Bored with the shopping on Magnificent Mile, your eyes struggle to focus on something that isn’t a shop. Finally they land on a small and simple signpost reading ‘Navy Pier’, with an arrow pointing the way. Well, anything to escape this current situation. Looking at Navy ships sounds as good as anything. Your feet lead you East towards the lake.
Emerging from the city skyline you realize that you have been fooled by the sign, or more truthfully fooled yourself, as signs are rarely at fault. Opening in front of you is a large park and pedestrian walkway, with modern buildings and a ferris wheel watching over all. No large grey ships are to be found. Instead of a Navy Pier it is more of a city center, or tourist attraction if you please.
You begin your walk around this 3,300 foot(1,010 meter) long pier. Starting on the right side like all sane people, you start your loop. Have no fear of the pier collapsing. It has been standing strong for one hundred and one years. You think back to those days, imagining the people who came before you. The Roaring Twenties with the women dressed to kill in Art Nouveau sequined dresses, the men in suits, walking arm in arm along the pier. Enjoying the live bands, fireworks, concerts, and even airplane and motorboat races. Out on the water are freighters lined up to dock and leisure ships departing full of tourists. It is a bustling sight.
Enjoying the cold lake breeze you walk past the wave wall, which is touted as the Spanish Steps of Chicago(They are really in Rome), and the Ferris Wheel. You would love to ride the wheel but those are a lot of steps and there is no elevator(A glaring omission of the planning council). You continue your walk around the pier, passing restaurants and a gift shop, all the time admiring the cleanliness and beauty of this pier. You wonder if it looked this good during the Great War.
This poor little pier is barely a year old and yet it has been taken over by several regiments of soldiers and Red Cross workers, who now live here. In one area is a barracks for new recruits and a jail for draft dodgers. It certainly is no where near as clean.
Coming to the end of the pier and its empty beer garden you quickly make the loop around without stopping, as the cold wind is too intense. With head tucked in and bones frozen, you breath a sigh of relief as you finally get your back to the wind. Looking onto this building that stands 3000 feet out in the lake you are amazed to see how little it has changed in a hundred years.
Sailors and Marines are training everywhere, becoming metalsmiths, mechanics, and diesel operators. The noise and amount of people is incredible. This Navy pier has become the largest training facility of its kind in the world, playing an important part in this second world war. When the war is over there are rumors that it will become a University.
Walking this North side of the pier is quite different from the South side. You feel like you are in the back of everything. There are high walls and loading docks. You spend most of your time enjoying the fine skyline in front of you as you pass Uber and Lyft pick-up points. As you come back onto land and into the pier’s bus terminal you praise the city and the nameless people involved for the redevelopment in 1990 of this amazing area.
Navy Pier has stood through fortune and disuse for a hundred years. May it prosper and always return from downturns for a hundred more.