Stuart’s love of running marathons has given me the opportunity to visit some great places around the world, and I was thrilled when he announced that his next marathon would take place in Chicago.
Chicago is a place I’ve never visited previously, Stuart’s been there multiple times as it plays host to ASCO (one of the world’s leading oncology conferences) but I’ve always had some kind of schedule clash so haven’t been able to relive the scene of my favourite teenage movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
I arrived late at night so couldn’t see very much other than a pretty nice display of lights on the river, so couldn’t wait to throw back the curtains in the morning and get out and explore. Unfortunately when I did throw back the curtains all I saw was rain, and not the kind of rain that allowed you to just grab an umbrella and head on out regardless. This was sideways, driving, can’t see the top of buildings rain that would have had us soaked to the skin as soon as we set foot outside.
I’m not that great at relaxing at the best of times, let alone when I’m in a new city that I only have 48 hours to explore, so paced up and down the room googling ‘What to do on a rainy day in Chicago’ while Stuart pointed out the forecast for the afternoon looked better and suggested we view this as a great chance to relax after what had been a pretty hectic couple of weeks.
As soon as the rain eased we headed out, where the first thing we saw was a huge sculpture of people standing under umbrellas – the irony!
Before long though the rain cleared up completely and we had a beautiful sunny afternoon to explore the gorgeous parks and waterfront, albeit being whipped by the wind that I guess can only be expected in a location known as the Windy City!
The following morning the sun was out again, and we boarded the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour that Stuart had recommended and I’d booked online during my googling the previous day. Chicago has made fantastic use of its riverside waterfront, with a great variety of different architecture styles on display that all complement both each other and the water. Many of them are covered in glass, further amplifying the beautiful visual display via the reflective effect this creates.
This one was probably my favorite, it looks like a giant champagne bottle!
As we cruised around the river listening to the guide – a volunteer docent from CAF, who was just fascinating – it struck me how the city has been shaped not just by the strict building code but by the retail transformation that has occurred throughout its history. As the home of Sears and Marshall Field, Chicago was at the heart of the 20th century retail reinvention as department stores grew and the catalogue market was conceived.
Huge warehouses were built to accommodate the enormous inventories and personnel required, but as that market was transformed by the introduction of the internet and online shopping, so has the utilisation of these buildings.
This was the Marshall Field warehouse and fulfilment centre, so vast in its heyday that employees needed rollerskates to get around. Now at least in part it houses a totally different business, Groupon, whose completely online nature I suspect sees employees rarely need to leave their desks let alone skate from one end to the other.
Chicago was also home to largest post office in the US, required to service the immense number of parcels those catalogue businesses shipped out to locations all over the country. The site was abandoned 20 years ago and lies derelict, although it was purchased just a few weeks ago and the city is now eagerly awaiting details of the new owner’s plans for this enormous site. With waterfront living at a premium and large numbers of condominium complexes under construction I’m sure some type of repurposing for residential occupancy will be involved.
It always fascinates me to see how cities survive and redefine themselves when what has been their signature industry is completely disrupted, and at first glance Chicago seems to have navigated this pathway better than many.
I thoroughly enjoyed my debut visit and hope I get the chance to return again soon.