railroad had its right-of-way. That same year, the Illinois Central Railroad Company demolished the passenger station north of Randolph Street in anticipation of the opening of the new terminal south of Lake Park at Twelfth Street. A smaller facility for suburban trains replaced the old depot, which some described as a "ruin" and "an eyesore." The remainder of the site was thereafter devoted primarily to freight service.

In anticipation of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, the World's Congresses Building was erected in the park along Michigan Avenue, just south of Monroe Street. Designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (the successor firm to Henry Hobson Richardson), the building was the one fair structure located in the park after planners rejected Lake Park as the site for the exposition. The edifice, which replaced the Inter-State Industrial Exposition Building, housed a variety of exhibits on religion, folklore, and music. More significant, the Congresses Building was the first structure to obtain unanimous approval from property owners along Lake Park, a precedent that proved critical in the creation of Millennium Park a century later. The park's newest building became the permanent home of the Art Institute of Chicago at the conclusion of the fair.

Among the property owners who approved the plan to construct the Art Institute was Aaron Montgomery Ward. More than any other lakefront landlord, Ward disapproved of the park's unsightliness. In 1890, he initiated the first of a series of lawsuits to keep the park free of new buildings, specifically the wooden shanties, garbage, and other refuse that littered the site. Ward argued that Michigan Avenue property owners held an easement on this property and that the city was responsible for preventing encroachments. A decade later, the Illinois Supreme Court expanded Ward's claim in concluding that all landfill east of Michigan Avenue was subject to the same dedications and easements. In 1909, the Illinois Supreme Court further reinforced Ward's opposition to development in the park when he sought to prevent the erection of the Field Museum of Natural History in the center of the park.

Ward's litigation attracted increasing attention and gained importance after the World's Columbian Exposition. By 1896, when state and city legislation placed Lake Front Park under the control of the South Park Commissioners, the municipality was creating parkland east of the Illinois Central tracks. Although the process was slow-6 acres by 1898, 26 acres by 1901, 49 acres by 1903-by 1910, the park comprised 205 acres. The additions included a beachhead east of Michigan Avenue and Washington Street which later became the Richard J. Daley Bicentennial Plaza and Millennium Park.


Excerpted from Millennium Park by Timothy J. Gilfoyle Copyright © 2006 by University of Chicago Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Tables
List of Appendixes

Part I - History
1. Before Grant Park
2. Creating Grant Park
3. The Grant Park Problem

Part II - Politics
4. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Master Plan
5. Shooting for the Moon
6. Art in the Park
7. The Culture Broker
8. A Theater in the Park
9. The Modern Medicis
10. Conflict and Controversy
11. Defining Art

Part III - Culture
12. Constructing Millennium Park
13. Vermeer in Chicago: The Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge
14. The Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance
15. Cloud Gate
16. The Crown Fountain
17. The Lurie Garden
18. The Subtle Amenities of Millennium Park

Conclusion: The Multiple Meanings of Millenniumo-bidi-font-family: 'Courier New'" Park                                                          
Frequently Used Abbreviations
Illustration Credits

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