NFT Chicago Landmarks

Chicago / Landmarks

By our minds, the designation of "landmark" can apply to buildings of architectural distinction, or the iconic Morton Salt girl, trailing sodium chloride behind her on the roof of the Elston Avenue Morton Salt facility. It could be internationally recognized Chicago iconography (Buckingham Fountain), or something only the locals are aware of ("Meet me by the Totem Pole"). Landmark status is a historical designation, but local landmarks are how you figure out where the hell you are and where you need to go.

Legacy Architecture
Early skyscrapers such as the Monadnock Building (Map 5) can be found in the Loop, alongside other noteworthy structures like Adler and Sullivan's historic Auditorium Building (Map 6). Contrast these with Midwest native Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio (Oak Park) in the suburb of Oak Park, whose famous Prairie style can also be seen at the Robie House (Map 19) on the city's south side. Jump forward a couple of decades and German Mies van der Rohe arrives on the scene, with his dictum "less is more." Trek over to the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) (Map 13) to really immerse yourself in his spare glass and steel structures. Chicago is also home to a triumvirate of quirky Bertrand Goldberg masterpieces--Marina Towers (Map 2), which graces the cover of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, River City (Map 7), and the Raymond Hilliard Apartments (Map 10).

Great New Architecture
IIT is also the site of some fab new architecture, such as starchitect Rem Koolhaas's incredible McCormick Tribune Campus Center (Map 14), which literally encases the L in a tube, and Helmut Jahn's State Street Village (Map 14). With plans for the world's tallest and corkscrew-evoking Chicago Spire dashed due to an inability to secure financing, the city is soliciting suggestions about what to do with that giant-assed hole in the ground. Meanwhile the glittering new Trump Tower (Map 2) has become a new beacon on the Chicago cityscape, replacing the dismal former Sun-Times building (strange how the newspaper relocated to an equally drab building only a few blocks away from the original).

Historical Houses
Built in 1836, Prairie Avenue's Clarke House (Map 11) claims the title of Chicago's oldest home, never mind that the original building of the northwest side's Noble-Seymour-Crippen House (Northwest) dates back to 1833. Although Robie House (Map 19) is the most famous, Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie-style homes dot Chicago's landscape, among them are the Walser House (West) and Sheridan Avenue's Bach House (Map 34). Of course some homes are more renowned for their residents than their architectural or historical significance. These include the Charlie Chaplin House (Map 38), the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Home (Map 14), the Richard J. Daley House (Map 13), and, most famously, President Barack Obama's Residence (Map 17).

Outdoor Spaces
Chicago's status as a green city got off to a good start, thanks to some forward-thinking chaps. By advocating the lakefront as a place for recreation, Daniel Burnham has left a wonderful legacy. Highlights are Lincoln Park (Map 30), with the free Lincoln Park Zoo, to the north and Jackson Park (Map 20), site of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, to the south. Grant Park (Map 6) is home to the Buckingham Fountain (Map 9), and offers festivals throughout the warmer months. And don't forget the harbors. Belmont Harbor (Map 44) is home to the Chicago Yacht Club Sailing School, while The Point at Diversey (Map 30) provides a fabulous view of the city from the north. Within the downtown itself, outdoor spaces include Daley Plaza (Map 5) (you saw it in the movie The Lake House), which offers free lunchtime cultural events. Outside of the city limits, Garfield Park Conservatory (West) is a jewel in a barren landscape.

Public Artwork
Better described as a work of art rather than simply an outdoor space, Millennium Park (Map 6) is not to be missed. Legendry architect Frank Gehry has conjured up another of his steel creations with the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (Map 6), an open air venue offering complimentary concerts, while British and Spanish artists have stolen the show with Cloud Gate (Map 6) (otherwise known as The Bean) and Crown Fountain (Map 6) (a.k.a. kiddies' pool). Another heavy concentration of public artwork is found in the Loop, with the Miro's Chicago sculpture (Map 5) and Alexander Calder's Flamingo (Map 5) two of the best known pieces. How often do children get the chance to slide down a Picasso?

Lowbrow Landmarks
Chicago has its share of more unassuming sights too, including the mysterious Totem Pole (Map 44) along the lakefront and Agora (Map 9), an army of headless metal people. Also easy to miss is the amazing artwork The Body of Lake Michigan (Southwest). Look up as you go through the security checkpoint at Midway airport; it's quite impressive. Out to the south west is the Union Stock Yard Gate (West), a reminder of the days referred to in Carl Sandburg's line "Hog Butcher for the world." You can then go sample some meat--the infamous cheezboiger--at the unpretentious Billy Goat Tavern (Map 3).

Overrated Landmarks
With the nickname "The Windy City" derived from the hot air dispensed by earlier politicians, the city also has its fair share of overrated landmarks. The later iteration of Soldier Field (Map 11) fits the bill perfectly: if there were flying saucers in classical civilization, they would look something like this. Also registering on the ugly scale is the James R. Thompson Center (Map 5). Enough said. However, the prize for most over-hyped attraction must go to Navy Pier (Map 3) with its wall-to-wall tourists and mediocre eateries. Consider yourself warned.

Underrated Landmarks
On the other hand, Chicago has a lot of well-kept secrets worth exploring. Home to a large collection of art glass by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the Chicago Cultural Center (Map 5) and Macy's (formerly Marshall Field's) (Map 5) on State Street both have spectacular domes. Continuing on the glass theme, the America Windows (Map 6) by Marc Chagall are another treat often overshadowed by the heavy-weight impressionist collection at the Art Institute (Map 6). Another find is The Newberry (Map 32), which sits quietly on Washington Square Park, but boasts a hive of activity inside: classes, concerts, and lectures. As for the Hyde Park area, check out the University of Chicago (Map 19) and The Oriental Institute there (Map 19). You'll also find the Nuclear Energy Sculpture (Map 19) by Henry Moore, which commemorates the first nuclear reaction which took place here. Many of the first silent pictures, starring the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson (back when they had faces) were filmed at Essenay Studio, before more copacetic weather pushed the film industry out west to a little place called Hollywood.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Sarah Enelow
Photo:  Sarah Enelow

Elks Veterans Memorial Building
Though it was renovated this spring, few know that the Elks have their National Memorial (and Headquarters) in Chicago. You may never walk by this stately building, which sits opposite Lincoln Park, but you might have zoomed past it in a bus many times. It reminds me of Ulysses S. Grant's tomb in New York with its grand columns, muscular sculptures, and incredible dome. The Elks basement has a few medals, letters, and miniature parade floats in glass cases, and there's something about those relics that feels a little haunted... You may have no connection to, or interest in, the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, but the building itself is free to explore and it's a surprise worth seeking.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Billy Goat Tavern
We at NFT were glad to have watched the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup not from the safety of our own homes, or from the utter drunken revelry of a Blackhawks bar, but instead from the hallowed halls of the Billy Goat Tavern. And yes, all the patrons did indeed go properly apeshit, and we then had the bonus of being right on Michigan Avenue afterwards for the impromptu car-honking celebration. But more importantly: this author downed two doubles in the space of about 15 minutes, because they were/are/will always be so FRIGGIN' GOOD. Who needs french fries? Just more room for another burger from one of the 8 places profiled on the great documentary Hamburger America (now also a book, a TV show, and a South American Cult). And with some dark beer to wash it down, life was good--and will be again, the next time I'm back at the Billy Goat.

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
When we went to the Willis Tower, there was no line to get up to the skydeck--although the labyrinthine path we needed to follow to get to the ticket booth and the elevator suggested that many times, there would be quite a significant line. So, while the view from the top of the Willis is cool, I'd wait for low-tourist-season-random-weeknight-around-dusk to go (worked for us). But, without the line--very worth it, most of all for the insaner-than-insane glass overhangs (pictured) at the top, where you can actually see straight down to the base of the tower. The industrial sunset was also pretty cool, as was some of the history of Chicago and famous Chicagoans on the interior walls of the skydeck. But the view--quite a good one of many of Chicago's more architecturally significant skyscrapers and buildings, and coupled with the glass overhangs, worth the price. Do it in conjuction with the Chicago Architectural Foundation's great Boat Tour of Chicago, and you'll be an instant expert on Chicago architecture (and the boat tour serves alcohol--another bonus!).

Posted By:  Brendan Keating
Photo:  Brendan Keating

Anderson Japanese Garden
What would be the last thing you'd expect to find in Rockford, IL? North America's finest Japanese garden? Believe it. Thirty years in the making, Anderson Japanese Garden is a profound work of art and a place of serenity and beauty. Ponds, paths, waterfalls, flowering trees, and flowing streams have been corralled and nurtured to perfection over all 14 acres of this cultural treasure. Unlike most of Chicagoland's forest preserves and parks, these gardens are sprinkled with benches and viewing platforms that invite visitors to sit and take in the views that will make you say "sayonara" to your stress. The gardens were designed by Hoichi Kurisu, the same landscape architect behind the Portland Japanese Garden. Other master Japanese craftsmen built the garden's main bridge, gateway, teahouse, and forbidden guesthouse, which is so authentic you expect to see a geisha shuffling down the hallway. A new visitor's center offers guests a restaurant and a tasteful but predictable gift shop, but the real draw is the garden, which is painterly in its perfection and worth every minute of the two hour drive to get there. The garden might be in Rockford, but it's a world away.

Posted By:  Brendan Keating
Photo:  Brendan Keating

Garfield Park Conservatory
Let's face it: winters in Chicago are challenging. When you just can't stand it anymore, take a mini vacation to the Garfield Park Conservatory. Inside the comfy confines of this free garden under glass, conveniently located off the Green Line, the weather is always fine. A great place to take visiting relatives or kids, the conservatory is a destination everyone can agree on. In the Palm Room, the centerpiece of the conservatory, you can relax under 80 different varieties of palm tree. Walking through the Fern Room, with its waterfalls, moss-covered walls, and koi-filled pond, feels like wandering through a daydream. The other five rooms are also beautiful and interesting, if not quite as stunning as the first two. In the warm months, the gardens extend out from under the glass and into the large back and side yards, providing ample frolicking opportunities. But nothing beats sitting on a bench in a t-shirt under a swaying palm, breathing in air heavy with oxygen and soaking up the sun, while the wind howls against the glass outside--all for free. What a difference a pane makes.

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18th St L Station
19th District
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Adler Planetarium
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Arandas Tires & Rims
Arnett Chapel AME Church
Art Institute of Chicago
Austin Town Hall
Beverly Arts Center
Billy Goat Tavern
Bison Statues in Humboldt Park
Blommer Chocolate Co.
Bowler Row Houses
Bronzeville Benches
Buckingham Fountain
Cabrini Green
Charlie Chaplin House
Charnley-Persky House
Chicago Bee Building
Chicago Board of Trade
Chicago Board Options Exchange
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Defender
Chicago Skyway
Chicago Urban League
Childhood home of Mr. T
Chinatown Gate
Clarence Darrow Bridge
Clarke House Museum
Cloud Gate
ComEd Plant
Coyote Building
Crown Fountain
Daley Plaza
Delta Fish Market
Douglas Tomb
Drexel Fountain
DuSable Homestead, Pioneer Court
DuSable Museum of African American History
Edgewater Beach Apartments
Engine 44 Firehouse Mural
Eugene Field Park
Fine Arts Building
Flat Iron Arts Building
Former Elliot Ness Building
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Frederick C. Robie House
Garfield Park Conservatory
Givens' Irish Castle
Gompers Park
Graceland Cemetery
Green Mill
Harold Washington Cultural Center
Harold Washington Library Center
Harpo Studios
Hilliard Apartments
Ida B. Wells-Barnett Home
Illinois Institute of Technology
India Town
Jackson Boulevard Historic District
James R. Thompson Center
John Hancock Observatory
Johnson Publishing Headquarters
Lilydale First Baptist Church
Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Square
Logan House
Louis Farrakhan Home
Margie's Candies
Marina Towers
Market Hall
Maxwell Street Market
McCormick Place
McCormick Row House District
Metra 103rd/Washington Heights Rock Island District Branch Line Station
Midway International Airport
Midway Plaisance Park
Midwest Buddhist Temple
Monadnock Building
Montrose Dog Beach
Monument to the Great Northern Migration
Morton Salt Elston Facility
National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame
National Veterans Art Museum
Nelson Algren Fountain
New Regal Theatre
Nichols Park
Nuclear Energy Sculpture
O-Mi Motel
Oak Woods Cemetery
Oakley Row Houses
Old Dearborn Train Station
Old Neighborhood Italian American Club
Old Playboy Mansion
Old Town School of Folk Music
Olivet Baptist Church
Original Rainbow Cone
Osaka Garden/Wooded Island
Our Lady of Sorrows
Oz Park
Pacific Garden Mission
Paradise Sauna
Paseo Boricua
Philadelphia Church
Polish Museum of America
Pullman Clock Tower
Pumpkin House
Quincy L Station
Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church
Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Headquarters
Richard J. Daley House
Ridge Historical Society
River City
River Park
Rock N Roll McDonald's
Rockefeller Memorial Chapel
Rosehill Cemetery
Soldier Field
South Shore Cultural Center
Southport Lanes & Billiards
Southside Community Art Center
St. Benedict Parish & School
St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Summit Motel
Sunset Café
Superdawg Drive-In
Supreme Life Insurance Company Head Office
The LaSalle Bank Mural
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The Singing Guy Jingling his Change Cup
The Vic
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Totem Pole
Tribune Tower
Trinity United Church of Christ
Ukrainian Cultural Center
Union Station
Union Stock Yard Gate
United Center
Uptown Theatre
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
Vietnam Survivors Memorial
Walt Disney House
Washington Park
Water Tower Place
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Willis Tower (Sears Tower)
Wrigley Building
Wrigley Field

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