Sunday, January 16, 2011

Photo tour: The Chicago Pedway, part 1 (Thompson Center to Millennium Park).

(This is a stripped-down reprint of a photoset that I posted to my Flickr account this weekend. Click here if you'd rather look at the images that way, and see a lot more of them.)




Ever since 1955, when the first tunnel between the red-line and blue-line els was constructed in the Chicago Loop, various city planners have long dreamed of building a comprehensive system of underground walkways connecting together the entire downtown district, called the "Pedway" and serving as a nice alternative on those dangerously cold Chicago winter days. Unfortunately, though, the idea has never really caught on a big way, which has led to a spotty system that's been built just in little bits and pieces over the decades, and with many of the two-block sections still not connected to any of the other two-block sections; but still, there are some impressive long runs within the overall structure now, including a now uninterrupted stretch all the way from the Thompson Center to Millennium Park (now that the "Block 37" underpass is open), an entire vast indoor mall built in the bowels of the multiblock Illinois Center in the 1970s, and even a virtually unknown Minneapolis-style "skyway" system up on the far north edge of the Loop, connecting four or five buildings running along the river via glass hallways a hundred feet in the air.

I've long wanted to explore these miles of tunnels and elevators myself, so this winter am finally doing so, through a series of visits that will hopefully take me through the entire system by the end; I'm gathering all the photos up in this particular photoset as the winter continues. My first trip this week took me from the Thompson Center in the northwest corner of the Loop, down south until hitting First National Plaza, then back up and east through City Hall, the Daley Center, the brand-new Block 37 shopping complex, both the blue and red-line Washington el stations, the former Marshall Field's, the brand-new Heritage Center, the Chicago Cultural Center, and the Millennium Park Metra station, way over on the opposite side of the Loop, about a mile of walking altogether. There's a map of all this a little later in this photoset, or you can Google "Chicago Pedway" for a whole series of downloadable maps.

Here: The Thompson Center, also known as the State of Illinois Building, way up on the outer northwest edge of the Loop, designed in the '80s by controversial architect Helmut Jahn as a new headquarters for all of Illinois' state agency offices in Chicago, under the agreement that it would also house a long-needed central hub for nearly every el line that comes into the Loop. (The blue line pulls into the basement, while the green, brown, purple, orange and pink lines pull into a skyway station, with escalators directly connecting the platforms.) In the basement is a huge mall-style food court, as well as Chicago's official Department of Motor Vehicles office, which is always packed.





Here: Some parts of the pedway are brand spanking new; take for example the small hallway that runs from the southeast edge of the Thompson Center to the west edge of the Chicago Title and Trust Center, just across the street, quite obviously built sometime in the 2000s complete with lots of friendly 21st-century signage, and even a cute little gym in the walkway's center.



The Thompson Center is known as one of the major hubs of the Pedway, with three separate exits in its basement going in three different directions; the one due south leads across the street to City Hall, technically now known as the City/County Building. the only government building here in the northwest corner of the Loop still housed in its original grandiose Edwardian edifice. Much of this particular section of the pedway looks like something taken directly from a 1970s dystopian science-fiction movie, which of course I adore. I wonder if a student film crew could pull off shooting an entire guerrilla short movie down in these abandoned tunnels without getting caught?




The north tunnels of City Hall connect to the State of Illinois Building across the street, and were obviously constructed in the 1970s; the western tunnels, though, hooking up to the 120 North LaSalle Building across the other street, were obviously built in the '80s instead, even more delicious when the halls meet up with the ornate Edwardian staircases that take one upstairs to the century-old building above. What a lovely little sci-fi-feeling section of the Pedway!


The shot from the east windows of City Hall, looking across the street at the Daley Center (home of the city courthouse system), where we'll be heading next via underground tunnel.



Just east of City Hall is the third governmental building of today's walk, into the Daley Center where the city courthouse system is located. (Aboveground, this is the famed plaza with the giant Picasso sculpture, and where the climax of "The Blues Brothers" was filmed.) This section of the pedway is actually quite busy, since many of the city's offices and courtrooms are located in the basement, as well as even an art gallery and a few retail establishments like a Starbucks; but since this is technically the city's courthouse center, the place is swarming with cops as well, which made me very uncomfortable with the mere idea of taking my camera out in this section.



South of the Daley Center is Three First National Plaza, part of a larger complex that extends across its own southern street (Madison), although with one of the "First National Plaza" buildings (the big curved one) now technically known as "Chase Tower" because of its new owner. Both this building and this section of the pedway were built in the early 1980s, which absolutely shows in this charming, low-budget-dystopian-science-fiction-film kind of way, all the way down to the glass-cubed retail shops in the far basement.



Quick shots of the red- and blue-line Washington el stations, which fall right in the middle of the particular pedway tunnel I'm taking today. Ever since 9/11, the train stations in Chicago have been crawling with terrorist-obsessed cops day and night, which means you now get fatally hassled for even taking out a camera within the vicinity. PHOTOBLOGGING IS NOT A CRIME!


For a long time, this northwestern section of the Pedway we've been looking at never really connected directly with the east side of the complex, and on to the Illinois Center underground mall way up on the northeast edge of downtown; but finally just last year, the long-delayed "Block 37" complex was opened, a multipurpose commercial and retail center which will also eventually feature a cutting-edge CTA "hub" station in the basement, is the new headquarters of one of the local television networks, and has a basement retail mall that finally connects the western and eastern sides of the pedway. The interior is beautiful, but unfortunately is crawling with cops as well, making me uncomfortable merely with the idea of taking my camera out, which is why I have only this shot of the complex's west doors.



One of the Victorian men to have a heavy influence on the el system's creation in the first place was robber-baron and retail giant Marshall Field; not coincidentally, his famed department store at Washington and State was the very first business in Chicago (and still one of the only) to have a direct entrance right inside an el station's lobby itself, namely the eastern wall of the red-line Washington station. It's still there, as a matter of fact, although the store itself is now owned by a former competitor whose name I refuse to use; unbelievably, you can still walk right into the center of the retail action there in the store through this entrance, which by the way is I believe the only passage left in either the pedway or el system to still feature ornate century-old wooden bannisters. As a matter of fact, the former Marshall Field Building is just fascinating on its own, a system of smaller buildings that were slowly connected together piecemeal in their interiors over decades as the store expanded and expanded, which makes for a whole system of bizarrely-situated escalators and hallways that go nowhere inside the seven-story, two-square-mile complex.



In the '80s, the city and Marshall Field's decided to tackle a new major section of the Pedway, wrapping along the famed flagship store's western and then northern wall, opening on one side into the retail center in various locations, and with the other side supposedly dedicated to small mall-like retail shops, the entire thing done up in this Donald-Trump-grandiose, marble-covered-column kind of glorious '80s style. The entire thing was a financial DISASTER, and the quarter-mile-long tunnel now sits empty and broken (although with various entrances to the store's basement still open and being used), literally like a deliciously dystopian low-budget science-fiction movie, like so much of the pedway's entire system seems to be from block to block. (And seriously, some student film crew needs to do exactly that, and see just how much they could film in these abandoned, crumbling tunnels before getting caught. They're guaranteed in advance to be a YouTube sensation.)


Ladies and gentlemen, the sports bar where the mole people officially drink -- "InFields," located in this basement retail complex I've been talking about, which used to be owned by Marshall Field's which makes the name make more sense. I love that there's this cheery little wood-paneled sports bar here in the basement of the former Marshall Field Building, windowless and sunless and looking out only on the winter commuters trudging underground from the Millennium Park suburban train station to their government jobs on the Loop's west side.



The brand spanking new Heritage Center section of the pedway, located directly between the old Marshall Field Building and the Chicago Cultural Center on Washington Street (between Wabash and Michigan), which among other retail amenities includes a fancy expensive gym with a literal Olympic-length swimming pool right down there in the basement. Pretty sweet.


The sort of grandiose circular basement lobby of the Chicago Cultural Center, at Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington, which sort of mirrors in this postmodernist way the grandiose Victorian structure above, which for decades used to be the Tiffany-adorned main branch of the Chicago Public Library. The day I was there, a street musician was illicitly playing, getting away with it only here in this section I'm sure because we're just one more block from the large, chaotic Millennium Park suburban train hub.


And here we are right on the western edge of the giant and chaotic Millennium Park suburban train hub, which starts at Washington and Michigan and zigzags northeast until eventually hitting the Illinois Center underground mall complex. That whole area is technically the largest and most developed section of the entire pedway, and is going to take an entire day on its own to explore; so here is where I decided to stop day 1's look at this main Washington Avenue corridor of it all. I hope you found this useful and interesting; and in just a couple more weeks, you should see an entire new series of photos here, all of those numbered in the 200s.