Visiting Chicago in late November and walking around town can be a pretty bone-chilling experience, so we’ve never been tempted to walk out to Navy Pier during past visits to the city.
Visiting Chicago in late July is an entirely different story. The city can get pretty hot and muggy, so cruising out to Navy Pier in a water taxi to take in the happy amusement park midway vibe and enjoy the occasional cool breeze sounded like a great plan during our most recent visit to the city.
Navy Pier’s current incarnation as a lakefront amusement center embodies at least part of the city’s early twentieth century vision for the 1.5 mile long pier as one of five piers meant as recreational centers and docking facilities near the mouth of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
Architect Charles Sumner Frost designed the Navy Pier Auditorium and supervised much of the construction. It took two years to complete the $4.5 million project, and the city only completed one pier. Municipal Pier, completed in 1914, opened in 1916.
Navy Pier saw service during World War I in 1917-18 as home to soldiers and the Red Cross and earned the name of Navy Pier in 1927 as a tribute to those who served in the Navy during that war.
The pier again saw wartime service during World War II in the 1940s when Navy personnel and pilots, including a young George H.W. Bush, trained there.
The pier’s life as a center for recreation and cultural events stretches back to the 1920s and includes hosting large trade shows and conventions until it became little-used during the early 1970s.
The nation’s 1976 Bicentennial saw a resurgence of interest in Navy Pier. A newly renovated Navy Pier became an official Chicago Landmark in 1977 and began a new life as a festival and entertainment center in the city.
By 1995, yet another extensive renovation saw Navy Pier become a year-round entertainment center with attractions that include rides like a giant Ferris wheel, special museums, docking areas for a variety of boat rides, a theater and convention facilities.
Today the pier rates as one of Chicago’s top tourist attractions.
We certainly found plenty to do along the pier, and stopped for cold lemonade at one of the concession stands as we considered our options.
A pirate fully decked out in pirate finery and brandishing a family-friendly foam swimming noodle (instead of a sword) tried to wave customers into a schooner ride on the Tall Ship Windy. Over-size yachts stood ready to for customers wishing to take a buffet lunch or dinner cruise. The Transporter FX seemed popular with younger visitors who wanted a rocking and rolling virtual trip to the Moon, Africa or a high-speed car race.
Many visitors just enjoyed strolling in the sun to the end of the pier to view the lighthouse or to sit and watch the constant stream of large- and small-boat traffic.
What to do first? It didn’t take us too long to make our decisions!
Watch Midwest Guest for future stories about our visit to Navy Pier’s unique Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, an exciting “extreme” speedboat ride with Seadog Cruises and an elegant late lunch at The Riva.
© Dominique King 2009 All rights reserved