Our 6 favorite untold stories from Chicago's historic buildings.
Being from Chicago, and living and working among the historic buildings and museums of the area, we have heard so many cool stories that don't get the attention they deserve. This is why sharing untold stories is so important to us, and why a mobile app is the perfect platform on which to tell them.
The International Museum of Surgical Science
As the name suggests, this museum is dedicated to the history of surgical science. But it’s so much more than that. The historic lakeside mansion was built by Chicago socialite, Eleanor Countiss Robinson, in 1917. She was the heiress to the Diamond Match Company and a leader in the suffragette movement. She lived in the home with her husband and four children until her death in 1931.
Eleanor frequently held grand parties within the walls of her home, and organized charity events and fundraisers.
“She took an eager interest in business, politics, people, places and ventures.”
Her involvement with the Red Cross contributed significantly to the war efforts at the time. She even organized a group of women who drove their own vehicles, day or night, as Red Cross ambulances. She was a remarkable woman who continuously gave back to her community and helped shape the world we live in today.
Be sure to check out the museum and explore the space where Eleanor lived! And download the Encurate powered mobile app for more information about Eleanor!
The Museum of Science and Industry
Before it played host to the modern marvels of Science and Industry, this building was a stunning structure in what was known as the White City.
Of the nearly 200 temporary buildings created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Palace of Fine Arts was one of the only buildings to be constructed using bricks (most were made from plaster and cement making them temporary), and thus ensuring it was one of the only structures to survive to this day. Although made from brick, it was covered with the same plaster to give it the white sheen that led to the fair being called the “White City”, in addition to the lights that decorated the buildings and streets.
It has gone through many incarnations since the 1800’s. Initially, The Palace of Fine Arts housed the Columbian Museum, and later became the Field Museum of Natural History. When that moved to its current location, it was left empty for many years before officially becoming the Museum of Science & Industry we know today.
The Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center is one of the most visited landmarks in the city. People are drawn from all over the world by its elegant and grand design. It is also where the Mayor of Chicago has welcomed Presidents, royalty, and diplomats.
The building was built in 1897, and at the time, served as Chicago’s first central public library. It was built at a time when all eyes were on Chicago, waiting to see what the great architects of the day would dream up next. And they did not disappoint.
The design of the building was intended to impress and to show the rest of America what a thriving and sophisticated city Chicago had become.
The library was built with rare important materials and boasts the largest stained glass Tiffany dome in the world.
The original Tribune Tower was built in 1868, but was destroyed shortly thereafter in the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. When the time finally came to build a new tower in the 1920’s, the Chicago Tribune hosted a competition to find the the most beautiful design for the structure. 1st place was to receive $50,000.
The winning architects designed the building in a neo-Gothic style.
What makes the building even more unique are the stones incorporated into the exterior of the building itself. These fragments came from some of the world’s most famous structures and include the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, the Great Pyramid, Notre Dame de Paris, the Great Wall of China, Abraham Lincoln’s Tomb, and most recently, a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.
The amount of history incorporated into this building truly makes it worthy of being a Chicago Landmark.
Chicago Harbor Lighthouse
The Chicago Harbor Lighthouse was one of the hundreds of structures built for the World’s Fair. Originally on the river, it was moved to its location on the breakwater in 1917 where it remains today.
It stands proudly on the rocks, just out of reach of Navy Pier, where it protects the city from the harsh waters and guides ships home.
While everyone who lives in Chicago has seen the lighthouse, many people don’t know much about it, or what has taken place within.
This nine level tower of isolation amid the crashing waves of Lake Michigan was once home to a man in the early 1980’s.
Stirling Bemis rented it from the Coast Guard, and according to a sailboat captain who spends his days traversing the lake, would throw exclusive parties for his friends.
He was permitted to live there so as to help prevent the vandalism and deterioration it had faced.
Chicago Water Tower
The Chicago Water Tower is one of the oldest buildings in the city, having been one of the few to survive the the Great Chicago Fire.
It is a reminder of the old Chicago, when the landscape was much different than what we know today. The Chicago Water Tower sat at the edge of the beach on Lake Michigan (which has since receded and made way for everything to the east of the water tower), and towered over the other buildings.
It’s certainly special to Chicago, but it’s also an American Water Landmark being the second oldest water tower in the country.
Multiple times, the water tower was threatened with demolition, but was thankfully protected by the public outrage at the notion.
With its castle like structure, and deep historical value, the Chicago Water Tower is a testament to Chicago’s continuing innovation and resilience.