The Chicago Water Tower
806 N. Michigan Avenue
William W. Boyington designed both the Chicago Water Tower and the Pumping Station, which were built in 1869. The idea behind the pumping system was to provide the city with clean water, pumped from intake bins that were located in Lake Michigan. As expected, the design of the building came with its critics. Many people thought the gothic tower, reaching to a height of 154 feet, was out of place and its medieval castle design was strange to say the least…especially for a water tower! The truth is that the Water Tower was not made to be an architectural monument for the city…it was made to house a large water pump. The standpipe inside the tower stood 138 feet and served to equalize the water pressure flowing in from the Pumping Station across the street…and aesthetically it needed to be hidden in some way. The plan really didn’t work, however, because the bins from the lake easily became polluted from industrial waste… a problem which was eventually solved when the Chicago River was reversed. While this solved the problem, it rendered the water tower functionally obsolete in 1906. The stones used for the construction materials of the tower and the pumping station was fortuitous. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871 all but destroyed the entire city. There were literally only a handful of buildings that survived that catastrophic disaster…the Water Tower and Pumping Station were two of them. The Water Tower has been renovated twice…first between 1913 and 1916 when each one of the six million limestone blocks were replaced. 1978 saw the most recent renovation to Water Tower when the standpipe was removed and the information area was remodeled. Today, the Water Tower is home to a beautiful gallery showcasing local photographers and the Pumping Station houses the very acclaimed Lookingglass Theatre and a satellite location for the Chicago Public Library.
On the side….
It has been suggested that the look and design of the Water Tower were inspiration for the White Castle restaurants’ building signage and corporate logo.
Another unique feature contained within the Water Tower district is the seldom-noticed Chicago Fire Station 98 on Chicago Avenue. Built in 1902, and designed by Charles Hermann, the firefighters in this station respond to over 3,000 emergency calls per year…and have grown into the fabric of this busy area, just off of Michigan Avenue.