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Burnham Vision

At the dawn of the 20th century, Daniel Burnham is one of the most revered and respected architects in the world, and one of the world’s busiest ports is his canvas for the first urban plan ever created. Burnham envisions public piers that transform Chicago’s lakefront into attractive and useful civic space for recreation and social interaction— sources of pride and common ground that foster a sense of community within the city’s diverse population.

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-79033_24;
Chicago Architectural Photo Co., photographer


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1909

Plan of Chicago


To further his goal of reclaiming the lakefront for the public, Burnham’s famed Plan of Chicago proposes a new lake harbor sheltered by two piers at Chicago Avenue and Cermak Road. While Burnham is adamant that the lakefront ‘need not be ruled by commerce,’ he recognizes that Great Lakes shipping is crucial to the region’s economy. His innovative sketches call for public access and recreational areas to be integrated with new slips and loading docks in ways never seen before.

City planners with the Harbor and Subway Commission like Burnham’s lakefront concepts and propose building five piers to relieve heavy river traffic and boost Chicago’s position in the lake shipping industry.

1914

Design & Construction


In the wake of Burnham’s death in 1912, the Harbor and Subway Commission engages architect Charles Sumner Frost to design the first of five piers the city plans to build. Frost stays true to Burnham’s vision by designing two double-decker freight and passenger sheds in the middle of the pier to serve business needs along with classically designed buildings at the head and foot of the pier to serve as grand places for public assembly.

1914

Then & Now


Slide to see how much has changed – and how much hasn’t.

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Photo Credit (left): Chicago History Museum, ICHi-79033_49;
Chicago Architectural Photo Co., photographer

Daniel Burnham, 1909

“The lakefront by right belongs to the people… it should be made so alluring that it will become the fixed habit of the people to seek its restful presence at every opportunity.”

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum,
ICHi-79033_24; Chicago Architectural Photo Co., photographer

1916

Grand Opening


Municipal Pier No. 2 opens in 1916, the first of its kind to combine the business of shipping with the pleasure of public entertainment. At a cost of $5 million, the 292-foot-wide Pier, ‘built by the city for the people,’ is the largest in the world, projecting east 3,040 feet into Lake Michigan. It remains the longest public pier in the world today.

1916–1941

The Pier establishes itself as a major presence on the lakefront, enjoying a golden age of commercial and cultural success before falling into disuse in the early ‘40s. It thrives as a civic center throughout the 1920s, drawing 3.2 million for live bands, musical acts, concerts, plays, art exhibits, children’s activities, airplane and motorboat races and fireworks displays. The Pier also bustles with a high volume of package freighter and excursion boat activity until the onset of the Great Depression.

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-73578


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1916

Immediately Popular


4th of July holiday crowds flock to the unfinished Pier to escape the city heat and enjoy the promised ‘cool lake breezes’ and open air promenades even before it officially opens to the public on July 15, 1916.

Chicago Tribune, 1916

“No city in the world has any structure on the water front that compares with the new Municipal Pier.”

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-73578

1916

Then & Now


Slide to see how much has changed – and how much hasn’t.

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1917

Service During War Time


As the United States enters World War One, the Pier houses several regiments of soldiers, Red Cross workers and home defense units while serving as a barracks for recruits and a jail for draft dodgers.

1922

Pageants of Progress


Two Pageants of Progress are a highlight of the Pier’s civic glory days, billed as ‘the greatest collection of business and industrial exhibits the city has seen since the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition’. The two-week summer pageants draw more than a million visitors with thrills like sky diving stunts, speed boat races and mock pirate attacks.

1927

Dedicated to Honor


As a tribute to Navy personnel who served in World War I, Municipal Pier # 2 is officially renamed Navy Pier in their honor.

1930

Trade Show Boom


Despite the gradual decline in shipping activity, Navy Pier holds steady as a convention center by hosting the Flower and Garden Show, the National Motor Truck Show, the Automotive Services Industry Show and other major exhibitions.

1940

Commercial Downturn


The Pier’s commercial business continues to suffer from the onset of the Great Depression, an increase in the popularity of rail freight and the advent of automobiles and trucks. Amid the city and the nation’s growing financial woes, plans for four additional piers are abandoned and regular maintenance starts to decline.

1941

The Navy's Pier


The U.S. Navy takes occupancy and converts the Pier into the largest training facility of its kind in the world— serving an important role in the Allied war effort. By 1946, more than 60,000 sailors and marines have learned to become metalsmiths, aviation mechanics and diesel operators at Navy Pier.

1941

Then & Now


Slide to see how much has changed – and how much hasn’t.

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1942–1965

Chicago is lucky to find two occupants to lease the Pier’s underutilized cargo facilities, which transform first into training grounds and a mess hall to suit the needs of the U.S. Navy and then into classrooms, a library and a gymnasium for the University of Illinois’s first Chicago campus. Although used for vastly different purposes, both terms elevate the Pier’s historical importance and national significance during and after wartime.

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1946

The New School


After World War II, the University of Illinois needs a place to expand due to the increase in enrollment by veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill. Affectionately dubbed ‘Harvard on the Rocks,’ campus life enlivens the Pier for nearly twenty years before the University relocates in 1965.

1950s

Mid-Century Resurgence


The Pier regains commercial success as a home for trade shows and becomes a world freight terminal with the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. The opening of the Seaway is commemorated by a visit from Queen Elizabeth II, who calls it ‘an unforgettable day’.

1955

Then & Now


Slide to see how much has changed – and how much hasn’t.

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1960

Shifting Space


McCormick Place takes over as Chicago’s home for major trade shows, but the now vacant space on the Pier proves useful as a testing ground for large-scale public events, such as Chicago’s first Holiday Folk Fair, featuring foods and products representative of Chicago’s many ethnic communities.

1965

Commercial Shipping Decline


In the mid-1960s Chicago is identified as the ‘greatest inland port in the world’ as more than 250 foreign vessels dock at the Pier during the brief resurgence of the Great Lakes shipping industry. But the Seaway ultimately fails to generate enough international trade to keep the Pier competitive with the more modern facilities at Lake Calumet, and the late 1960s bring an abrupt end to the Pier’s popularity as a major shipping port.

1966–1989

With the University of Illinois at Chicago moved to its new home west of downtown, the decline of commercial shipping, and McCormick Place housing the majority of the tradeshows, Navy Pier fell into disuse, more artifact than attraction. America celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, the city reconsidered the building that had played such a grand role in its history, and breathed life into Burnham’s vision once again.

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-25730;
Copelin, photographer


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1976

Bicentennial Celebration


The east buildings are opened as exhibition halls during Chicago’s celebration of America’s bicentennial.

1976

Grand Ballroom Reconstruction


The Pier’s spectacular Grand Ballroom undergoes a major renovation in honor of the U.S. bicentennial celebration. The entire Pier is designated a Chicago landmark.

1978

Chicagofest


Navy Pier hosts ChicagoFest and draws millions of visitors with music, food and entertainment offerings. Frank Sinatra, Kool & The Gang, Alice Cooper, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are just some of the artists that played the festival. The event eventually grows to become the Taste of Chicago.

1980

Festival Grounds & Art Fairs


Special events and art festivals draw crowds, but aging infrastructure keeps the Pier underutilized.

1987

Redevelopment Momentum Builds


Chicago creates the Navy Pier Development Authority to address an urgent need for repair and revitalization. The Authority forms a board of civic leaders and urban planning professionals to help set the redevelopment process in motion.

1989

Urban Land Institute Study


The Urban Land Institute is asked to study the Pier’s future and make recommendations to the city. The land use experts suggest creating a master redevelopment authority to oversee the work needed to save the Pier’s crumbling infrastructure.

Urban Land Institute, 1989

“Navy Pier should be a platform upon which all citizens – entrepreneurs, artists, organizations and institutions – can find an inspiring common ground to share their lives with one another.”

Photo Credit: Chicago History Museum, ICHi-25730;
Copelin, photographer

1989

New Management


The Illinois General Assembly creates the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) to manage both the redevelopment of Navy Pier and the expansion of McCormick Place. The city subsequently sells Navy Pier to MPEA for $10 and state government provides $150 million to redevelop the Pier as part of a public infrastructure improvement program.

1990–2011

The Pier is reborn. Gone are the aged shipping facilities and reminders of the once-booming era of industry gone by. The architectural silhouettes of the Head House and east end recreational buildings remain intact and serves as a grand backdrop for the new stage being set. A Ferris wheel lights up the skyline as an iconic symbol of the new Navy Pier. Redevelopment brings back a balance of commerce and culture and millions of people from all walks of life come together on the Pier’s lakefront as Burnham had intended.

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1990

Concept Plan for Navy Pier


MPEA drafts a concept plan to breathe civic life back into the Pier and guide commercial development. It calls for the Pier to have public promenades and open areas for simple enjoyment of the lakefront, plus museum and exhibition space, retail and food offerings, an indoor garden and the return of excursion boats to the South Dock.

Concept Plan for Navy Pier, 1990

“Navy Pier is and should remain primarily a public place for the use and enjoyment of Chicago-area residents and visitors. Its revitalization should reflect and build upon its unique location in the Lake, its historic significance to the City and the region and its historic architectural silhouette.”

1992

A $150 Million Redevelopment Program


Improvements are made to nearly every aspect of Navy Pier, including restoration of the historic Head House building and the construction of the Festival Hall, parking garages, Pier Park, and many other attractions.

1994

The Skyline Stage Opens


The Pier’s new 1,500-seat outdoor performance pavilion, the Skyline Stage, is the first new attraction to open to the public, featuring such acts as Alice Cooper, Pat Benatar, Cheap Trick, WNVA Smooth Jazz Series, Poi Dog Pondering, Gov’t Mule, and Cirque Shanghai.

1995

Navy Pier Re-opens


The newly renovated Pier gradually re-opens to the public, featuring a mix of year-round entertainment, shops, restaurants, attractions and exhibition facilities.

Mayor Richard Daley, 1995

“Navy Pier is reclaiming its destiny.”

1995

Original Ferris Wheel


The 150-foot-tall red and white Ferris wheel made the Pier an iconic part of the Chicago skyline.

1996

4.5 Million Guests in First Year


Navy Pier attracts 4.5 million guests in the first full year of operations and grows to become the most popular sightseeing destination in the Midwest, attracting more than 9 million visitors and contributing millions to the local economy.

2000

Winter WonderFest is Introduced


With an indoor skating rink and more than 24 holiday rides, Winter WonderFest becomes a Chicago tradition and brings more people to the Pier in the off-season.

2000s

Best in the Midwest


Despite a national decline in tourism and convention business, Navy Pier maintains its place as the top leisure destination in the Midwest, attracting more than twice as many people as any other Chicago destination. Free public amenities, such as waterfront fireworks displays, live music and entertainment, remain a driving force in its summertime popularity.

2008

Local Showcase


Navy Pier adds a new mix of Chicago brands like Garrett Popcorn and Harry Caray’s Tavern and tests new attractions like a tethered hot air balloon, a virtual reality experience and guided Segway tours linking the Pier to other landmarks.

2010

Urban Land Institute Returns


The Urban Land Institute is again called upon to evaluate redevelopment options as the Pier approaches its 100th birthday. A panel of land use experts suggests another change in governing structure to allow Navy Pier to raise its own funds for redevelopment and long-term sustainability. The Illinois General Assembly subsequently passes legislation that allows Navy Pier to be governed as its own non-profit entity.

Urban Land Institute, 2010

“Navy Pier is the one major public assets on Lake Michigan’s shore that Chicagoans can call their own.”

Centennial Vision

If the last renovation brought the Pier back to life, this renovation brings it into the 21st century. More greenspace than marketplace, the new Navy Pier is a modern interpretation of Burnham’s vision – a public place where all Chicagoans can relax, explore, and simply take in the beauty of the lake and the skyline.

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2011

Formulation of a New Non-Profit


Navy Pier, Inc. (NPI) is established as a nonprofit, mission-driven organization, aspiring to a new level of public service and commitment to making a positive community impact.

2011

Centennial Vision Unveiled


Navy Pier, Inc. introduces a Centennial Vision framework for reimaging Navy Pier for the next generation of Chicagoans. An international design contest invites architects and planners to submit their ideas for what the Navy Pier of the future could look like.

2011

A Sustainable Navy Pier


As part of the Centennial Vision, a 30-year Sustainable Master Plan for Navy Pier is created to address its long-term environmental impact in target areas of energy, water, waste, transportation and community.

2012

Winning Design Plan


Developed by the renowned designer of Manhattan’s High Line, James Corner Field Operation’s “Pierscape” plan is chosen as the winning design for Navy Pier. A key part of Corner’s vision is to bring people closer to the water in a more vibrant setting for recreation and social life.

James Corner, 2012

“The design of the public spaces of Navy Pier presents a wonderful and unique opportunity to reconnect Chicago to the lake, to culture, and to spectacle.”

2012

Bigart Exhibit


The free outdoor art exhibition at the Pier features works by legendary pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, debuting his sculpture, “Brushstroke Group.” Other works on display include Anthony Caro’s “Blazon” and Nancy Rubin’s “Monochrome II Chicago.”

2013

Transformation Begins


Construction begins on Navy Pier’s new “Pierscape,” promising a greener, more contemporary pier.

2013

Ferris Wheel World Record


Clinton Shepard rides the Ferris wheel for 48 hours, 8 minutes and 25 seconds, setting the current Guinness World Record for the longest marathon on a fairground or theme park attraction

2014

Polk Bros Foundation Gift


The Polk Bros Foundation announces a $20 million legacy gift in honor of the Polk Family supporting Navy Pier’s vision to better serve Chicago. Navy Pier’s 13-acre green front door is renamed Polk Bros Park in recognition of their generous contribution. A new design for the Park is unveiled, including a graceful new promenade, an expansive plaza anchored by an interactive fountain and two new performance lawns and stages.

2014

Community Input


Navy Pier engages Chicago’s performing arts community and accessibility leaders on informing the design of new performance spaces in Polk Bros Park, translating to a better universal experience for all users, including performers, families and differently-abled people.

2014

Green Infrastructure Grant


An innovative stormwater management system is installed along the Pier’s South Dock to help prevent flooding and improve water quality. Innovative tree tubs built into the Dock are funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

2015

Aon Grand Ballroom


Navy Pier’s historic Grand Ballroom is renamed the Aon Grand Ballroom in recognition of a generous contribution from the Aon Corporation.

2015

The People's Navy Pier


With the physical transformation well underway, Navy Pier begins to redefine its future vision and mission as a cultural institution and launches a comprehensive planning process to create a master plan for robust arts and discovery programming that will help the Pier become a cultural force.

2015

Last Ride


30,000 people ride the iconic Ferris wheel for the last time before it is removed to make room for a new wheel. The wheel had nearly 17 million riders since it opened in 1995.

2016

Centennial Wheel


The Centennial Wheel stands 50 feet taller than the previous wheel and features 42 climate-controlled gondolas from which to enjoy breathtaking views. Today, it stands among the six tallest wheels in the country.

2016

New Flavors. More Views.


A new food experience brings an elevated and flavorful dining experience to the Pier focused on local restaurants and fare. It includes a newly created dining area with waterfront views and social seating.

2016

Wave Wall


Like the Spanish Steps in Rome, the Wave Wall stairs are a natural gathering place. Featuring dramatic curves and seamlessly connecting the South Dock to Pier Park, the stairs serve as both a beautiful focal point and an impromptu amphitheater.

2016

Polk Bros Park Fountain & Plaza


Polk Bros Park Fountain & Plaza turns Navy Pier’s front entrance into a destination in its own right. A dramatic fountain anchors the Park, evoking interest and wonder by mimicking the movements of waves, schools of fish and flocks of birds through hundreds of programmable jets.

2016

Breezy Green Walkways


With shady trees, grasses, and benches, the renovated pathways of the South dock transform what was once a cramped commercial gauntlet into an airy boulevard, perfect for walking, sitting, or just soaking up sunshine.

2016

Chicago Shakespeare Theater


As the Pier expands, so will the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. A new 950-seat house will replace the Skyline Stage and compliment the theater’s existing spaces, while accommodating audiences of all sizes for bigger, more ambitious performances with its new convertible/scalable seating.

2016

Navy Pier Hotel Announced


Boasting over 200 rooms and unparalleled views of the lake and skyline, the new hotel will be part of the bold reimagining of the Pier under the Centennial Vision, making Navy Pier not just an exciting place to visit, but an incredible place to stay.

2016

The Centennial Wheel Opens


The Centennial Wheel takes its inaugural spin on May 27th. Standing 50 feet taller than the previous wheel and featuring 42 climate-controlled gondolas from which to enjoy breathtaking views year round, it’s one of the six tallest wheels in the country.

2016

100 Rides for 100 Years


100 non-profits are invited to share free rides on the brand new Centennial Wheel with the communities they serve in celebration of the Pier’s 100th anniversary.

2016

Navy Pier Hosts the Louis Vuitton America's Cup World Series


For the first time ever, an America’s Cup race is held on fresh water, with Chicago selected to be the stage. A record-breaking crowd of over 200,000 people watches this celebrated sailing race from Navy Pier as competitors whip up and down the coast, fighting for position in a pulse-pounding finale dubbed “Super Sunday.”

2016

Navy Pier Pride


On June 25th, Navy Pier hosts Chicago’s first pride celebration outside of the Lakeview neighborhood with family-friendly entertainment and Chicago-centric sections of the AIDS memorial quilt on display.

2016

Art's & Culture At The Forefront


After an intense 18 month planning process with Dickerson Global Advisors and conversations with artists like Jamie Bennett on how to connect communities through art and self-expression, Navy Pier debuts brand new arts, cultural and community programing to celebrate Chicago’s diversity. From the dazzling choreography of the Chicago Dancing Festival to the extraordinary rising stars of Chicago Beatbox LTD, there’s never been more to experience at Navy Pier.

2016

100TH Birthday


Navy Pier throws the celebration of a century, giving back to guests with free, fun activities and a birthday cake as big as the occasion. When it comes time to blow out the candles, the Pier makes the wishes of Chicagoans come true with a grand fireworks finale that lights up smiles across the city.

2016

Polk Bros Fountain & Plaza


Polk Bros Fountain & Plaza turns Navy Pier’s front entrance into a destination in its own right. A dramatic fountain anchors the Park, evoking interest and wonder by mimicking the movements of waves, schools of fish and flocks of birds through hundreds of programmable jets.

2016

City Council Approves Phase 2


The second phase of the Centennial Vision redevelopment plan is approved, clearing the way for the construction of a hotel, the addition of an elevated walkway and water feature to the East End Plaza, a welcome pavilion and seasonal ice rink in Polk Bros Park and more.

2016

New Mission, New Values


To reflect the Pier’s ever-evolving role, a new mission statement is created, anchoring the Pier as “The People’s Pier” and “Chicago’s lakefront treasure,” while committing to be “welcoming of all and offering dynamic and eclectic experiences through partnerships and programs that inspire discovery and wonder.” The Pier announces four values as well, keeping excellence, inclusion, integrity and stewardship at the forefront of everything they do.

2016

Sites Certification


Navy Pier is awarded with the prestigious SITES Gold certification in recognition of the Pier’s sophisticated level of sustainability. SITES certification takes water use, soils, vegetation, material selection, human health, construction, maintenance and innovative design into account to determine and recognize the most sustainable landscapes in the world.

2016

Expo Chicago & Sofa Chicago


As a part of the Pier’s expanded commitment to Arts and Culture programming, SOFA and EXPO return Navy Pier’s exhibition halls. Showcasing exceptional three-dimensional and contemporary artworks respectively, these shows bring the latest in the international creative culture to the People’s Pier.

2016

Tall Ships Dock At Navy Pier


As a part of the Fifth Third Bank Centennial Celebration, Navy Pier welcomes the return of the Tall Ships festival. Guests can view, board and sail on more than 15 vessels, including the Viking Ship “Draken Harald Hårfagre” and “El Galeon Andalucia,” a 170-foot replica of a real 16th century Spanish Galleon.

2016

Navy Pier Documentary


WTTW marks the Centennial of the People’s Pier with an hour-long documentary. The film follows Geoffrey Baer as he highlights the evolution of the Pier, from mixed-use shipping center to modern lakefront paradise.

2016

Cubs Win The World Series


After the rally downtown, Navy Pier celebrates the Cubs’ historic World Series victory by putting the Cubs logo on the Centennial Wheel and offers discounted rides all day long. Thousands come to “Ride the W.”

2016

First Tree Lightning Ceremony


Navy Pier marks the holidays with its first ever tree lighting ceremony in the new Polk Bros Park. Guests enjoy carol singers, free hot cocoa and even a visit from Santa.

The 100-year evolution of Navy Pier tells the story of a world-class city and its people. Our centennial reimagining is returning this extraordinary place to its genesis as a vital extension of urban life. Celebrate our journey and experience our future. We welcome you to join us beginning this summer for countless events and programs.

Come see Navy Pier in a new light.

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